1. Introduction



This is Part 2 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 2 we start our study of PLO strategy, and we begin at the beginning with starting hands and preflop strategy. PLO preflop strategy is sufficiently complicated that we plan to have at least two articles (Part 2 and Part 3) on this topic.

We begin Part 2 by defining our overall PLO core strategy. The core strategy is a "big picture" idea that tells us what we are trying to accomplish when we decide to play a hand. Next, we will discuss starting hand strength, and the properties that define good PLO starting hands. Then we will define categories of starting hands and classify them according to structure and quality. (We will use the starting hand categories defined by Jeff Hwang in his book Pot-Limit Omaha Poker: The Big Play Strategy). Throughout the article we will illustrate the theory with examples.

This systematic treatment of starting hands, together with the overall core strategy, will be our starting point for developing a solid and value based PLO preflop strategy. Later, we will add more advanced preflop concepts (for example, raising speculative hands to isolate, 3-betting, the importance of stack/pot ratios for preflop play, the importance of flop equity distributions for the play of different types of starting hands), and we will discussed these topics in detail in Part 3.

When we are done with the discussion of starting hands, the next step (in Part 3) will be to study the connection between preflop strategy and postflop strategy in more detail, and we shall see that they are strongly correlated. PLO is first and foremost a postflop game, and an important preflop strategy concept is that the main goal of our preflop strategy is to create profitable postflop scenarios. This is a very important concept that we will return to again and again in this article series. We will always keep it in mind when we make a preflop decision, and we will make it a habit to start planning ahead before we put the first chip into the pot.

For example, we will not be thinking like this:

I raise a limper with J T 9 8 on the button because it's a good hand

Instead, we will look ahead and think more like this:

I raise a limper with J T 9 8 on the button because I want to isolate him and set myself up for playing a heads-up pot with position, and with a good hand that often connects with the flop and gives me a hand good enough to continue with those times I don't win the pot preflop or with a flop c-bet..

But we start with the simple and memorizable stuff. Our goal for the "technical" work we will do in Part 2 is to get an overview over PLO starting hand structures, and build our understanding of which hands are strong and which hands are weak. We will also define some simple guidelines for how to play different types of starting hands preflop, so that we have a place to start.

In my opinion this theoretical background material is necessary for the understanding of how PLO starting hand strength differs from starting hand strength in other games (e.g. Hold'em), and for understanding what PLO preflop strategy does for us. It's also important for new PLO players to have some concrete guidelines (training wheels) for preflop play while they are building their own understanding of the game. When this simple theoretical framework is in place, we will move on to more advanced preflop concepts in Part 3.

Before we embark on PLO strategy, I want to state a "disclaimer":

PLO is a game with a lot of room for variation in playing style, as long as the strategies we use are consistent with one another, balanced, and based on sound poker logic. I don't claim that the strategies I present in this article series are the only ones, or that they are necessarily the best, and I don't want to give "cookie cutter advice" for how to play preflop and postflop. My goal for this article series is to describe good thought processes for poker in general and PLO in particular, and I want to show a beginning player what he should be thinking about when he is developing his own game.

So let's get started:


2. Our overall PLO core strategy



Our overall PLO core strategy revolves around two very important concepts that are both based on what we are trying to accomplish when we get involved with a hand preflop. PLO is first and foremost a postflop game, and the most important decisions are usually made there.

Simply put, PLO postflop play is mostly about:


  • 1. Betting the nuts for value, and semibluffing strong nut draws
  • 2. using position to steal pots when the opponents are weak, and using position to control pot size when we have a non-nut hand that we want to take to showdown.


From this, it follows that we want to:


  • 1. Start with hands that have the potential to flop the nuts or nut draws
  • 2. Play in position


This is our overall PLO core strategy, distilled down to two sentences. We will be picky about starting hands, and we will be picky about position. The main goal of our core strategy is to build strong hands postflop and win showdowns with them. In addition, we will use position to win small and moderately big pots in a controlled way when nobody has a strong hand. This means using position to control pot size with hands that we can not bet hard for value, as well as stealing pots by bluffing and semibluffing.

Does this sound simple? Effective PLO ABC-poker isn't much more complicated than this, and if you keep these two concepts in mind at all times, you will have an advantage over the majority of your opponents at the lowest limits.

So the first stop on our PLO strategic journey is to learn how to evaluate the quality of PLO starting hands, and most of Part will be devoted to this. We also need a basic understanding of position, and how to exploit it.

Position is always an important part of any Omaha preflop decision. Each player gets dealt 4 cards preflop, and this means that any player can credibly represent any hand at any time. Almost regardless of the flop texture, any player (you included) might have hit the flop hard and sit there with the nuts or near-nuts.

This makes it difficult to play non-nut hands out of position. The reason is that there is always a significant chance that someone behind you is sitting there with a monster hand, or planning to represent a monster hand and bluff you out of the pot.

When you are sitting out of position with a hand the could be best, but isn't the nuts, you are forced to choose between betting into the opponents' hands (and they could have you beat), or checking and offering them a potentially valuable free card. By checking weak hands out of position, you are also offering the opponents an opportunity for bluffing you out of the pot (since you have revealed weakness by checking).

But in position you can see what the opponents do before you act, which makes it easier to find a good game plan for your non-nut hands. If everybody checks, you can often bet (for value or as a bluff) hands that you would have had to check out of position. When there is a bet in front of you, you now have better control over how fast the pot will grow. You can raise your monster hands, call with hands that prefer to go to showdown in a small or moderatly sized pot, and fold (or bluff) with your weakest hands.

Before we get involved with a hand preflop, we should think about the most likely postflop scenarios we will encounter, and how they typically will play out. Weak starting hands generally hit flops less often and less hard than strong starting hands. Weak starting hands therefore play much better in position than out of position, because position makes it easier to play non-nut hands and draws profitably postflop.

Another reason why weak starting hands benefot from position, is that position gives us better control over how much money goes into the pot preflop. With fewer players left to act after we enter the pot, there is less risk of raising behind us.

Therefore, we can play a wide range of weak starting hands on the button, particularly if it's folded to us. But out of position we should focus on starting hands that can flop the nuts or strong nut draws.

As a warm-up before we start categorizing starting hands, here are two examples of preflop decision making based on starting hand quality and position. Note that in both examples we try to look ahead and tie together preflop play and postflop play. This form of hand planning is something we will return to again and again:


Example 2.1



You are sitting UTG at a full $5PLO 6-max table, looking down at Q Q 8 2 . The play has been loose with some preflop raising and 3-betting. Typically, 3 or more players see the flop. You have a 100 BB stack, and the opponents all have 80 BB or more. Should you play this hand or fold it? And why?

This is a starting hand (Category: High pair with poor side cards) which often gets beginners in trouble. Experienced players will usually fold this hand from UTG with little regret. The hand has litle nut potential, since we need to flop top set on an uncoordinated flop (for example, Q 8 3 ) to have the nuts, and this is a rare occurrence.

Let us first list some of the common reasons a new PLO player will have for choosing to get involved with a raise preflop.


  • Sometimes we win the blinds, which is fine
  • Sometimes we get called preflop, but win the pot with a c-bet on the flop
  • We will sometimes flop a set, which will often win a showdown
  • Our opponents are loose and deep-stacked, so we can count on sometimes winning a big pot when we flop a set

So our beginner's game plan is to either steal the blinds, steal the pot with a c-bet on the flop, or flop a set and win a big pot at showdown. Below are some of the problems associated with this plan:


  • We will rarely pick up the blinds under these conditions, and we will usually get called by one or several opponents
  • We might get 3-bet and be forced to fold (we are too weak to call a 3-bet out of position)
  • Playing out of position makes it difficult to steal the pot postflop when we miss the flop. It also makes it more difficult to maximize profit those times we make the hand we are hoping to make
  • Even when we flop a set, we will often lose in Omaha. This will almost always be costly
  • We have a starting hand that usually flops either a set or nothing, and we have no backup strength that can help us. Therefore, we will usually have no hand/no draw on the flop, and no reason to continue with the hand. Since we are out of position, and since this is Omaha (where anyone can have anything at any time), it will be risky to attempt to often steal the pot by c-betting into several opponents (which we expect to get) with a worthless hand

Here is a typical scenario we will find ourselves in if we raise:

Preflop
We ($5) raise pot to $0.17 with our Q Q 8 2 , MP ($6.20) calls, CO ($8.95) calls, button ($5) calls.

Flop: 7 K 6 ($0.75)
Now what?

By raising Q Q 8 2 preflop under these conditions, we set ourselves up for playing the flop out of position against several opponents with no hand and no draw, and this is exactly what happened. The only option that makes sense is to check, planning to fold if someone bets (automatically c-betting the flop with no hand/no draw against several opponents is equivalent to burning money).

The problem with Q Q 8 2 is that we rarely flop a hand good enough to continue past the flop. So if we expect to have to play make-a-hand-poker in a multiway pot (which we have to expect here) we prefer to see the flop cheaply to preserve implied odds.

Having position will also be a big asset with this kind of hand. Playing in position reduces the risk of facing a raise behind us (since there are fewer opponents left to act), it will be easier to maximize our profit when we make our hand, and we will get more stealing opportunities postflop (those times everyone checks to us). By setting ourselves up for playing a big, multiway pot out of position with this type of hand, we are simply giving the opponents more chips to steal from us postflop. Collectively, they will hit the flop much more often and much harder than us, and most of the time we will simply be check-folding.

So if we're playing this hand mainly for set value, we want to play this hand cheaply preflop, and we want to play it in position. For example, if we had been on the button after a limper or two, we could have overlimped for set value with good implied odds. But we could have open-raised from the button if if had been folded to us, since in this case we can count on stealing the pot often, either preflop or with a c-bet on the flop. (It's fine to raise a weak hand if we expect to steal a lot of pots, so that we won't have to extract value solely from playing make-a-hand poker).

As played, the rest of the hand will usually play out more or less like this:

Flop: 7 K 6 ($0.75)
You ($4.83) check, MP ($6.03) checks, CO ($8.78) checks, button ($4.83) bets $0.75, you grudgingly fold, with a sneaking suspicion that you did something incorrect somewhere.



Example 2.2



You are sitting on the button at a full $5PLO 6-max table. UTG ($5) raises to $0.17, MP ($6.20) calls, CO ($8.95) calls, you ($5) look down at A 9 8 7 with great interest. What is your plan?

You have a near-premium starting hand (Category: Suited ace with a rundown) with plenty of nut potential (nutflush/nutstraight), and many flops will give you a hand good enough to continue. You would have had an automatic raise if it had been folded to you, and you would also have had an obvious raise after limpers. But the pot is already raised ahead of you, so your options are calling or 3-betting.

In this scenario, calling seems like a good plan, because:

You are setting yourself up for playing make-a-hand poker with a "nutty" quality hand, position and good implied odds in a multiway pot (always a good scenario). Note that not having the initiative in the hand will make it easier to exploit opponent weakness postflop. If everyone checks to you on the flop, it is more likely that they are genuinely weak than if they had checked to you after a preflop 3-bet from you. This will make it easier for you to identify good stealing opportunities postflop.

The pot is already multiway, so a 3-bet will probably not make it much easier to win without a showdown. You can expect to get called by several opponents preflop, since 3 of them have already gotten involved for a raise.

By calling you are inviting the blinds to call behind you with a wide range of semi-trashy hands (seemingly playable, but very weak and non-nutty hands like K 7 5 4 ) This sets them up for getting into big trouble postflop against quality hands like our hand. They might believe they are getting good pot odds and implied odds on these weak hads, but in reality they are setting themselves up for playing big pots out of position with hands and draws that often end up 2nd best. For example, when they make a non-nut flush, and end up paying off the nut flush.

By 3-betting you are opening yourself up for getting 4-bet by AAxx, which means you will have to fold a hand with a lot of potential. Our hand is not strong enough, and the stacks are not deep enough, to call a pot-sized 4-bet if the raiser probably has AAxx (more about this topic in Part 3).

So we call the preflop raise, planning to mostly play make-a-hand-poker postflop. We might also steal an occasional pot when the opponents tell us that they are weak by checking to us postflop.

