1. Introduction

This is part 1 of the article series "PLO From Scratch". The target audience is micro and low limit players with some experience from limit or no-limit Hold'em, but little or no PLO experience. My goal with this series is to teach basic PLO strategy in a systematic and structured way.

In part 1 I will first discuss the background for this series and how it will be structured. Then I'll give an overview of the (in my opinion) best PLO learning material on the market today, and we'll end part 1 with a study plan for learning basic PLO theory from literature and videos. We will then start discussing PLO strategy in part 2.

2. The background for this article series

When I started playing poker in the spring of 2005, limit and no-limit Hold'em were the dominating games, and the skills of the average player were low in both games. All you needed in order to climb up from the FL or NL Hold'em low limits to the middle and higher limits was normal intelligence and some dedicated effort.

Armed with this you could climb from the low to the middle limits in a few months and start to make good money. Many winning players learned the necessary skills and strategies strictly "on the job", and did nothing in particular to continue to improve systematically.

These days are mostly over. Limit and no-limit Hold'em have become much tougher games since the golden age of online poker (the years 2003-2006 or thereabouts). There are several reasons for this, but it's beyond doubt that a lot of the average player's improvement stems from the fact that good strategy has become common knowledge through books, forums and coaching videos.

There are many smart people in the online poker player pool, and in the 6 years that have passed since online poker exploded (in 2003), these people have played, analyzed, and discussed optimal strategy. This has lead to a rapid development of FL and NL Hold'em strategy. Today you can easily find low limit tables that play just as tough as the middle limit games did a few years ago. If you want to start at the bottom in Hold'em and work your way up to the middle and high limits, you have to be prepared to work very hard.

So what are the consequences for ambitious players in today's online environment? For starters, you have to be willing to work hard to improve your skills continually and systematically. If you don't, your edge will slowly be reduced as your average opponent continues to improve. Another consequence is that you have to put more effort into game selection, both with regards to the games you play today, and with regards to learning new games to give yourself more good games to play in.

And this brings us to pot-limit Omaha (PLO). For me, PLO sailed under the radar for a long time. I heard a lot of talk about how fun and profitable it was, but I didn't give it a try until 2008, and I played it mostly for variation (I grinded Hold'em at the time). I splashed around without much knowledge about how the game was supposed to be played, but I gradually started to get a feel for the game. I also observed that the average player in this game often made horrible mistakes, and that the skill level of the player pool reminded me of the Hold'em games of old.

This gave me the motivation to learn the game properly. In the autumn of 2009 I therefore decided to start a systematic learning process and teach myself solid PLO strategy from scratch. And since I like writing about poker theory, I decided to simultaneously write an article series for Donkr's micro and low limit players.

In this series I will write about PLO strategies and concepts I have worked with in my own learning process, and my goal is to lay out a theoretical framework for PLO learning, aimed at beginning players. I hope the series will help the readers getting started with PLO, and that they can use it as a starting point both for learning PLO strategy and for learning how to think about PLO (which can be very different from the way we think about Hold'em).

3. The plan for the article series

I have previously written an article series ("Poker From Scratch") for limit Hold'em where I discussed basic limit Hold'em strategy and ran a bankroll building project on the side (grinding up a 1000 BB limit Hold'em bankroll from $0.25-0.50 to $5-10). I plan to use the same form for this series. We will start with preflop strategy and principles of starting hand strength. Then we will move on to postflop play.

Also, the general principles for "big bet poker" (pot-limit and no-limit) will be a common thread throughout the series. Many of the strategic principles of PLO are consequences of the game'sbetting structure(pot-limit) and not of the game type (a flop game where we use starting hands with 4 cards, and we have to use 2 cards from the hand and 3 from the board). Thinking about any poker game as a combination of betting structure and game type makes it easier to understand why proper strategy is the way it is.

