The game of Omaha is often referred to as the second-most popular poker variation. In many ways, Omaha is similar to Texas Hold’em, but in other ways it is drastically different. Part of the reason the game is so different is due to the simple fact that 4 cards are dealt to every player as opposed to the 2 that are dealt in Hold’em. Though you can only utilize 2 of those 4 cards when piecing together your best poker hand, many view the extra cards as giving the individual player a bit more freedom, thus making the game a bit easier to assimilate to.
There are a few other differences separating Hold’em from Omaha, and they will be extrapolated upon in the following few sections. In this piece, we will reference many terms specific to the game of poker. Words such as “blinds”, “raise”, and “flop” will all be referenced, and if you need brushing up on your poker terminology we suggest you familiarize yourself with the poker terms.
The game of Omaha is played with anywhere from 2 to 10 players and before gameplay can begin, a dealer, or button, must be established. In a casino, the button will likely already be in circulation when you approach the table, but games between friends often see the dealer determined by drawing for a high card. Simply put, drawing for a high card is when every player at the table is dealt a single card—the person with the highest card (eg Ace, King, Queen) is nominated the dealer.
After the dealer has been determined, the payment of blinds (forced bets) must be made. The player immediately to the left of the dealer pays the small blind while the player immediately to the left of the small blind pays the big blind.
Once the blinds are settled, players are dealt four cards, one at a time. At this point the first round of betting, or pre-flop round, commences. Betting begins with the person to the left of the big blind who has the option of either matching the big blind, raising it, or folding their 4 hole cards, thus eliminating them from the current hand. After everyone has had the chance to act, the flop is laid down in the center of the table.
Immediately following the flop, the second round of betting commences. This round of betting begins with the first still-active player to the left of the button. Once the second round of betting has been completed, the 4th card, or turn, is laid face up on the table. A third round of betting kicks off with the first active player to the left of the dealer and is followed by the showing of the 5th and final community card, the river.
The river is followed by a final round of betting, after which all remaining active players reveal their cards in the showdown and a winner is determined. Remember, in Omaha a player is only able to use 2 of the original 4 cards they are dealt in order to put together the best possible 5-card combination. In the event that two players have identical, or equivalent, hands, the pot will be divided evenly.
Now that we have outlined the basic rules surrounding the game of Omaha, it is important that we elaborate on the different variations of the game, including pot limit, no limit, and fixed limit Omaha.
Pot Limit Omaha
One of the most fundamental rules of Pot Limit Omaha is that the least you are able to bet is the size of the big blind, with the maximum allowable bet totaling no more than the current size of the pot.
In this variation, the minimum amount a person can raise is the amount of the most recent previous bet or raise. For example, if someone wagers $100, a raise can total no less than $100 (totaling a $200 wager).
The maximum amount someone can raise is the size of the current pot, which includes the wagers that are currently laying on the table.
No Limit Omaha
No Limit Omaha requires that the minimum bet anyone makes be at least the size of the big blind. With regard to raising, a player may raise an amount no less than the last placed bet or raise but can wager up to the entirety of their chip stack. In addition, there is no limit on the number of raises that can occur during any one round of betting.
Fixed Limit Omaha
Fixed Limit Omaha utilizes a betting structure comprised of fixed amounts. During the pre-flop and post-flop rounds of betting, any bet or raise must be the same size as the big blind. On the turn and the river, however, the size of bets and raises is doubled.
Making things a bit more tricky is that a single player can bet no more than 4 times during a round of betting. The wagers are referred to, in order, as follows: bet, raise, re-raise, and cap.
Another wildly popular variety of Omaha is Omaha hi/lo. In your travels, you may hear this variation referred to as “Omaha High Low”, “Omaha 8”, or even “Omaha HL.” In many respects, this game-type is played in the same exact fashion as traditional Omaha. All players are dealt four private hole cards, and 5 community cards are laid face-up on the table.
Where the game differs, however, is in the way the best hand is determined. As opposed to traditional Omaha, which sees a player discard two of their hole cards, Omaha hi/lo allows for you to utilize all four of your cards, in 2 sets of 2. The pot, or accumulation of all bets, blinds, and raises is then divided between the player with the best high hand, and the player with the best low hand. Knowing this, it is quite easy to see where this particular game derived its name.
Another important aspect of hi/lo is the 8 or better rule. That is, a low hand may only consist of 5 cards that ranked 8 or below (7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and A). Though the low hand has a chance to win some money, there are often times when no hand fits the qualifications for a low hand. When this happens, the player with the best high hand is awarded the pot in its entirety. As far as low hands are concerned, the game of hi/lo utilizes what is called the California system of hand ranking. This means that Aces are always considered to be the lowest card in a low hand. Additionally, straights and flushes do not count when determining a low hand, which means that the best possible low hand is A, 2, 3, 4, 5. Because suits are also ignored with the low pot, players with the same exact hand are forced to split te low portion of the winnings.
With so many rules tied to the determination of a low hand, you might think that the regulations surrounding the high hand are also strict. Luckily for everyone, there are no qualifications for a high hand, which means that every hand will have a high winner, even if there is no qualifying low hand. The following section will provide a brief example of a hand of Omaha hi/lo.
Omaha hi/lo Hand Example
In this example, let’s say that the board consists of 4♥5♠6♦K♥A♠. If player 1 is holding A♥3♠K♦K♠ and player 2 is holding A♦7♥Q♦Q♥, who wins the low hand (if applicable) and who wins the high hand?
The answer is that player 1 would win the high hand with three of a kind kings: K♠K♦K♥A♠6♦. Player 2 would win the low hand with A♦4♥5♠6♦7♥.
This is a very basic example, and hands can become quite confusing, but this should provide you with a rudimentary understanding of the game.
History of Omaha
Unlike Texas Hold’em, which boasts a fairly well-defined timeline, the origins of what is considered the second-most popular poker variant are not so clear. As surprising as it may sound, most historians agree that the game of Omaha was not founded in Omaha, Nebraska, but rather, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Also surprising is the fact that most everyone who has studied the game agrees that it did not become at all well-known until the 1980s; far later than its more popular relative, Texas Hold’em.
If you dig deep enough, you will find that there are many different stories relating to the foundation of this 4-card game. Making it even more difficult to track down the game’s origins is the fact that it was not invented, per se, but rather came about as a byproduct of other poker variants that existed, such as 7 Card Stud. While it may be unclear how this game came to be, it is now one of the most popular card games in the world, and can be found at casinos from Las Vegas to Macau.