The observant readers will have noticed that the preflop betting so far in this example is exactly the same as in Example 2.1. The only difference is that we are now on the button with a quality hand that will hit a lot of flops. So let's re-create the flop scenario in Example 2.1 with these changes. This will be a good illustration of how simple PLO can be with position and a quality starting hand.

Preflop
UTG ($5) raises to $0.17, MP ($6.20) calls, CO ($8.95) calls, we ($5) call with our A 9 8 7 on the button, the blinds fold, and we see the flop in a 4-way pot:


Flop: 7 K 6 ($0.75)

UTG ($4.83) checks, MP ($6.03) checks, CO ($8.78) checks, you ($4.83) bet $0.75, and everyone folds.

So what happened here? Let us think back to the flop scenario we found ourselves in after raising a trashy hand from UTG in Example 2.1 We got called in 3 places preflop, missed the flop completely, and had to check-fold to a bet from button. But now we are on the button, and our quality hand has hit the flop (as quality hands often do).

We have flopped a fine mix of draws: Pair + nutflushdraw + open-ended straightdraw. We have also received information from our opponents, and they are telling us that they are too weak to bet. So it's obvious to bet our good draw as a semibluff on the flop. With this stack/pot ratio (more about this in Part 3) we plan to 3-bet all-in if we get check-raised, since we will never be a big underdog to any opponent hand. Everyone folds on the flop, which is fine. Easy game.


3. Components of starting hand strength



Before we start classifying PLO starting hands, let us quickly review what starting hand strength is made of. In all poker games, starting hand strenght has the following 3 components:


3.1 High card strenght



High cards build high versions of all poker hands. Most of the time, high card strenght builds high one pair hands and two pair hands. Given otherwise similar structure, high cards are better than low cards.

For example, Q J T 8 and 7 6 5 3 have the same structure, and have about the same chance of winning when they build a straight. But Q J T 8 has higher cards, and will win more often with one pair, two pair, trips and full house those times we don't build a straight.


3.2 Straight strength (connectedness)



The more connected a hand is, the more and better straights it builds. Below are 3 hands of varying connectedness:

K K 7 2
Has no connectedness, and builds no straights.

K 9 5 2
Has little connectedness, and only builds 4 straights (the cards we use from our hand are written in bold):

1 nut straight: 5432A
3 non-nut straights: KQJT9, 98765, 65432

T 9 8 7
Maximally connected, and build straights in 20 ways:

14 nut straights:

QJT98, JT987, JT987, JT987, T9876, T9876, T9876, T9876, T9876, T9876, 98765, 98765, 98765, 87654

6 non-nut straights:

KQJT9, QJT98, QJT98, JT987, JT987, JT987)



3.3 Flush strength (suitedness)



Suited hands can build flushes. High suited cards build high flushes, which is obviously better than low flushes. Furthermore, there is a huge difference between the nut flush and non-nut flushes. The nut flush can win big pots, while low flushes often lose big pots (mostly to the nut flush) if we overplay them. The difference between the 2nd and 3rd nut flush with respect to profitability is small, but the difference between the 2nd nut flush and the nut flush is huge.

We also want no more than two cards of a suit on our hand (having our own outs reduces the chance of building a flush). Doubly suited hands are obviously better than singly suited hands. Below are some hands of varying flush strength:

A 9 8 7 (a premium or near-premium hand) is far better than K 9 8 7 (a speculative hand).

J T 8 7 is better than J T 8 7

J T 8 7 is better than J T 8 7


3.4 The ability to build the nuts ("nuttiness")



When we are assessing the strength of a PLO starting hand, we start by identifying the hand's strength components, as discussed previously. Then we assess the quality of the individual strength components. The more nut components a hand has, the better. But a hand with several decent non-nut components might be more playable in certain scenarios than a hand with one strong nut component and nothing else.

Whether a hand is "nutty" or "non-nutty" also has consequences for when and how we should play the hand preflop. In general, nutty hands are less sensitive to position postflop (if we have flopped the nuts, we're not worried about the hands behind us), and nutty hands will play well both against few opponents and many opponents, as long as the price to play preflop is acceptable.

Non-nutty hands generally play better in position (which makes non-nut hands easier to play postflop), and with few opponents (makes is less likely that we clash with the nuts postflop).


3.5 What makes a good PLO starting hand?



The best PLO starting hands have all 4 cards woring togehter, and they can build the nuts, or near-nuts, in multiple ways. Below are a few examples:

A A J T (top set, 2 nut flushes, many straights)
A T 9 8 (nut flush, non-nut flush, many straights)
K K Q Q (2 high sets, 2 non-nut flushes, 2 nut straights)
J T 9 8 (many straights, 2 non-nut flushes)

Starting hands with a "dangler" (a card that does not contribute to any strength component) are always speculative at best, and the same is true for hands that aren't suited. Below are a few examples:

K Q J 3
9 8 7 2
Q J T 9


3.6 Showdown equity versus steal equity



All starting hands have varying degrees of showdown equity. This is the value associated with the hand's ability to build strong hands postflop and win showdowns. For example, the premium hand T 9 8 7 builds straights and flushes, and this makes it suitable for winning big pots.

But the value of a starting hand in a given preflop scenario also has a steal equity component. Steal equity is a measure of the value we extract by stealing pots preflop or postflop. For example, if you're on the button with a random starting hand xxxx, you will have good steal equity if it gets folded to you preflop and the blinds are tight and straightforward. In this scenario you can steal a lot of pots by raising preflop and c-betting most flop, regardless of your cards.

Showdown equity is mostly dependent on your cards, but will also be a function of position (it's easier to mazimize profit in position when you flop a good hand), the number of opponents, their stack sizes and their tendencies.

Steal equity is independent of your cards, and is a function of position, the number of opponents, their stack sizes, their tendencies, and the history between you (for example, if you try to steal a lot, they wil adapt by calling or raising you more often).

When we choose to get involved with a hand preflop, we should always take both showdown equity and steal equity into consideration. We also need to have a clear idea about which of the two components is more important. Let us clarify this:

In Example 2.1 we had a weak hand (Q Q 8 2 ) in a preflop scenario with very little steal equity (out of position with a high probability of ending up with a multiway pot). And since our hand did not have much showdown equity (we had to flop a set to have any value postflop), we concluded that the best preflop play was to fold. But if we had been on the button with the same hand, we would have raised if it had been folded to us. In that case we would have had good steal equity with position on only two opponents in the blinds, and this would have changed our preflop play from a fold to a raise.

In Example 2.2 we had a nutty starting hand (A 9 8 7 ) with good showdown equity, so we elected to play the hand, based almost solely on showdown equity. In this situation we also had a little steal equity (not preflop, but postflop) because of our position (gives us the opportunity to steal postflop when everyone reveals weakness by checking to us).

You should make it a habit to verbalize your though processes with regards to showdown equity and steal equity when you play preflop. You already do it on an intuitive level (for example, when you raise a weak hand on the button, hoping to steal the blinds), but by "thinking out loud", you will make the connection between preflop play and postflop play more clear. Then it will be easier for you to make good and consistent game plans that tie together the play on all streets for the hands you play.

If you think most of your profit will come from hitting the flop hard and winning a showdown with a good hand, plan around maximizing showdown equity (for example, by keeping the pot multiway preflop and playing for implied odds). If you think most of your profit will come from stealing the pot preflop or on the flop, plan around maximizing steal equity (for example, by raising preflop to get heads-up with position).


4. Classification of starting hands according to structure



We are now ready to start classifying starting hands. The first thing we will do is to divide them into groups, based on their structure. In this work we will use Hwang's starting hand categories from his book Pot-Limit Omaha Poker: The Big Play Strategy. The first step is to categorize the starting hands according to structure, and then we construct another classification scheme based on quality/strenght.

Below are Hwang's 6 starting hand categories based on structure:

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

Below are descriptions of each of the 6 categories:



4.1 Big cards and Ace high Broadway Wraps




Description:
4 cards T and higher, or 4 cards 9 and higher with an ace.

Examples:
K Q J T
A Q J 9

Strength component(s):
High, connected cards that build high pairs, high two pair, high straights, and high flushes when suited.


4.2 Straight Hands




Description:
4 connected cards with at most two gaps in them

Examples:
8 7 6 5
T 8 7 6
Q J 8 7
9 8 7 4

Strength component(s):
These hands are also called "rundowns" or "wraps", and they build straights. The number and quality of the straights we build are very dependent on the the number and location of gaps in the structure.

Hwang divides this category of hands into 2 subcategories:

Premium Rundowns:
- Rundowns with no gaps (JT98)
- Rundowns with a single gap at the bottom (JT97)
- Rundowns with a single gap in the middle (JT87)

Speculative Rundowns:
- Rundowns with a double gap at the bottom (JT96)
- Rundowns with two single gaps at the bottom (JT86)
- Rundowns with a double gap in the middle (JT76)

Rundowns with the gaps at the bottom are much stronger than similar structures with the gaps at the top when we are playing make-a-hand-poker. Hwang therefore recommends folding hands with gaps at the top, for example J976.

This is good advice to follow when we're first and foremost playing for showdown equity and implied odds, for example if we're in the big blind and face a raise and a few callers. If we now choose to get involved with a hand like T 7 6 5 , we are setting ourselves up for postflop trouble, because:

Straight structures with gaps at the top build a lot of non-nut straights!

This is obviously a disadvantage in a scenario where our main plan for profit is to flop a straight or straight draw and then win a showdown. If many of the straights we flop or draw to aren't to the nuts, we are setting ourselves up for losing lots of chips to the opponent(s) who build the nut-version of the same straight.

On the other hand, raising a non-nutty rundown like T 7 6 5 on the button when it gets folded to us is perfectly fine. In this situation we are not playing solely for showdown equity, and a lot of the hand's value now comes from steal equity. Also, the times we don't succeed in stealing the pot preflop or postflop, there is less risk (because of fewer opponents) of building a non-nut straight and having it clash with the nuts.

Comparing the two scenarios above gives us a nice illustration of the value of planning ahead. We also see that evaluating PLO starting hand strength in a vacuum doesn't make much sense. The value of a PLO starting hand is always very dependent on the type of postflop scenario we are planning around (winning showdowns or stealing), and what we want to accomplish by playing the hand. If we are playing mainly for showdown equity, we prefer a nutty starting hand structure. If we're planning mostly around stealing, for example when we open-raise on the button, we can loosen up our starting hand requirements considerably because of the high value of the steal equity component


4.3 Suited Ace Hands




Description:
Suited ace with a rundown, a pair, or two Broadway cards

Eksempler:
A 9 8 6
A T T 3
A K Q 2

Strength component(s):
The "backbone" of this starting hand structure is the nut flush potential. In addition, the side cards give us various possibilities.

A suited ace + rundown has straight potential to go with the flush potential. To evaluate the quality of the straight component, we use the principles for evaluating straight hands discussed previously. Rundowns with high gaps (for example, A 9 7 6 ) are more speculative than rundowns with low gaps or no gaps.

A suited ace + pair can flop a set. The higher the pair, the better. Also, note that we prefer the pair not to have the same suit as the ace (for example, we prefer A 8 8 2 over A 8 8 2 ). When the pair is offsuit to the ace, we have a better chance of flopping the nut flush draw when we flop a set (which will give us a monster hand).

A suited ace + 2 Broadway cards has high card strenght plus some straight strength to go with the nut flush potential. We can build good top pair and top two pair hands, and some Broadway straights.


4.4 Pair-plus Hands




Description:
Pairs with suited and connected side cards, or a pair with another pair.

Examples:
J J T 9
K K 8 8

Strength component(s):
These hands can flop sets. In addition, the suited/connected side cards provide straight and flush potential, while a second pair doubles the chance of flopping a set (a doubly paired hand has about 25% chance of flopping a set).

Note that a low pair is a non-nutty strength component (the lower the set we flop, the less often it will win). A hand like 8 7 6 6 is made of mostly non-nutty components, and this type of hand is often overvalued by PLO novices. These hands look pretty and playable, but they can be difficult to play well postflop, due to the lack of nut potential, and the relatively low number of flops that they hit hard.


4.5 Aces




Description:
AAxx. These hands vary in strength from speculative ("dry" AAxx with worthless side cards) to ultra premium (doubly suited AAxx with good side cards).