We will also include a micro/low limit bankroll building project in this article series, and there are several good reasons for this. The series is aimed at beginners, which means most of the target audience will be playing at the lowest limits. I have never grinded microlimit PLO, so I should ensure that the strategies I discuss are appropriate for the limits the readers are playing. This means I have to gather experience from these limits myself.

A grinding project will also be a source of situations and hands that can be used in the article series. Finally, a grinding project will hopefully give us an indication of the win rates a solid and disciplined player can achieve at the micro and low limits, and how fast he can move up the limits using a sensible bankroll management scheme. This could serve as inspiration for small stakes players new to the game.

So where to begin the grind? I decided to start with an article series bankroll of $250, since my impression is that most micro limit players start with similar bankrolls. The next step is to pick a bankroll management scheme, and I have chosen a scheme I call "50+10". This means playing with a 50 BI minimum bankroll (so we start out at $5PLO), and we can start taking shots at the next limit whenever we have 50 BI for the current limit plus 10 BI for the next limit.

If we lose the shotting capital, we move back down to rebuild and try again (grind in 10 new BI for the next limit and take another shot). So we take shots with 10 BI at a time, and we always move down when the bankroll drops to 50 BI for the previous limit.

The next question is where to end the project. I like a challenge, so I plan to make this article bankroll ready for taking a shot at $200PLO. This means we end the project when we have 50 BI ($5000) for $100PLO plus 10 BI ($2000) for $200PLO. In other words, we will turn our $250 into $7000.

How much time (e.g. how many hands) will we realistically have to use for this project? First we find out how many buy-ins we have to win (minimum) for the different limits:

  • $5PLO to $10PLO:Grind in 20 BI ($100) at $5PLO and build the roll to 50+10 BI ($350) for a shot at $10PLO.
  • $10PLO to $25PLO:Grind in 40 BI ($400) at $10PLO and build the roll to 50+10 BI ($750) for a shot at $25PLO.
  • $25PLO to $50PLO:Grind in 40 BI ($1000) at $25PLO and build the roll to 50+10 BI ($1750) for a shot at $50PLO.
  • $50PLO to $100PLO:Grind in 35 BI ($1750) at $50PLO and build the roll to 50+10 BI ($3500) for a shot at $100PLO.
  • $100PLO to $200PLO:Grind in 35 BI ($3500) at $100PLO and build the roll to 50+10 BI ($7000) for a shot at $200PLO.

If all shots succeed at the first try, we have to grind in 20 + 40 + 40 + 35 + 35 =170 BI. If we (somewhat arbitrarily) assume an average win rate of 7.5 ptBB/100 (ptBB =2 x big blind), we will make 1.5 BI per 1000 hands on average. So we have to play a minimum of 170/(1.5 per 1000 hands) =113,000 hands.

Piece of cake for a grinder with a minimum of professional pride. We have made some assumptions here, so take this estimate with a grain of salt. But we are probably close to the realities.

(And by the way .. if I haven't already said so we are playing 6-max in this house. Not, and I repeat not, full ring)

4. Learning material and poker tools for PLO

Until recently there was not much to be found for PLO on the book and coaching video market. But in the last couple of years several good books have been published, and most coaching sites have started to produce plenty of high quality PLO videos.

In this section I will give an overview of the best (in my opinion) books, videos and tools for PLO. I will also design a brief study plan for those who want to take up a systematic study of PLO theory and concepts.

4.1 PLO books
Below are short reviews of the best (again, in my opinion) PLO literature on the market today:

Pot-Limit Omaha Poker - The Big Play Strategy (Hwang 2008)
As far as I'm concerned, the publish date of this book marks year zero with regards to good PLO literature. The book discusses full ring strategy, and it's main theme is to set up profitable situations where we play for deep stacks as a favorite. In order to achieve this, we need to understand starting hand structure, and this is where the book really shines in my opinion.

Regardless of whether we're playing full ring or shorthanded PLO, we need to know what makes a good starting hand. We also need to know which hands are suitable for winning big pots, and which hands are more suitable for winning small pots.