Examples:
A A 7 4
A A J 9
A A 8 8


Strength component(s):
AAxx is the nuts preflop, and the AA component gives us a monster hand when we flop top set. AAxx rarely wins showdowns unimproved in multiway pots, but will win some pots by going unimproved to showdown in heads-up pots.

Hwang splits the "Aces" category into 2 subcategories based on the side cards:

Speculative
"Dry" aces with worthless side cards, or with one suited ace and little else. For example:

A A 7 3
A A K 3

Premium
Double-suited to both aces, or single-suited with a pair, a connector, or 2 Broadway cards. For example:

A A 9 6
A A 7 7
A A T 9
A A Q J

Magnum
Double-suited to both aces, and with a high pair, a connector, or 2 Broadway cards. For example:

A A J J
A A 7 6
A A K Q

High quality AAxx hands are the best starting hands in Omaha.


4.6 Marginal Hands




Description:
A wide category made up of various weak "one-way" hands with only one significant strength component:

- 3 Broadway cards + a dangler
- High pairs with worthless side cards
- Weak suited aces that don't fall under the previous "Suited Ace Hands" category
- Offsuit rundowns

Examples:
K Q J 4
K K 7 2
A J 7 6
J T 9 7

Strength component(s):
What these hands have in common is that they lack nut potential, or have only one significant nut component.

Take a hand like K K 7 2 . The best (and only) we can hope to flop is top set. When this happens, we have a very strong hand, but this is a longshot. So if we play this hand solely for for showdown equity (for example, when we call in the big blind after a raise and a few callers) we don't want to pay a steep price to see the flop. The value of playing this hand strictly for set value is very dependent on seeing the flop cheaply to preserve implied odds.

Similarly, a hand like J T 9 7 does not have many good flops in it's future. For this hand's nut component (straight potential) to have value postflop, we need to to flop a straight or a good straight draw on a rainbow flop, so that we are not immediately threatened by flushes or flush draws.

Again, we need to have a plan for the hand when we choose to get involved. If we are playing mainly for showdown equity, we need to see cheap flops, since these hands rarely hit flops hard. We also want position, both to make postflop play easier, and to reduce the risk of unpleasant preflop surprises behind us (playing in position means fewer opponents left to act preflop).

For example, if you have A J 7 6 on the button after a couple of weak limpers, it's perfectly fine to limp in with positon and hope good things will happen postflop. You ave a strong nut component, and will sometimes flop something strong enough to continue past the flop. And sometimes you will be able to use your position to steal postflop. But if you have the same hand UTG, you should fold. In this case you don't have enough steal equity + showdown equity to take on a field of 5 opponents from out of position.


5. Classification of starting hands according to strength



To recap, we have now divided the set of playable PLO starting hands into 6 broad categories:

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

I recommend that you memorize these categories and the hands belonging to them. This will enable you to quickly classify starting hands without thinking. When we have this classification scheme memorized, we have created order in the chaotic universe of Omaha starting hands. We have separated out the playable hands, grouped them according to structure, and put the rest of the starting hand universe in a separate category labeled "Trash".

The next step is to construct another classification scheme, this time based on strength. We will use Hwang's categories for this process as well.

Hwang uses 4 categories of starting hand strength:

- Premium
- Speculative
- Marginal
- Trash

The hands that fall under each of these categories are as follows:


5.1 Premium




Description:
- Premium and magnum AAxx
- High double pairs
- 4 cards T and higher, at least single-suited
- 4 cards 9 and higher, at least single-suited
- Premium rundowns, at least single-suited
- Hihg pairs with suited and connected side cards

Examples:
A A J J
A A J T
K K Q Q
A Q J T
A K J 9
T 9 8 7
J T 9 7
K Q Q J

In general, premium starting hands can be raised from any position, also after an arbitrary number of limpers. WHat these hands have in common is good showdown equity and the ability to hit the flop often and hard. So by building the pot preflop, you are setting yourself up for winning big pots postflop when you hit the flop harder than the opposition.

But note that if you are in position versus a raiser, you should not necessarily 3-bet every time you have a premium hand. Whether you should call or 3-bet depends on the plan you have for the hand (calling sets you up for make-a-hand-poker in a multiway pot, 3-betting sets you better up for stealing), and various situational factors like position, the number of opponents, stack sizes and other things.

We will have more to say about 3-betting in Part 3. For now, let's agree that playing a premium hand for a raise (regardless where the raise comes from) will never be wrong (although 3-betting might be more profitable).



5.2 Speculative




Description:
- Speculative AAxx
- Speculative rundowns, at least single-suited
- Medium pairs with suited and connected side cards
- Suited ace with a rundown
- Suited ace with a pair
- Suited ace with 2 Broadway cards

Examples:
A A 7 2
T 9 7 5
8 7 6 3
J T 7 6
9 9 8 7
A T 9 8
A Q Q 3
A K J 7

In 6-max play we will open-raise most of the "Speculative" hands from all position when it's folded to us. If there's a raise in front of us, all these hands will be candidates for calling in position. The best speculative hands (for example, a good double-suited rundown) will also be candidates for light 3-betting in a deep-stack scenario where we 3-bet to isolate the raiser and play a heads-up pot with position and initiative (more about this in Part 3).

With limpers in front of us, we usually choose between calling and raising. After just one limper, we will often raise these hands to isolate and set ourselves up for playing a heads-up pot in position (which increases our steal equity). With more than one limper we will have more incentive to overlimp when the decision is close, since we now have les steal equity.

In an overlimp-or-raise scenario we also have to take the nut-potential of our hand into consideration, and whether we want to play against few or many opponents. Speculative hands with one good nut component and nothing else (for example, A 9 5 4 or K K 7 2 ) play well in limped multiway pots. With these hands we are playing to flop a hand that can win large pots against many opponents (nut flush and top set, respectively), so we don't care much about how many opponents we have to beat. By limping in, we are preserving our implied odds.


5.3 Marginal




Description:
As described previously:

- 3 Broadway cards + a dangler, at least single-suited
- High pairs with worthless side cards
- Weak suited aces that don't fall under the previous "Suited Ace Hands" category
- Offsuit rundowns

Examples:
K Q J 4
K K 7 2
A J 7 6
J T 9 7

Most of the "Marginal" hands are too weak to raise from early position, and we will fold the weakest of them if there's a raise in front of us, and otherwise call. In position after limpers, we should usually overlimp, but if we think the situation is good for stealing, we can of course raise. What these hands have in common is that they prefer to see the flop cheaply and in position if we're playing them for make-a-hand-poker purposes only.

And of course: If it's folded to us in late position, all the "Marginal" hands are candidates for open-raising. We're now planning around steal equity, and we're setting ourselves up for playing a shorthanded pot in position.


5.4 Trash




Description:
Everything that does not fall under "Premium", "Speculative" or "Marginal" is "Trash" (as a starting point, anyway).

Here it's important to note that many of the hands that we have thrown in the "Trash" category can be playable for a competent player in position. A good player on the button might be able to play 100% of his hands profitably against weak players in the blinds. So we must not forget that our classification schemes for playable starting hands are conceptual tools, and they should not be followed blindly.

But as a starting point, unless you have a hand that is at least "Marginal" you should have other good reasons before you choose to get involved, like good steal equity (for example, if you're on the button with two tight and passive opponents in the blinds).

Later, when we have gained more experience, we will talk more about splashing around profitably with weak hands in position. How much we can loosen up our late position range will be very dependent on our postflop skills, particlarly how good we are at stealing. We will train these skills, but for now we will stick mostly to the playable hand categories defined above, and they will make up the core of our starting hand selection.


6. Summary of starting hand classification



Let us pause and recap the work we have done so far in this article:

We began by defining our overall core strategy for PLO, which is to mostly play quality hands, planning around winning pots at showdown, plus doing some preflop and postflop stealing in position.

Then we discussed the different components of starting hand strenght (high card strenght, straight strength, flush strength), and noted that the value of a starting hand in a given scenario has two components: Showdown equity (the ability to build strong hands and win pots at showdown) and steal equity (the value we can extract by stealing pots preflop or postflop, which is independent of our cards).

Then we constructed two classification schemes for PLO starting hands. First we classified playable hands according to their structural elements and we divided them into 6 categories. Then we classified the playable hands according to strength and gave some simple guidelines for how to play them preflop.

In the period between Part 2 and Part 3, I recommend that you memorize both these classification schemes until you have them down cold. For example, when you see the hand A 9 8 7 , your brain should go "ding", and you will immediately identify this hand structure as a "Suited Ace Hand", more specifically a "suited ace with a rundown", and that it belongs to the strength category "Speculative".

When your brain has done this classification of your starting hand, it will also have loaded some information about how to play this type of hand in various preflop scenarios, based on things you have read, videos you have seen and hands you have played. This makes it easier to determine whether the hand is playable in the current scenario or not, and how you should play it if it is


7. Some macro principles for preflop play



In addition to the simple guidelines given in the descriptions of the starting hand categories, we will discuss some important macro principles for PLO preflop play to get you started on the right track.


7.1 Unless you have a reason to do otherwise, always open the pot for a raise



If it's folded to you and you decide to play, come in for a raise unless you have specific reasons for open-limping. If you think your hand is to weak to raise, playing it for a limp probably won't do you much good.

Note that open-limping a weak hand from out of position sets you up for a postflop scenario where you're playing a weak hand out of position in a multiway pot. These situations won't make your bankroll fat.


7.2 Unless you have a reason to do otherwise, bet the pot when you bet and raise preflop



As a default, we will bet the pot preflop, unless we have specific reasons to bet less. Situations where it makes sense to bet less than pot preflop will probably come up later in the article series, and we will discuss these situations then.


7.3 Be careful about building big pots out of position, particularly with speculative starting hands



This principle is a corollary of our overall PLO core strategy. Playing in position gives us options that we don't have out of position, for example the opportunity to exploit good stealing oportunities when the opponents are weak and tell us so by checking to us postflop. By playing out of position, we hand these options over to the opponents.

And if we also build a big pot when out of position, we are setting ourselves up for making big postflop mistakes. We will make many mistakes when playing out of position, but if the pot is small, these mistakes will be small too. Bloating the pot preflop magnifies any postflop mistake we make later. And all of this will of course be extra bad if we also have a weak starting hand that rarely connects well with the flop.

A common preflop mistake of this type is to overplay weak AAxx hands out of position. For example:

Preflop
You are playing $5PLO at a full 6-max table. UTG ($6.70) raises to $0.17, MP (4.50) calls, button ($7.20) calls, you (6.55) 3-bet pot to $0.87 with A A 9 6 , UTG calls, MP calls, button folds.

Flop: Q J 7 ($2.80)
Now what?

Here you are on the flop with a weak hand, out of position against two opponents in a big pot. You have a naked overpair and no draws. The flop is pretty coordinated, and probably hit the opposition in some way. There is some possibility that a c-bet will win this pot on the flop, but it will cost you half of your remaining stack to find out. You have no good options other than checking, and if someone bets, you are forced to check-fold. Rats!

But you can thank yourself for this mess. You walked into this situation voluntarily by making a big preflop 3-bet out of position with a weak hand in a multiway pot. And you predictably failed to hit the flop, so you ended up in the most common scenario.

The problem with A A 9 6 is that it's a 1-dimensjonal hand which only does one thing well when we play it solely for showdown equity. It flops top set. But this happens only 1 time in 8, or thereabouts, so if you are playing mostly for showdown euity (and this usually the case out of position in a multiway pot), it will be better for you to see the flop cheaply and preserve implied odds. By calling you also disguise the content of your hand, which will be to your advantage postflop (more about this in Principle 7.5).


7.4 Be careful about playing non-nutty starting hands out of position



We have previously discussed the ills of playing non-nut hands out of position postflop, and by playing non-nutty starting hands out of position, this is the scenario you are setting yourself up for.

To illustrate, let is compare two starting hand with seemingly similar structure (high card + rundown, single-suited) and predict how they will play postflop when we open them from UTG.

Hand 1: A T 9 8
Hand 2: K T 8 7

Both hands have high flush potential and straight potential. I now postulate that Hand 1 is a near-premium starting hand and an automatic raise from UTG, while Hand 2 is near-trash from UTG. Why is this so?

Well, let's think about what will happen when these two hands flop what we are hoping to flop, namely flushes, straights, or draws to flushes and straights. With Hand 2 we will always build the nut flush, and most of the straights we build will be nut straights as well. This means we are building hands and strong draws that we can bet with confidence from out of position, since we're not too worried about the hands behind us.

But with Hand 2 we will usually build the 2nd nut flush (unless A flops), and many of the straights we build are non-nut because of the top gap in our straight component. This means we will often have hands and draws too weak to bet confidently, even when we flop what we are hoping to flop. For example, it's bad play to let big bets go in on both the flop, turn and river with non-nut hands, since we often will be paying off the nuts. At the same time, if we play cautiously, we will reduce the profit those times we do have the best hand.

This is the non-nut hand dilemma. Push too hard, and you pay off the nuts too much. Push too little, and you don't extract enough value when you are ahead, and you give the opponents cheap opportunities to outdraw you. Nut hands don't have this problem.

So out of position we want to build the nuts postflop, and we set up this scenario by selecting starting hands with nutty structure.


7.5 Be careful about making big preflop reraises with AAxx unless you can get a large percentage of your stack into the pot



This principle is related to principles 7.3 and 7.4 discussed previously. If we make a big reraise with AAxx, we are telling the world that we have AAxx. To avoid giving good implied odds to the opponents (who now have information about our hand which they can exploit postflop) we want to get so much money into the pot preflop that postflop play becomes a formality. Ideally we want to be able to autobet the flop all-in and be done with it.

This means we want to get more than 1/3 of our stack into the pot when we make a big reraise with AAxx, because then we will have less than a pot-sized bet remaining. For example, if we start with 100 BB and get 35%% into the pot preflop, we will have a 70 BB pot on the flop with 65 BB left to bet. If we can set up this scenario, we have removed most of the implied odds for the opponents and made it harder for them to exploit the information we have given them.

NB! This does not mean we shouldn't 3-bet AAxx. What it means is that we should think twice before we tell the world that we have AAxx in a situation where we are giving them good implied odds. Particularly when we are out of position with many opponentsm, which makes it difficult to win without a showdown.

Below is a heads-up scenario where we elect to not make a big reraise with AAxx to avoid a tough postflop scenario.

You are playing $5PLO at a full 6-max table. It's folded to you, and you ($8.10) raise pot to $0.17 with A A 6 2 in CO. Button ($10.20) 3-bets pot to $0.58, and the blinds fold. Button is a good, aggressive player. What is your plan?

Let us think about what is likely to happen if we 4-bet pot. We are about 160 BB deep, and a pot-sized 4-bet will be a total of $1.81, which is 22% of the effective stack ($8.10). This creates a scenario where the button knows what you have, and he can now play the rest of the hand near perfectly. If he also has AAxx, he will 5-bet so that you can get all-in preflop. You probably have a worse AAxx than him, but that's OK, you won't lose much in this scenario.

But if he has 3-bet you with a speculative hand that plays well against aces (as good, aggressive players are prone to do) he can now call your 4-bet with position, good implied odds and information that allows him to play well against you postflop. For example, let's say he has made a light 3-bet with 9 8 7 6 . This hand has 46% preflop equity against your A A 6 2 (ProPokerTools calculation) and it will hit a lot of flops hard enough to continue, so button isn't making a mistake by 3-betting and calling your 4-bet as a small underdog.

So what will happen on the flop? Well, if you always c-bet pot, he will be able to sit behind you and "cherry pick" flops. He knows what you have most of the time (an overpair without a strong draw), so he also knows how hard he needs to hit the flop in order to raise your c-bet and commit himself profitably. So always c-betting into him gives him good implied odds. On the other hand, if you decide to check every scary-loooking flop, you are giving him lots of opportunities to bluff you out.

Below is one of the postflop scenarios button is hoping for when he calls your 4-bet:

Flop: J 7 3 ($3.69)

On this flop he has a flushdraw, a gutshot and a low pair. Combined, these draws give him 66% equity against your overpair of aces! (ProPokerTools calculation) If you bet pot, he will raise all-in as a big favorite. You, in turn, will have to decide whether you have enough equity to call off the rest of your stack with a naked overpair. And if you check, he will probably bet as a semibluff, and you will have to fold with a naked overpair and nothing else on a draw-heavy flop.

I hope this example clearly illustrates the problems we are creating for ourselves by building a big pot with AAxx in a situation where we can not commit automatically on the flop, and the opponents know what we have. This problem is particularly difficult out of position, since we have no information whatsoever about whether or not the opponent connected with the flop. And if our AAxx is a very speculative one, our problems get even worse, since few flops will help us.

We conclude that we should not 4-bet our speculative AAxx with this stack size, so we call and hope good things will happen postflop. This scenario isn't particularly rosy either, but it's the lesser of two evils. Note that with a 100 BB stack we could have gotten 36% of the stack in with a pot-sized 4-bet to $1.81. This wold have enabled us to push the flop all-in without button having any opportunity to push us around postflop. He will still be able to cherry pick flops, but he no longer has good implied odds. And if we push every flop, we are unbluffable.


7.6 After a raise and a reraise, usually fold Axxx type hands.



This is simple logic. When the pot has been raised and reraised, it is very likely that someone has AAxx. If you have an Axxx type hand (for example, A K J 9 ), you will often be dominated. If you choose to get involved, you will effectively be trying to outflop AAxx with a 3-card hand (since an ace on the flop won't help you).

This will not be profitable for you, and you avoid this scenario by folding your Axxx hand preflop, no matter how tempting it looks


7.7 Don't be afraid to build big pots with premium starting hands in position



This is the opposite of what we talked about in Principle 7.2. When you have a premium starting hand in position, a raise from you will set the opponents up for playing weaker hands out of position, which is exactly what they don't want. Premium starting hands often flop well, and the times you miss the flop, you will often get opportunities to steal or take a free card, both of which are good for you.


7.8 When in doubt, be more inclined to fold when out of position



Sound poker logic. Position makes all hands more profitable and easier to play, so if you are unsure, you can let this be the deciding factor. It's difficult to play too tight out of position in pot-limit Omaha.


7.9 When in doubt, remember that the price of folding a playable hand preflop is low



If you have a marginal play/not play decision and you fold a hand you should have played, you will not have given up much profit. So if you are uncertain, and you suspect you won't be able to play the situation profitably, fold without shame or regret. There's always a new hand with new opportunities.

As you get better, you will find more and more profitable situations to get involved in. In the meantime, feel free to play conservatively and stick closely to the overall core strategy (focusing on playing for showdown equity and playing in position).


8. Some examples of preflop play



We will now (finally) end Part 2 with a few simple preflop examples where we tie together the theory we have discussed up to this point. In each example I will use a decision making process based on our starting hand classification schemes and an assessment of showdown equity and steal equity.

An experienced PLO player will not think as rigidly as we do here, and he will include many other factors that we ignore here. But the purpose of these examples is to demonstrate how we can capture the essence of solid PLO preflop play using a simple decision making process:


  • We assess the quality of our starting hand, based on the classification shcemes defined previously
  • We assess the value components showdown equity and steal equity, and we determine which one is most important
  • We make a plan for the hand


Try to experiment with this type of planning the next time you sit down to play, and verbalize your thinking. Hopefully, you will see that simple and sound poker logic will lead you to simple and good alternatives for most preflop scenarios you encounter (even if more complicated and slightly more profitable alternatives might exist).


Example 8.1: Open-raising from UTG



You are playing $5PLO at a full 6-max table. You have a $5 stack UTG, and you look down at A T 9 8 . What is your plan?

You have a suited ace + rundown, which according to our hand classification schemes belongs to the "Speculative" strenght category. It is one of the best hands in this category, and definitely worth an open-raise from any position. Your standard play with this hand should be to open-raise pot.

Your plan for postflop play is very dependent on what happens behind you. If you end up with a big, multiway pot, you should mostly play fit-or-fold on the flop. With only 1 or 2 opponents, you should be prepared to c-bet many flops when you miss and hope to steal the pot on the flop (but if you get called on the flop, you should shut down unless you improve).


Example 8.2: 3-betting premium AAxx



You are playing $5PLO at a full 6-max table. It gets folded to CO ($5) who raises pot to $0.17. You ($5) look down at A A K T on the button. What is your plan for the hand?

It's hard to find a more obvious spot for 3-betting than this, and you can reraise pot to $0.58. You have a premium AAxx hand with very good showdown equity against the raiser's range and the two random hands in the blinds. By 3-betting you also improve your steal equity, since you are creating a scenario where you often will play the rest of the hand heads-up and in position against the raiser. This will enable you to win most of the pots where both of you miss the flop.


Example 8.3: Flat-calling with a speculative AAxx



You are playing $5PLO at a full 6-max table. UTG ($6.70) raises to $0.17, MP ($3.30) calls, CO ($7.50) calls, you ($5.90) look down at A A T 3 in the big blind. What is your plan?

AAxx again, but this time the speculative variety with poor side cards. Furthermore, this situation is very different from the situation in Example 8.2 where we 3-bet AAxx. There we had position on the raiser with quality aces and a good chance of getting heads-up. In this scenario we are out of position with trashy aces in a multiway pot.

We obviously don't have good steal equity here, and a 3-bet probably won't create any. Most of our opponents have deep stacks, and they will probably call a 3-bet, hoping to outflop our obvious aces (this is the hand they will put you on when you 3-bet out of position in multiway pot).

We don't have good showdown equity either, unless we flop a set or get all-in preflop. But a pot-sized 3-bet will only be to $0.87, which is only 15% of our stack. So a big 3-bet will not make us committed postflop (see also Principle 7.3 and principle 7.5 discussed previously). By 3-betting we are telling the opponents that we have AAxx in a scenario where they are getting implied odds to call, hoping to outflop or oytplay us postflop.

So we should plan around showdown equity by playing for set value. We call the raise, hoping to flop top set and getting paid off. If we miss, we will mostly check-fold.

Note that here we are playing AAxx like we would have played KKxx with poor side cards. We are playing for set value, and little else. Overplaying trashy AAxx out of position is a classic beginner's mistake in PLO.


Example 8.4: Isolating with a speculative hand



You are playing $5PLO at a full 6-max table. MP ($5), who mostly plays fit-or-fold postflop, limps, you ($5) are looking down at 9 7 6 4 on the button. What is your plan?

We start by noting that this starting hand technically belongs to the "Trash " strength category according to our classification scheme. The reason is the top gap (plus a gap at the bottom), which makes the hand less valuable in a multiway make-a-hand-poker scenario.

But in this situation we do a "manual override" of the classification system, because we're not in a situation where we need to plan ariound showdown equity. We have position on a single limper, and we can raise to isolate and play a pot heads-up in position. This will give us good steal equity, particularly against a weak and straightforward player (which MP is).

In addition to steal equity, we have a hand with decent potential, even if a lot of it is non-nut. But non-nuttiness is less of a concern against few (hopefully only one) opponents. Also, having position will make our non-nut hands easier to play postflop.


Example 8.5: A "no thanks" to a speculative hand in a multiway pot



You are playing $5PLO at a full 6-max table. UTG ($5) raises, button ($6.50) calls, SB ($5.60) calls, you ($6.10) look down at J T 7 6 in the big blind. What is your plan?

You have an offsuit rundown with a double

1. Introduction



This is Part 2 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 2 we start our study of PLO strategy, and we begin at the beginning with starting hands and preflop strategy. PLO preflop strategy is sufficiently complicated that we plan to have at least two articles (Part 2 and Part 3) on this topic.

We begin Part 2 by defining our overall PLO core strategy. The core strategy is a "big picture" idea that tells us what we are trying to accomplish when we decide to play a hand. Next, we will discuss starting hand strength, and the properties that define good PLO starting hands. Then we will define categories of starting hands and classify them according to structure and quality. (We will use the starting hand categories defined by Jeff Hwang in his book Pot-Limit Omaha Poker: The Big Play Strategy). Throughout the article we will illustrate the theory with examples.

This systematic treatment of starting hands, together with the overall core strategy, will be our starting point for developing a solid and value based PLO preflop strategy. Later, we will add more advanced preflop concepts (for example, raising speculative hands to isolate, 3-betting, the importance of stack/pot ratios for preflop play, the importance of flop equity distributions for the play of different types of starting hands), and we will discussed these topics in detail in Part 3.