Hwang's discussion of PLO starting hands is the most thorough in print as of today. He classifies starting hands both according to type and according to strength. He also thoroughly explains structural defects, and the consequences of getting involved with hands that have poor structure.

Hwang's main game plan for deep-stacked full ring play is to get involved as a favorite in big pots, and that's why he devotes so much of the book to understanding starting hand strength and structure, and which type of postflop scenarios the different starting hand types prefer.

We will be playing 6-max, but Hwang's discussion of starting hands will be very valuable to us, since we will frequently find ourselves in "big play" situations where our good hand clashes with another good hand in a big pot.

Hwang then moves on to postflop play and discusses the principles of postflop ABC poker in pot-limit Omaha. In addition to playing for stacks with quality hands we also need to be skilled in small pot play, and Hwang discusses both big pot and small pot postflop scenarios.

Advanced Pot-Limit Omaha - Volume 1: Small Ball and Short-Handed Play (Hwang 2009)
The is the follow-up toPot-Limit Omaha Poker - The Big Play Strategy, and it's the first book in a planned series of (probably) 3 books on advanced pot-limit Omaha. Hwang assumes that the reader is familiar with the principles laid out in his first book, and he now takes a big leap forward. The book's main theme is utilizing position, and Hwang demonstrates through discussion and hand examples how good use of position gives us new opportunities for profit. It also allows us to loosen up our starting hand requirements, sometimes dramatically.

"The Big Play Strategy" from Hwang's first book is still our core strategy, but by learning to utilize position we will get more opportunities to win small pots in situations where we suspect nobody has much of a hand (this is frequently the case in heads-up and shorthanded pots). Hwang calls this strategy "small ball", and it's his preferred strategy in shorthanded play.

Secrets of Professional Pot-Limit Omaha (Slotboom 2006)
A book mainly targeted at full ring players, and it isthebook for learning the principles of shortstacking (our filosophy is that shortstacking is nothing but an annoyance, but that doesn't mean it isn't profitable). Slotboom explains his (sometimes unconventional) full ring PLO strategies in great detail, both his shortstacking strategies and his strategies for deep stack play. He does not give an integrated game plan like Hwang does, but he explains how he thinks about PLO, and this should give the reader lots of things to think about (at least it did for me).

Secrets of Short-Handed Pot-Limit Omaha (Slotboom/Hollink 2009)
Like Hwang, Slotboom followed up his full ring book with a book on shorthanded PLO. He uses a structure similar to the first book, which means he discusses his own strategies, and explains how and why they work for him. His process of moving from full ring to shorthanded games (which became necessary partly because the full ring games got flooded with shortstackers who had read his first book) is described in detail, and he discusses the strategic adjustments he had to make.

The last 1/3 of the book is written by coauthor Rob Hollink (a well known high stakes player). Hollink analyzes 33 PLO hands played by himself at limits ranging from $25-50 to $200-400. Many of the hands involve well known online nicks like durrrr, Urindanger, OMGClayAiken, etc.

How Good is Your Pot-Limit Omaha? (Reuben 2003)
This little gem of a book contains 57 hand quizzes taken from live play. Stewart Reuben is a very loose-aggressive player with a relaxed attitude towards starting hand requirements and such. This works well for him, since he is skilled in live deep stack play. But trying to emulate his play in today's 100 BB buy-in online games will probably lead to bankroll suicide.

But this is not a book you read in order to copy strategies, you read it to train your PLO though processes. I recommend that you take the quizzes seriously and solve them as best you can before you check the answers. You get a score for each hand, and Reuben does a good job of explaining his recommended strategies.

You can learn a lot from comparing your own though processes with those of a strong player. You will sometimes discover logical inconsistencies in your own play, and you learn to think about things you previously didn't consider.