When we are done with the discussion of starting hands, the next step (in Part 3) will be to study the connection between preflop strategy and postflop strategy in more detail, and we shall see that they are strongly correlated. PLO is first and foremost a postflop game, and an important preflop strategy concept is that the main goal of our preflop strategy is to create profitable postflop scenarios. This is a very important concept that we will return to again and again in this article series. We will always keep it in mind when we make a preflop decision, and we will make it a habit to start planning ahead before we put the first chip into the pot.

For example, we will not be thinking like this:

I raise a limper with J T 9 8 on the button because it's a good hand

Instead, we will look ahead and think more like this:

I raise a limper with J T 9 8 on the button because I want to isolate him and set myself up for playing a heads-up pot with position, and with a good hand that often connects with the flop and gives me a hand good enough to continue with those times I don't win the pot preflop or with a flop c-bet..

But we start with the simple and memorizable stuff. Our goal for the "technical" work we will do in Part 2 is to get an overview over PLO starting hand structures, and build our understanding of which hands are strong and which hands are weak. We will also define some simple guidelines for how to play different types of starting hands preflop, so that we have a place to start.

In my opinion this theoretical background material is necessary for the understanding of how PLO starting hand strength differs from starting hand strength in other games (e.g. Hold'em), and for understanding what PLO preflop strategy does for us. It's also important for new PLO players to have some concrete guidelines (training wheels) for preflop play while they are building their own understanding of the game. When this simple theoretical framework is in place, we will move on to more advanced preflop concepts in Part 3.

Before we embark on PLO strategy, I want to state a "disclaimer":

PLO is a game with a lot of room for variation in playing style, as long as the strategies we use are consistent with one another, balanced, and based on sound poker logic. I don't claim that the strategies I present in this article series are the only ones, or that they are necessarily the best, and I don't want to give "cookie cutter advice" for how to play preflop and postflop. My goal for this article series is to describe good thought processes for poker in general and PLO in particular, and I want to show a beginning player what he should be thinking about when he is developing his own game.

So let's get started:


2. Our overall PLO core strategy



Our overall PLO core strategy revolves around two very important concepts that are both based on what we are trying to accomplish when we get involved with a hand preflop. PLO is first and foremost a postflop game, and the most important decisions are usually made there.

Simply put, PLO postflop play is mostly about:


  • 1. Betting the nuts for value, and semibluffing strong nut draws
  • 2. using position to steal pots when the opponents are weak, and using position to control pot size when we have a non-nut hand that we want to take to showdown.


From this, it follows that we want to:


  • 1. Start with hands that have the potential to flop the nuts or nut draws
  • 2. Play in position


This is our overall PLO core strategy, distilled down to two sentences. We will be picky about starting hands, and we will be picky about position. The main goal of our core strategy is to build strong hands postflop and win showdowns with them. In addition, we will use position to win small and moderately big pots in a controlled way when nobody has a strong hand. This means using position to control pot size with hands that we can not bet hard for value, as well as stealing pots by bluffing and semibluffing.

Does this sound simple? Effective PLO ABC-poker isn't much more complicated than this, and if you keep these two concepts in mind at all times, you will have an advantage over the majority of your opponents at the lowest limits.

So the first stop on our PLO strategic journey is to learn how to evaluate the quality of PLO starting hands, and most of Part will be devoted to this. We also need a basic understanding of position, and how to exploit it.

Position is always an important part of any Omaha preflop decision. Each player gets dealt 4 cards preflop, and this means that any player can credibly represent any hand at any time. Almost regardless of the flop texture, any player (you included) might have hit the flop hard and sit there with the nuts or near-nuts.

This makes it difficult to play non-nut hands out of position. The reason is that there is always a significant chance that someone behind you is sitting there with a monster hand, or planning to represent a monster hand and bluff you out of the pot.

When you are sitting out of position with a hand the could be best, but isn't the nuts, you are forced to choose between betting into the opponents' hands (and they could have you beat), or checking and offering them a potentially valuable free card. By checking weak hands out of position, you are also offering the opponents an opportunity for bluffing you out of the pot (since you have revealed weakness by checking).

But in position you can see what the opponents do before you act, which makes it easier to find a good game plan for your non-nut hands. If everybody checks, you can often bet (for value or as a bluff) hands that you would have had to check out of position. When there is a bet in front of you, you now have better control over how fast the pot will grow. You can raise your monster hands, call with hands that prefer to go to showdown in a small or moderately sized pot, and fold (or bluff) with your weakest hands.

Before we get involved with a hand preflop, we should think about the most likely postflop scenarios we will encounter, and how they typically will play out. Weak starting hands generally hit flops less often and less hard than strong starting hands. Weak starting hands therefore play much better in position than out of position, because position makes it easier to play non-nut hands and draws profitably postflop.

Another reason why weak starting hands benefit from position, is that position gives us better control over how much money goes into the pot preflop. With fewer players left to act after we enter the pot, there is less risk of raising behind us.

Therefore, we can play a wide range of weak starting hands on the button, particularly if it's folded to us. But out of position we should focus on starting hands that can flop the nuts or strong nut draws.

As a warm-up before we start categorizing starting hands, here are two examples of preflop decision making based on starting hand quality and position. Note that in both examples we try to look ahead and tie together preflop play and postflop play. This form of hand planning is something we will return to again and again:


Example 2.1



You are sitting UTG at a full $5PLO 6-max table, looking down at Q Q 8 2 . The play has been loose with some preflop raising and 3-betting. Typically, 3 or more players see the flop. You have a 100 BB stack, and the opponents all have 80 BB or more. Should you play this hand or fold it? And why?

This is a starting hand (Category: High pair with poor side cards) which often gets beginners in trouble. Experienced players will usually fold this hand from UTG with little regret. The hand has little nut potential, since we need to flop top set on an uncoordinated flop (for example, Q 8 3 ) to have the nuts, and this is a rare occurrence.

Let us first list some of the common reasons a new PLO player will have for choosing to get involved with a raise preflop.


  • Sometimes we win the blinds, which is fine
  • Sometimes we get called preflop, but win the pot with a c-bet on the flop
  • We will sometimes flop a set, which will often win a showdown
  • Our opponents are loose and deep-stacked, so we can count on sometimes winning a big pot when we flop a set

So our beginner's game plan is to either steal the blinds, steal the pot with a c-bet on the flop, or flop a set and win a big pot at showdown. Below are some of the problems associated with this plan:


  • We will rarely pick up the blinds under these conditions, and we will usually get called by one or several opponents
  • We might get 3-bet and be forced to fold (we are too weak to call a 3-bet out of position)
  • Playing out of position makes it difficult to steal the pot postflop when we miss the flop. It also makes it more difficult to maximize profit those times we make the hand we are hoping to make
  • Even when we flop a set, we will often lose in Omaha. This will almost always be costly
  • We have a starting hand that usually flops either a set or nothing, and we have no backup strength that can help us. Therefore, we will usually have no hand/no draw on the flop, and no reason to continue with the hand. Since we are out of position, and since this is Omaha (where anyone can have anything at any time), it will be risky to attempt to often steal the pot by c-betting into several opponents (which we expect to get) with a worthless hand

Here is a typical scenario we will find ourselves in if we raise:

Preflop
We ($5) raise pot to $0.17 with our Q Q 8 2 , MP ($6.20) calls, CO ($8.95) calls, button ($5) calls.

Flop: 7 K 6 ($0.75)
Now what?

By raising Q Q 8 2 preflop under these conditions, we set ourselves up for playing the flop out of position against several opponents with no hand and no draw, and this is exactly what happened. The only option that makes sense is to check, planning to fold if someone bets (automatically c-betting the flop with no hand/no draw against several opponents is equivalent to burning money).

The problem with Q Q 8 2 is that we rarely flop a hand good enough to continue past the flop. So if we expect to have to play make-a-hand-poker in a multiway pot (which we have to expect here) we prefer to see the flop cheaply to preserve implied odds.

Having position will also be a big asset with this kind of hand. Playing in position reduces the risk of facing a raise behind us (since there are fewer opponents left to act), it will be easier to maximize our profit when we make our hand, and we will get more stealing opportunities postflop (those times everyone checks to us). By setting ourselves up for playing a big, multiway pot out of position with this type of hand, we are simply giving the opponents more chips to steal from us postflop. Collectively, they will hit the flop much more often and much harder than us, and most of the time we will simply be check-folding.

So if we're playing this hand mainly for set value, we want to play this hand cheaply preflop, and we want to play it in position. For example, if we had been on the button after a limper or two, we could have overlimped for set value with good implied odds. But we could have open-raised from the button if if had been folded to us, since in this case we can count on stealing the pot often, either preflop or with a c-bet on the flop. (It's fine to raise a weak hand if we expect to steal a lot of pots, so that we won't have to extract value solely from playing make-a-hand poker).

As played, the rest of the hand will usually play out more or less like this:

Flop: 7 K 6 ($0.75)
You ($4.83) check, MP ($6.03) checks, CO ($8.78) checks, button ($4.83) bets $0.75, you grudgingly fold, with a sneaking suspicion that you did something incorrect somewhere.



Example 2.2



You are sitting on the button at a full $5PLO 6-max table. UTG ($5) raises to $0.17, MP ($6.20) calls, CO ($8.95) calls, you ($5) look down at A 9 8 7 with great interest. What is your plan?

You have a near-premium starting hand (Category: Suited ace with a rundown) with plenty of nut potential (nutflush/nutstraight), and many flops will give you a hand good enough to continue. You would have had an automatic raise if it had been folded to you, and you would also have had an obvious raise after limpers. But the pot is already raised ahead of you, so your options are calling or 3-betting.

In this scenario, calling seems like a good plan, because:

You are setting yourself up for playing make-a-hand poker with a "nutty" quality hand, position and good implied odds in a multiway pot (always a good scenario). Note that not having the initiative in the hand will make it easier to exploit opponent weakness postflop. If everyone checks to you on the flop, it is more likely that they are genuinely weak than if they had checked to you after a preflop 3-bet from you. This will make it easier for you to identify good stealing opportunities postflop.

The pot is already multiway, so a 3-bet will probably not make it much easier to win without a showdown. You can expect to get called by several opponents preflop, since 3 of them have already gotten involved for a raise.

By calling you are inviting the blinds to call behind you with a wide range of semi-trashy hands (seemingly playable, but very weak and non-nutty hands like K 7 5 4 ) This sets them up for getting into big trouble postflop against quality hands like our hand. They might believe they are getting good pot odds and implied odds on these weak hands, but in reality they are setting themselves up for playing big pots out of position with hands and draws that often end up 2nd best. For example, when they make a non-nut flush, and end up paying off the nut flush.

By 3-betting you are opening yourself up for getting 4-bet by AAxx, which means you will have to fold a hand with a lot of potential. Our hand is not strong enough, and the stacks are not deep enough, to call a pot-sized 4-bet if the raiser probably has AAxx (more about this topic in Part 3).

So we call the preflop raise, planning to mostly play make-a-hand-poker postflop. We might also steal an occasional pot when the opponents tell us that they are weak by checking to us postflop.

The observant readers will have noticed that the preflop betting so far in this example is exactly the same as in Example 2.1. The only difference is that we are now on the button with a quality hand that will hit a lot of flops. So let's re-create the flop scenario in Example 2.1 with these changes. This will be a good illustration of how simple PLO can be with position and a quality starting hand.

Preflop
UTG ($5) raises to $0.17, MP ($6.20) calls, CO ($8.95) calls, we ($5) call with our A 9 8 7 on the button, the blinds fold, and we see the flop in a 4-way pot:


Flop: 7 K 6 ($0.75)

UTG ($4.83) checks, MP ($6.03) checks, CO ($8.78) checks, you ($4.83) bet $0.75, and everyone folds.

So what happened here? Let us think back to the flop scenario we found ourselves in after raising a trashy hand from UTG in Example 2.1 We got called in 3 places preflop, missed the flop completely, and had to check-fold to a bet from button. But now we are on the button, and our quality hand has hit the flop (as quality hands often do).

We have flopped a fine mix of draws: Pair + nutflush draw + open-ended straight draw. We have also received information from our opponents, and they are telling us that they are too weak to bet. So it's obvious to bet our good draw as a semibluff on the flop. With this stack/pot ratio (more about this in Part 3) we plan to 3-bet all-in if we get check-raised, since we will never be a big underdog to any opponent hand. Everyone folds on the flop, which is fine. Easy game.


3. Components of starting hand strength



Before we start classifying PLO starting hands, let us quickly review what starting hand strength is made of. In all poker games, starting hand strength has the following 3 components:


3.1 High card strength



High cards build high versions of all poker hands. Most of the time, high card strength builds high one pair hands and two pair hands. Given otherwise similar structure, high cards are better than low cards.

For example, Q J T 8 and 7 6 5 3 have the same structure, and have about the same chance of winning when they build a straight. But Q J T 8 has higher cards, and will win more often with one pair, two pair, trips and full house those times we don't build a straight.


3.2 Straight strength (connectedness)



The more connected a hand is, the more and better straights it builds. Below are 3 hands of varying connectedness:

K K 7 2
Has no connectedness, and builds no straights.

K 9 5 2
Has little connectedness, and only builds 4 straights (the cards we use from our hand are written in bold):

1 nut straight: 5432A
3 non-nut straights: KQJT9, 98765, 65432

T 9 8 7
Maximally connected, and build straights in 20 ways:

14 nut straights:

QJT98, JT987, JT987, JT987, T9876, T9876, T9876, T9876, T9876, T9876, 98765, 98765, 98765, 87654

6 non-nut straights:

KQJT9, QJT98, QJT98, JT987, JT987, JT987)



3.3 Flush strength (suitedness)



Suited hands can build flushes. High suited cards build high flushes, which is obviously better than low flushes. Furthermore, there is a huge difference between the nut flush and non-nut flushes. The nut flush can win big pots, while low flushes often lose big pots (mostly to the nut flush) if we overplay them. The difference between the 2nd and 3rd nut flush with respect to profitability is small, but the difference between the 2nd nut flush and the nut flush is huge.

We also want no more than two cards of a suit on our hand (having our own outs reduces the chance of building a flush). Doubly suited hands are obviously better than singly suited hands. Below are some hands of varying flush strength:

A 9 8 7 (a premium or near-premium hand) is far better than K 9 8 7 (a speculative hand).

J T 8 7 is better than J T 8 7

J T 8 7 is better than J T 8 7


3.4 The ability to build the nuts ("nuttiness")



When we are assessing the strength of a PLO starting hand, we start by identifying the hand's strength components, as discussed previously. Then we assess the quality of the individual strength components. The more nut components a hand has, the better. But a hand with several decent non-nut components might be more playable in certain scenarios than a hand with one strong nut component and nothing else.

Whether a hand is "nutty" or "non-nutty" also has consequences for when and how we should play the hand preflop. In general, nutty hands are less sensitive to position postflop (if we have flopped the nuts, we're not worried about the hands behind us), and nutty hands will play well both against few opponents and many opponents, as long as the price to play preflop is acceptable.

Non-nutty hands generally play better in position (which makes non-nut hands easier to play postflop), and with few opponents (makes is less likely that we clash with the nuts postflop).


3.5 What makes a good PLO starting hand?



The best PLO starting hands have all 4 cards working together, and they can build the nuts, or near-nuts, in multiple ways. Below are a few examples:

A A J T (top set, 2 nut flushes, many straights)
A T 9 8 (nut flush, non-nut flush, many straights)
K K Q Q (2 high sets, 2 non-nut flushes, 2 nut straights)
J T 9 8 (many straights, 2 non-nut flushes)

Starting hands with a "dangler" (a card that does not contribute to any strength component) are always speculative at best, and the same is true for hands that aren't suited. Below are a few examples:

K Q J 3
9 8 7 2
Q J T 9


3.6 Showdown equity versus steal equity



All starting hands have varying degrees of showdown equity. This is the value associated with the hand's ability to build strong hands postflop and win showdowns. For example, the premium hand T 9 8 7 builds straights and flushes, and this makes it suitable for winning big pots.

But the value of a starting hand in a given preflop scenario also has a steal equity component. Steal equity is a measure of the value we extract by stealing pots preflop or postflop. For example, if you're on the button with a random starting hand xxxx, you will have good steal equity if it gets folded to you preflop and the blinds are tight and straightforward. In this scenario you can steal a lot of pots by raising preflop and c-betting most flop, regardless of your cards.

Showdown equity is mostly dependent on your cards, but will also be a function of position (it's easier to maximize profit in position when you flop a good hand), the number of opponents, their stack sizes and their tendencies.

Steal equity is independent of your cards, and is a function of position, the number of opponents, their stack sizes, their tendencies, and the history between you (for example, if you try to steal a lot, they wil adapt by calling or raising you more often).

When we choose to get involved with a hand preflop, we should always take both showdown equity and steal equity into consideration. We also need to have a clear idea about which of the two components is more important. Let us clarify this:

In Example 2.1 we had a weak hand (Q Q 8 2 ) in a preflop scenario with very little steal equity (out of position with a high probability of ending up with a multiway pot). And since our hand did not have much showdown equity (we had to flop a set to have any value postflop), we concluded that the best preflop play was to fold. But if we had been on the button with the same hand, we would have raised if it had been folded to us. In that case we would have had good steal equity with position on only two opponents in the blinds, and this would have changed our preflop play from a fold to a raise.

In Example 2.2 we had a nutty starting hand (A 9 8 7 ) with good showdown equity, so we elected to play the hand, based almost solely on showdown equity. In this situation we also had a little steal equity (not preflop, but postflop) because of our position (gives us the opportunity to steal postflop when everyone reveals weakness by checking to us).

You should make it a habit to verbalize your though processes with regards to showdown equity and steal equity when you play preflop. You already do it on an intuitive level (for example, when you raise a weak hand on the button, hoping to steal the blinds), but by "thinking out loud", you will make the connection between preflop play and postflop play more clear. Then it will be easier for you to make good and consistent game plans that tie together the play on all streets for the hands you play.

If you think most of your profit will come from hitting the flop hard and winning a showdown with a good hand, plan around maximizing showdown equity (for example, by keeping the pot multiway preflop and playing for implied odds). If you think most of your profit will come from stealing the pot preflop or on the flop, plan around maximizing steal equity (for example, by raising preflop to get heads-up with position).


4. Classification of starting hands according to structure



We are now ready to start classifying starting hands. The first thing we will do is to divide them into groups, based on their structure. In this work we will use Hwang's starting hand categories from his book Pot-Limit Omaha Poker: The Big Play Strategy. The first step is to categorize the starting hands according to structure, and then we construct another classification scheme based on quality/strength.

Below are Hwang's 6 starting hand categories based on structure:

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

Below are descriptions of each of the 6 categories:



4.1 Big cards and Ace high Broadway Wraps




Description:
4 cards T and higher, or 4 cards 9 and higher with an ace.

Examples:
K Q J T
A Q J 9

Strength component(s):
High, connected cards that build high pairs, high two pair, high straights, and high flushes when suited.


4.2 Straight Hands




Description:
4 connected cards with at most two gaps in them

Examples:
8 7 6 5
T 8 7 6
Q J 8 7
9 8 7 4

Strength component(s):
These hands are also called "rundowns" or "wraps", and they build straights. The number and quality of the straights we build are very dependent on the the number and location of gaps in the structure.

Hwang divides this category of hands into 2 subcategories:

Premium Rundowns:
- Rundowns with no gaps (JT98)
- Rundowns with a single gap at the bottom (JT97)
- Rundowns with a single gap in the middle (JT87)

Speculative Rundowns:
- Rundowns with a double gap at the bottom (JT96)
- Rundowns with two single gaps at the bottom (JT86)
- Rundowns with a double gap in the middle (JT76)

Rundowns with the gaps at the bottom are much stronger than similar structures with the gaps at the top when we are playing make-a-hand-poker. Hwang therefore recommends folding hands with gaps at the top, for example J976.

This is good advice to follow when we're first and foremost playing for showdown equity and implied odds, for example if we're in the big blind and face a raise and a few callers. If we now choose to get involved with a hand like T 7 6 5 , we are setting ourselves up for postflop trouble, because:

Straight structures with gaps at the top build a lot of non-nut straights!

This is obviously a disadvantage in a scenario where our main plan for profit is to flop a straight or straight draw and then win a showdown. If many of the straights we flop or draw to aren't to the nuts, we are setting ourselves up for losing lots of chips to the opponent(s) who build the nut-version of the same straight.

On the other hand, raising a non-nutty rundown like T 7 6 5 on the button when it gets folded to us is perfectly fine. In this situation we are not playing solely for showdown equity, and a lot of the hand's value now comes from steal equity. Also, the times we don't succeed in stealing the pot preflop or postflop, there is less risk (because of fewer opponents) of building a non-nut straight and having it clash with the nuts.

Comparing the two scenarios above gives us a nice illustration of the value of planning ahead. We also see that evaluating PLO starting hand strength in a vacuum doesn't make much sense. The value of a PLO starting hand is always very dependent on the type of postflop scenario we are planning around (winning showdowns or stealing), and what we want to accomplish by playing the hand. If we are playing mainly for showdown equity, we prefer a nutty starting hand structure. If we're planning mostly around stealing, for example when we open-raise on the button, we can loosen up our starting hand requirements considerably because of the high value of the steal equity component


4.3 Suited Ace Hands




Description:
Suited ace with a rundown, a pair, or two Broadway cards

Examples:
A 9 8 6
A T T 3
A K Q 2

Strength component(s):
The "backbone" of this starting hand structure is the nut flush potential. In addition, the side cards give us various possibilities.

A suited ace + rundown has straight potential to go with the flush potential. To evaluate the quality of the straight component, we use the principles for evaluating straight hands discussed previously. Rundowns with high gaps (for example, A 9 7 6 ) are more speculative than rundowns with low gaps or no gaps.

A suited ace + pair can flop a set. The higher the pair, the better. Also, note that we prefer the pair not to have the same suit as the ace (for example, we prefer A 8 8 2 over A 8 8 2 ). When the pair is offsuit to the ace, we have a better chance of flopping the nut flush draw when we flop a set (which will give us a monster hand).

A suited ace + 2 Broadway cards has high card strength plus some straight strength to go with the nut flush potential. We can build good top pair and top two pair hands, and some Broadway straights.


4.4 Pair-plus Hands




Description:
Pairs with suited and connected side cards, or a pair with another pair.

Examples:
J J T 9
K K 8 8

Strength component(s):
These hands can flop sets. In addition, the suited/connected side cards provide straight and flush potential, while a second pair doubles the chance of flopping a set (a doubly paired hand has about 25% chance of flopping a set).

Note that a low pair is a non-nutty strength component (the lower the set we flop, the less often it will win). A hand like 8 7 6 6 is made of mostly non-nutty components, and this type of hand is often overvalued by PLO novices. These hands look pretty and playable, but they can be difficult to play well postflop, due to the lack of nut potential, and the relatively low number of flops that they hit hard.


4.5 Aces




Description:
AAxx. These hands vary in strength from speculative ("dry" AAxx with worthless side cards) to ultra premium (doubly suited AAxx with good side cards).

Examples:
A A 7 4
A A J 9
A A 8 8


Strength component(s):
AAxx is the nuts preflop, and the AA component gives us a monster hand when we flop top set. AAxx rarely wins showdowns unimproved in multiway pots, but will win some pots by going unimproved to showdown in heads-up pots.

Hwang splits the "Aces" category into 2 subcategories based on the side cards:

Speculative
"Dry" aces with worthless side cards, or with one suited ace and little else. For example:

A A 7 3
A A K 3

Premium
Double-suited to both aces, or single-suited with a pair, a connector, or 2 Broadway cards. For example:

A A 9 6
A A 7 7
A A T 9
A A Q J

Magnum
Double-suited to both aces, and with a high pair, a connector, or 2 Broadway cards. For example:

A A J J
A A 7 6
A A K Q

High quality AAxx hands are the best starting hands in Omaha.