4.2 PLO videos
Here are some of my favorites among the coaching videos currently on the market. Note that how much you learn from a particular coach can be a matter of personal preference. Different coaches have different playing styles and teaching styles, and a coach that I learn a lot from does not necessarily have to be the best one for you. That said, here are some good videos from some of the different coaching sites:

- The video series2 X 6(Vanessa Selbst & Whitelime)

An introductory series i 8 parts where PLO specialist Vanessa Selbst (who also has a WSOP bracelet in PLO) helps NLHE specialist Whitelime making the transition to PLO. Whitelime is good at asking relevant questions, and many interesting topics emerge from the discussions.

- The video seriesPLO(Whitelime & Phil Galfond)

Whitelime continues his PLO education in another 8 part series, this times with the one and only Phil Galfond (OMGClayAiken/Jman28). When you listen to Phil Galfond explaining PLO concepts, your brain will be filled with light.

- Everything by Stinger (19 videos).
- Everything by lefty2506 (11 videos)

Stinger is a PLO god, that's it and that's that. He is also very good at explaining his thought processes. Stinger's approach to the game is not the most mathematical, and this makes his explanations easy to follow. He mostly uses sound poker logic and reads, and these are things all players can understand.

Note that Stinger uses a pretty loose preflop style. This is fine for a player of his caliber, but probably not something a beginner should start out with. So don't try to copy everything Stinger does, but pay close attention to his decision making processes.

lefty2506 is a solid TAG player who also explains things very well. Watching a good TAG play makes poker seem simple (and when you play solid poker, thingsarein fact simple most of the time).

- Everything by LearnedFromTV (16 videos)

LearnedFromTV has a very analytical approach to the game, and he is good at explaining theory. I recommend that you start with the two videosLearnedFromTV #16: PLO Fundamentals - Part 1andLearnedFromTV #18: PLO Fundamentals - Part 2(note that these are not his first videos).

These are theory videos where he explains the most important PLO principles. His live videos are also of high quality with very good explanations of his play.

4.3 Poker tools
We need two things:

1. Omaha Manager
Omaha Manageris the Omaha version of HoldemManager, and a license costs $80 at the time of writing (alternatively, you can purchase a small stakes license that works for games up to and including $50PLO). This program has established itself asthestandard for PLO tracking software, and if you are going to use a tracker (and you should), use this one.

The use of tracking software in online poker should be well known for most of the readers, but we will also get into this in future articles.

2. ProPokerTools Omaha Simulator
ProPokerTools Omaha Simulatoris an equity calculator that can be used both for particular hands and for hand ranges. You can also use wildcards (e.g. use AA** to run calculations with any aces hand).

This is an indispensable tool for training your understanding of equity with different types of hands in various scenarios. A good way to use this tool is to analyze important hands after each session. For example, you can calculate equities for all the big pots you played (e.g. all the pots where you went all-in at some point in the hand).

You are playing $5PLO (blinds $0.02 and $0.05). UTG ($5) raises pot to $0.17, you ($5) 3-bet to $0.40 (a bit less than pot) with 9 8 7 6 on the button, the blinds fold, UTG 4-bets pot to $1.27, you call (and you're assuming UTG's 4-bet means he has AAxx almost always).

Flop:3 T 6 ($2.61)
UTG ($3.73) bets $2.61, you ($3.73) raise all-in, UTG calls with A:spade: A:club: K:diamond: 2:club: (just as you assumed).

Turn:3 T 6 K ($10.07)

River:3 T 6 K 4 ($10.07)
UTG wins with a pair of aces. You now want to know if your flop raise was correct under the assumption that UTG had aces.

You elected to 3-bet in position with a premium double-suited rundown to get heads-up with position on the raiser. He 4-bet you the maximum. You assumed this meant he had AAxx, and you called, planning to raise his (expected) flop c-bet all-in whenever you flop sufficient equity against his assumed hand. You flopped a low pair + inside wrap + backdoor flushdraw, and you raised all-in as planned.