4.6 Marginal Hands




Description:
A wide category made up of various weak "one-way" hands with only one significant strength component:

- 3 Broadway cards + a dangler
- High pairs with worthless side cards
- Weak suited aces that don't fall under the previous "Suited Ace Hands" category
- Offsuit rundowns

Examples:
K Q J 4
K K 7 2
A J 7 6
J T 9 7

Strength component(s):
What these hands have in common is that they lack nut potential, or have only one significant nut component.

Take a hand like K K 7 2 . The best (and only) we can hope to flop is top set. When this happens, we have a very strong hand, but this is a longshot. So if we play this hand solely for for showdown equity (for example, when we call in the big blind after a raise and a few callers) we don't want to pay a steep price to see the flop. The value of playing this hand strictly for set value is very dependent on seeing the flop cheaply to preserve implied odds.

Similarly, a hand like J T 9 7 does not have many good flops in it's future. For this hand's nut component (straight potential) to have value postflop, we need to to flop a straight or a good straight draw on a rainbow flop, so that we are not immediately threatened by flushes or flush draws.

Again, we need to have a plan for the hand when we choose to get involved. If we are playing mainly for showdown equity, we need to see cheap flops, since these hands rarely hit flops hard. We also want position, both to make postflop play easier, and to reduce the risk of unpleasant preflop surprises behind us (playing in position means fewer opponents left to act preflop).

For example, if you have A J 7 6 on the button after a couple of weak limpers, it's perfectly fine to limp in with position and hope good things will happen postflop. You ave a strong nut component, and will sometimes flop something strong enough to continue past the flop. And sometimes you will be able to use your position to steal postflop. But if you have the same hand UTG, you should fold. In this case you don't have enough steal equity + showdown equity to take on a field of 5 opponents from out of position.


5. Classification of starting hands according to strength



To recap, we have now divided the set of playable PLO starting hands into 6 broad categories:

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

I recommend that you memorize these categories and the hands belonging to them. This will enable you to quickly classify starting hands without thinking. When we have this classification scheme memorized, we have created order in the chaotic universe of Omaha starting hands. We have separated out the playable hands, grouped them according to structure, and put the rest of the starting hand universe in a separate category labeled "Trash".

The next step is to construct another classification scheme, this time based on strength. We will use Hwang's categories for this process as well.

Hwang uses 4 categories of starting hand strength:

- Premium
- Speculative
- Marginal
- Trash

The hands that fall under each of these categories are as follows:


5.1 Premium




Description:
- Premium and magnum AAxx
- High double pairs
- 4 cards T and higher, at least single-suited
- 4 cards 9 and higher, at least single-suited
- Premium rundowns, at least single-suited
- High pairs with suited and connected side cards

Examples:
A A J J
A A J T
K K Q Q
A Q J T
A K J 9
T 9 8 7
J T 9 7
K Q Q J

In general, premium starting hands can be raised from any position, also after an arbitrary number of limpers. WHat these hands have in common is good showdown equity and the ability to hit the flop often and hard. So by building the pot preflop, you are setting yourself up for winning big pots postflop when you hit the flop harder than the opposition.

But note that if you are in position versus a raiser, you should not necessarily 3-bet every time you have a premium hand. Whether you should call or 3-bet depends on the plan you have for the hand (calling sets you up for make-a-hand-poker in a multiway pot, 3-betting sets you better up for stealing), and various situational factors like position, the number of opponents, stack sizes and other things.

We will have more to say about 3-betting in Part 3. For now, let's agree that playing a premium hand for a raise (regardless where the raise comes from) will never be wrong (although 3-betting might be more profitable).



5.2 Speculative




Description:
- Speculative AAxx
- Speculative rundowns, at least single-suited
- Medium pairs with suited and connected side cards
- Suited ace with a rundown
- Suited ace with a pair
- Suited ace with 2 Broadway cards

Examples:
A A 7 2
T 9 7 5
8 7 6 3
J T 7 6
9 9 8 7
A T 9 8
A Q Q 3
A K J 7

In 6-max play we will open-raise most of the "Speculative" hands from all position when it's folded to us. If there's a raise in front of us, all these hands will be candidates for calling in position. The best speculative hands (for example, a good double-suited rundown) will also be candidates for light 3-betting in a deep-stack scenario where we 3-bet to isolate the raiser and play a heads-up pot with position and initiative (more about this in Part 3).

With limpers in front of us, we usually choose between calling and raising. After just one limper, we will often raise these hands to isolate and set ourselves up for playing a heads-up pot in position (which increases our steal equity). With more than one limper we will have more incentive to overlimp when the decision is close, since we now have les steal equity.

In an overlimp-or-raise scenario we also have to take the nut-potential of our hand into consideration, and whether we want to play against few or many opponents. Speculative hands with one good nut component and nothing else (for example, A 9 5 4 or K K 7 2 ) play well in limped multiway pots. With these hands we are playing to flop a hand that can win large pots against many opponents (nut flush and top set, respectively), so we don't care much about how many opponents we have to beat. By limping in, we are preserving our implied odds.


5.3 Marginal




Description:
As described previously:

- 3 Broadway cards + a dangler, at least single-suited
- High pairs with worthless side cards
- Weak suited aces that don't fall under the previous "Suited Ace Hands" category
- Offsuit rundowns

Examples:
K Q J 4
K K 7 2
A J 7 6
J T 9 7

Most of the "Marginal" hands are too weak to raise from early position, and we will fold the weakest of them if there's a raise in front of us, and otherwise call. In position after limpers, we should usually overlimp, but if we think the situation is good for stealing, we can of course raise. What these hands have in common is that they prefer to see the flop cheaply and in position if we're playing them for make-a-hand-poker purposes only.

And of course: If it's folded to us in late position, all the "Marginal" hands are candidates for open-raising. We're now planning around steal equity, and we're setting ourselves up for playing a shorthanded pot in position.


5.4 Trash




Description:
Everything that does not fall under "Premium", "Speculative" or "Marginal" is "Trash" (as a starting point, anyway).

Here it's important to note that many of the hands that we have thrown in the "Trash" category can be playable for a competent player in position. A good player on the button might be able to play 100% of his hands profitably against weak players in the blinds. So we must not forget that our classification schemes for playable starting hands are conceptual tools, and they should not be followed blindly.

But as a starting point, unless you have a hand that is at least "Marginal" you should have other good reasons before you choose to get involved, like good steal equity (for example, if you're on the button with two tight and passive opponents in the blinds).

Later, when we have gained more experience, we will talk more about splashing around profitably with weak hands in position. How much we can loosen up our late position range will be very dependent on our postflop skills, particularly how good we are at stealing. We will train these skills, but for now we will stick mostly to the playable hand categories defined above, and they will make up the core of our starting hand selection.


6. Summary of starting hand classification



Let us pause and recap the work we have done so far in this article:

We began by defining our overall core strategy for PLO, which is to mostly play quality hands, planning around winning pots at showdown, plus doing some preflop and postflop stealing in position.

Then we discussed the different components of starting hand strength (high card strength, straight strength, flush strength), and noted that the value of a starting hand in a given scenario has two components: Showdown equity (the ability to build strong hands and win pots at showdown) and steal equity (the value we can extract by stealing pots preflop or postflop, which is independent of our cards).

Then we constructed two classification schemes for PLO starting hands. First we classified playable hands according to their structural elements and we divided them into 6 categories. Then we classified the playable hands according to strength and gave some simple guidelines for how to play them preflop.

In the period between Part 2 and Part 3, I recommend that you memorize both these classification schemes until you have them down cold. For example, when you see the hand A 9 8 7 , your brain should go "ding", and you will immediately identify this hand structure as a "Suited Ace Hand", more specifically a "suited ace with a rundown", and that it belongs to the strength category "Speculative".

When your brain has done this classification of your starting hand, it will also have loaded some information about how to play this type of hand in various preflop scenarios, based on things you have read, videos you have seen and hands you have played. This makes it easier to determine whether the hand is playable in the current scenario or not, and how you should play it if it is


7. Some macro principles for preflop play



In addition to the simple guidelines given in the descriptions of the starting hand categories, we will discuss some important macro principles for PLO preflop play to get you started on the right track.


7.1 Unless you have a reason to do otherwise, always open the pot for a raise



If it's folded to you and you decide to play, come in for a raise unless you have specific reasons for open-limping. If you think your hand is to weak to raise, playing it for a limp probably won't do you much good.

Note that open-limping a weak hand from out of position sets you up for a postflop scenario where you're playing a weak hand out of position in a multiway pot. These situations won't make your bankroll fat.


7.2 Unless you have a reason to do otherwise, bet the pot when you bet and raise preflop



As a default, we will bet the pot preflop, unless we have specific reasons to bet less. Situations where it makes sense to bet less than pot preflop will probably come up later in the article series, and we will discuss these situations then.


7.3 Be careful about building big pots out of position, particularly with speculative starting hands



This principle is a corollary of our overall PLO core strategy. Playing in position gives us options that we don't have out of position, for example the opportunity to exploit good stealing opportunities when the opponents are weak and tell us so by checking to us postflop. By playing out of position, we hand these options over to the opponents.

And if we also build a big pot when out of position, we are setting ourselves up for making big postflop mistakes. We will make many mistakes when playing out of position, but if the pot is small, these mistakes will be small too. Bloating the pot preflop magnifies any postflop mistake we make later. And all of this will of course be extra bad if we also have a weak starting hand that rarely connects well with the flop.

A common preflop mistake of this type is to overplay weak AAxx hands out of position. For example:

Preflop
You are playing $5PLO at a full 6-max table. UTG ($6.70) raises to $0.17, MP (4.50) calls, button ($7.20) calls, you (6.55) 3-bet pot to $0.87 with A A 9 6 , UTG calls, MP calls, button folds.

Flop: Q J 7 ($2.80)
Now what?

Here you are on the flop with a weak hand, out of position against two opponents in a big pot. You have a naked overpair and no draws. The flop is pretty coordinated, and probably hit the opposition in some way. There is some possibility that a c-bet will win this pot on the flop, but it will cost you half of your remaining stack to find out. You have no good options other than checking, and if someone bets, you are forced to check-fold. Rats!

But you can thank yourself for this mess. You walked into this situation voluntarily by making a big preflop 3-bet out of position with a weak hand in a multiway pot. And you predictably failed to hit the flop, so you ended up in the most common scenario.

The problem with A A 9 6 is that it's a 1-dimensional hand which only does one thing well when we play it solely for showdown equity. It flops top set. But this happens only 1 time in 8, or thereabouts, so if you are playing mostly for showdown equity (and this usually the case out of position in a multiway pot), it will be better for you to see the flop cheaply and preserve implied odds. By calling you also disguise the content of your hand, which will be to your advantage postflop (more about this in Principle 7.5).


7.4 Be careful about playing non-nutty starting hands out of position



We have previously discussed the ills of playing non-nut hands out of position postflop, and by playing non-nutty starting hands out of position, this is the scenario you are setting yourself up for.

To illustrate, let is compare two starting hand with seemingly similar structure (high card + rundown, single-suited) and predict how they will play postflop when we open them from UTG.

Hand 1: A T 9 8
Hand 2: K T 8 7

Both hands have high flush potential and straight potential. I now postulate that Hand 1 is a near-premium starting hand and an automatic raise from UTG, while Hand 2 is near-trash from UTG. Why is this so?

Well, let's think about what will happen when these two hands flop what we are hoping to flop, namely flushes, straights, or draws to flushes and straights. With Hand 2 we will always build the nut flush, and most of the straights we build will be nut straights as well. This means we are building hands and strong draws that we can bet with confidence from out of position, since we're not too worried about the hands behind us.

But with Hand 2 we will usually build the 2nd nut flush (unless A flops), and many of the straights we build are non-nut because of the top gap in our straight component. This means we will often have hands and draws too weak to bet confidently, even when we flop what we are hoping to flop. For example, it's bad play to let big bets go in on both the flop, turn and river with non-nut hands, since we often will be paying off the nuts. At the same time, if we play cautiously, we will reduce the profit those times we do have the best hand.

This is the non-nut hand dilemma. Push too hard, and you pay off the nuts too much. Push too little, and you don't extract enough value when you are ahead, and you give the opponents cheap opportunities to outdraw you. Nut hands don't have this problem.

So out of position we want to build the nuts postflop, and we set up this scenario by selecting starting hands with nutty structure.