We can now use ProPokerTools to calculate our flop equity versus AAxx:

We are almost a conflip against AAxx on this flop, and since the pot is $2.61 with $3.73 left to play for, we are committed. So we raise all-in. This means we invest $3.73 to win a total pot of $2.61 + 2 x $3.73 =$10.07 (the preflop pot + both remaining stacks), and we have 47.45% equity so our EV of getting all-in on the flop is:

EV =0.4745($10.07) - $3.73 =+$1.05

We made $1.05 from getting all-in on the flop. This is better than folding (EV =$0), so raising all-in was a profitable play.

5. Study plan
Here is a suggestion for a "PLO curriculum" for those who want to read up on basic PLO strategy:

1. Study the bookPot-Limit Omaha Poker - The Big Play Strategy(Hwang)
(You can skip the last two chapters on Omaha hi-lo)

Study chapter 4 (Starting Hands and Pre-Flop Play) thoroughly. Hwang first categorizes starting hands according to type:

1. Big cards and ace high Broadway wraps
2. Straight hands
3. Suited ace hands
4. Pair-plus hands
5. AA hands
6. Marginal hands

And then he categorizes them according to quality:

1. Premium
2. Speculative
3. Marginal
4. Trash

Memorize these two classification schemes and all the hands that belong to them. Then you will have a framework for quickly assessing the quality of your starting hands, and you will also have a good understanding of the different conditions that different types of starting hands prefer.

For example, if you are dealt A K Q 9 , you will immediately label this as "Ace high Broadway wrap", and you will know that it's a premium hand that can be played for a raise from any position. But change this hand to A K Q 2 , and you now know that you have a "Suited ace hand", that it falls under the category "Marginal", and that it prefers position.

Note that we're not trying to construct a preflop scheme with these classifications. What we want is "training wheels" that can help us quickly assess the quality and playability of the hands we get dealt.

Also, make sure you understand the principles for ABC postflop play before you put this book down, particularly the difference between big pot situations and small pot situations.

2. Study the video series2 X 6(Vanessa Selbst & Whitelime) at Deucescracked.com
Vanessa Selbst plays a fundamentally tight and solid style, and she will teach you to avoid trouble hands and trouble situations. This approach is similar to the book you have just studied, and now you have an opportunity to see how the principles from the book can be applied in a 6-max game.

3. Play a lot
You have now studied (and hopefully digested) basic PLO strategy, and the next step is to implement this strategy in your own play. Sit down and try out the things you have learned. You will probably frequently find yourself in situations where you don't know what to do, and/or where you make big mistakes. This is fine, since it gives you an opportunity to learn and eliminate leaks from your game.

Make a habit out of reviewing your play after each session. Pick a few hands and analyze them methodically (and use ProPokerTools to train your understanding of equities). Think through the strategic concepts involved and, if necessary, return to the previous book and/or video series we studied to see how your own logic in the heat of battle compares to what you learned.

Did you misunderstand, forget, or overlook something? Did you use the wrong concepts for this particular situation? If so, correct your own thinking so that you can avoid making the same mistake in the future.

4. Study the bookAdvanced Pot-Limit Omaha - Volume 1: Small Ball and Short-Handed Play (Hwang)
This is a thick and relatively advanced book, and you will have to spend some time studying the strategies it contains. But you should start working your way through it when you feel comfortable with basic ABC strategy, both preflop and postflop. We will use many of the concepts from this book when we develop our own PLO strategy in future articles, and Hwangs small ball strategy will be of particular interest to us.

5. Study as many videos as you have time for and play as much as you can
Play, play, play, and use videos to pick up new ideas to work with. When you watch a coach doing something you find interesting, you should take notes to make sure you understand what's going on. This will make it easier to implement the new concept into your own game.

6. Summary

We have discussed the background and future plans for the article series "PLO From Scratch", and the learning material and tools we will be using. We have also designed a brief curriculum for introductory PLO study.

In Part 2 we will start the process of developing our own PLO strategy. We will start with fundamental PLO principles, and principles for starting hand selection and preflop play.

Good luck!