7.5 Be careful about making big preflop reraises with AAxx unless you can get a large percentage of your stack into the pot



This principle is related to the principles 7.2 and 74 discussed previously. If we make a big reraise with AAxx, we are telling the world that we have AAxx. To avoid giving good implied odds to the opponents (who now have information about our hand which they can exploit postflop) we want to get so much money into the pot preflop that postflop play becomes a formality. Ideally we want to be able to autobet the flop all-in and be done with it.

This means we want to get more than 1/3 of our stack into the pot when we make a big reraise with AAxx, because then we will have less than a pot-sized bet remaining. For example, if we start with 100 BB and get 35%% into the pot preflop, we will have a 70 BB pot on the flop with 65 BB left to bet. If we can set up this scenario, we have removed most of the implied odds for the opponents and made it harder for them to exploit the information we have given them.

NB! This does not mean we shouldn't 3-bet AAxx. What it means is that we should think twice before we tell the world that we have AAxx in a situation where we are giving them good implied odds. Particularly when we are out of position with many opponents, which makes it difficult to win without a showdown.

Below is a heads-up scenario where we elect to not make a big reraise with AAxx to avoid a tough postflop scenario.

You are playing $5PLO at a full 6-max table. It's folded to you, and you ($8.10) raise pot to $0.17 with A A 6 2 in CO. Button ($10.20) 3-bets pot to $0.58, and the blinds fold. Button is a good, aggressive player. What is your plan?

Let us think about what is likely to happen if we 4-bet pot. We are about 160 BB deep, and a pot-sized 4-bet will be a total of $1.81, which is 22% of the effective stack ($8.10). This creates a scenario where the button knows what you have, and he can now play the rest of the hand near perfectly. If he also has AAxx, he will 5-bet so that you can get all-in preflop. You probably have a worse AAxx than him, but that's OK, you won't lose much in this scenario.

But if he has 3-bet you with a speculative hand that plays well against aces (as good, aggressive players are prone to do) he can now call your 4-bet with position, good implied odds and information that allows him to play well against you postflop. For example, let's say he has made a light 3-bet with 9 8 7 6 . This hand has 46% preflop equity against your A A 6 2 (ProPokerTools calculation) and it will hit a lot of flops hard enough to continue, so button isn't making a mistake by 3-betting and calling your 4-bet as a small underdog.

So what will happen on the flop? Well, if you always c-bet pot, he will be able to sit behind you and "cherry pick" flops. He knows what you have most of the time (an overpair without a strong draw), so he also knows how hard he needs to hit the flop in order to raise your c-bet and commit himself profitably. So always c-betting into him gives him good implied odds. On the other hand, if you decide to check every scary looking flop, you are giving him lots of opportunities to bluff you out.

Below is one of the postflop scenarios button is hoping for when he calls your 4-bet:

Flop: J 7 3 ($3.69)

On this flop he has a flushdraw, a gutshot and a low pair. Combined, these draws give him 66% equity against your overpair of aces! (ProPokerTools calculation) If you bet pot, he will raise all-in as a big favorite. You, in turn, will have to decide whether you have enough equity to call off the rest of your stack with a naked overpair. And if you check, he will probably bet as a semibluff, and you will have to fold with a naked overpair and nothing else on a draw-heavy flop.

I hope this example clearly illustrates the problems we are creating for ourselves by building a big pot with AAxx in a situation where we can not commit automatically on the flop, and the opponents know what we have. This problem is particularly difficult out of position, since we have no information whatsoever about whether or not the opponent connected with the flop. And if our AAxx is a very speculative one, our problems get even worse, since few flops will help us.

We conclude that we should not 4-bet our speculative AAxx with this stack size, so we call and hope good things will happen postflop. This scenario isn't particularly rosy either, but it's the lesser of two evils. Note that with a 100 BB stack we could have gotten 36% of the stack in with a pot-sized 4-bet to $1.81. This wold have enabled us to push the flop all-in without button having any opportunity to push us around postflop. He will still be able to cherry pick flops, but he no longer has good implied odds. And if we push every flop, we are unbluffable.


7.6 After a raise and a reraise, usually fold Axxx type hands.



This is simple logic. When the pot has been raised and reraised, it is very likely that someone has AAxx. If you have an Axxx type hand (for example, A K J 9 ), you will often be dominated. If you choose to get involved, you will effectively be trying to outflop AAxx with a 3-card hand (since an ace on the flop won't help you).

This will not be profitable for you, and you avoid this scenario by folding your Axxx hand preflop, no matter how tempting it looks


7.7 Don't be afraid to build big pots with premium starting hands in position



This is the opposite of what we talked about in Principle 7.2. When you have a premium starting hand in position, a raise from you will set the opponents up for playing weaker hands out of position, which is exactly what they don't want. Premium starting hands often flop well, and the times you miss the flop, you will often get opportunities to steal or take a free card, both of which are good for you.


7.8 When in doubt, be more inclined to fold when out of position



Sound poker logic. Position makes all hands more profitable and easier to play, so if you are unsure, you can let this be the deciding factor. It's difficult to play too tight out of position in pot-limit Omaha.


7.9 When in doubt, remember that the price of folding a playable hand preflop is low



If you have a marginal play/not play decision and you fold a hand you should have played, you will not have given up much profit. So if you are uncertain, and you suspect you won't be able to play the situation profitably, fold without shame or regret. There's always a new hand with new opportunities.

As you get better, you will find more and more profitable situations to get involved in. In the meantime, feel free to play conservatively and stick closely to the overall core strategy (focusing on playing for showdown equity and playing in position).


8. Some examples of preflop play



We will now (finally) end Part 2 with a few simple preflop examples where we tie together the theory we have discussed up to this point. In each example I will use a decision making process based on our starting hand classification schemes and an assessment of showdown equity and steal equity.

An experienced PLO player will not think as rigidly as we do here, and he will include many other factors that we ignore here. But the purpose of these examples is to demonstrate how we can capture the essence of solid PLO preflop play using a simple decision making process:


  • We assess the quality of our starting hand, based on the classification schemes defined previously
  • We assess the value components showdown equity and steal equity, and we determine which one is most important
  • We make a plan for the hand


Try to experiment with this type of planning the next time you sit down to play, and verbalize your thinking. Hopefully, you will see that simple and sound poker logic will lead you to simple and good alternatives for most preflop scenarios you encounter (even if more complicated and slightly more profitable alternatives might exist).


Example 8.1: Open-raising from UTG



You are playing $5PLO at a full 6-max table. You have a $5 stack UTG, and you look down at A T 9 8 . What is your plan?

You have a suited ace + rundown, which according to our hand classification schemes belongs to the "Speculative" strength category. It is one of the best hands in this category, and definitely worth an open-raise from any position. Your standard play with this hand should be to open-raise pot.

Your plan for postflop play is very dependent on what happens behind you. If you end up with a big, multiway pot, you should mostly play fit-or-fold on the flop. With only 1 or 2 opponents, you should be prepared to c-bet many flops when you miss and hope to steal the pot on the flop (but if you get called on the flop, you should shut down unless you improve).


Example 8.2: 3-betting premium AAxx



You are playing $5PLO at a full 6-max table. It gets folded to CO ($5) who raises pot to $0.17. You ($5) look down at A A K T on the button. What is your plan for the hand?

It's hard to find a more obvious spot for 3-betting than this, and you can reraise pot to $0.58. You have a premium AAxx hand with very good showdown equity against the raiser's range and the two random hands in the blinds. By 3-betting you also improve your steal equity, since you are creating a scenario where you often will play the rest of the hand heads-up and in position against the raiser. This will enable you to win most of the pots where both of you miss the flop.


Example 8.3: Flat-calling with a speculative AAxx



You are playing $5PLO at a full 6-max table. UTG ($6.70) raises to $0.17, MP ($3.30) calls, CO ($7.50) calls, you ($5.90) look down at A A T 3 in the big blind. What is your plan?

AAxx again, but this time the speculative variety with poor side cards. Furthermore, this situation is very different from the situation in Example 8.2 where we 3-bet AAxx. There we had position on the raiser with quality aces and a good chance of getting heads-up. In this scenario we are out of position with trashy aces in a multiway pot.

We obviously don't have good steal equity here, and a 3-bet probably won't create any. Most of our opponents have deep stacks, and they will probably call a 3-bet, hoping to outflop our obvious aces (this is the hand they will put you on when you 3-bet out of position in multiway pot).

We don't have good showdown equity either, unless we flop a set or get all-in preflop. But a pot-sized 3-bet will only be to $0.87, which is only 15% of our stack. So a big 3-bet will not make us committed postflop (see also Principle 7.3 and principle 7.5 discussed previously). By 3-betting we are telling the opponents that we have AAxx in a scenario where they are getting implied odds to call, hoping to outflop or outplay us postflop.

So we should plan around showdown equity by playing for set value. We call the raise, hoping to flop top set and getting paid off. If we miss, we will mostly check-fold.

Note that here we are playing AAxx like we would have played KKxx with poor side cards. We are playing for set value, and little else. Overplaying trashy AAxx out of position is a classic beginner's mistake in PLO.


Example 8.4: Isolating with a speculative hand



You are playing $5PLO at a full 6-max table. MP ($5), who mostly plays fit-or-fold postflop, limps, you ($5) are looking down at 9 7 6 4 on the button. What is your plan?

We start by noting that this starting hand technically belongs to the "Trash " strength category according to our classification scheme. The reason is the top gap (plus a gap at the bottom), which makes the hand less valuable in a multiway make-a-hand-poker scenario.

But in this situation we do a "manual override" of the classification system, because we're not in a situation where we need to plan around showdown equity. We have position on a single limper, and we can raise to isolate and play a pot heads-up in position. This will give us good steal equity, particularly against a weak and straightforward player (which MP is).

In addition to steal equity, we have a hand with decent potential, even if a lot of it is non-nut. But non-nuttiness is less of a concern against few (hopefully only one) opponents. Also, having position will make our non-nut hands easier to play postflop.


Example 8.5: A "no thanks" to a speculative hand in a multiway pot



You are playing $5PLO at a full 6-max table. UTG ($5) raises, button ($6.50) calls, SB ($5.60) calls, you ($6.10) look down at J T 7 6 in the big blind. What is your plan?

You have an offsuit rundown with a double gap in the middle. The lack of suits is enough to demote this hand to the "Marginal" category, independent of the quality of the straight structure, which is speculative. So our showdown equity is quite poor.

Next, we look at the scenario we're in. We are out of position in a multiway pot, and steal equity is non-existing for us. So if we choose to play, we will have to plan around showdown equity. But we have a hand that isn't suitable for playing make-a-hand-poker in a big, multiway pot, so this is an easy fold.

This example and the previous example illustrate how postflop play can dictate preflop play. In the previous example we had an opportunity to plan around stealing, so we raised a speculative hand to isolate. In this example we were forced to plan around showdown equity with our weak hand, and this dictated a fold because of poor showdown equity.


8.6 Folding a speculative hand to a 3-bet



You are playing $5PLO at a full 6-max table. It gets folded to you, and you ($5) raise pot with K K J 3 on the button. SB ($4.30) calls, BB ($5) 3-bets pot to $0.68. What is your plan?

You have a big pair with poor side cards. This is a speculative hand, but it's an automatic button open-raise. You get called by the small blind, and then the big blind 3-bets pot. This indicates great strength, and AAxx will make up a big part of the big blind's range.

You have the worst type of hand structure to play against AAxx, namely a big pair with uncoordinated side cards, and we have only 25% preflop equity against a random AAxx (ProPokerTolls calculation)

Calling the 3-bet is equivalent to playing strictly for showdown equity (set value), since we almost never flop anything else worth continuing with, and since our steal equity is poor with a 3rd player in the pot. The problem with calling for set value is that we're not getting the implied odds we need when 1/7 of our stack goes into the pot before the flop. So we fold to the 3-bet.

This is an example of a situation where beginners call too often without having a plan for the postflop play. They feel their big pair is too good to fold, so they call, hoping to flop a set. By doing this, they are simply setting themselves up for getting pushed out of a big pot postflop most of the time.

A big pair without supporting side cards is the worst hand structure you can have when you suspect you're up against AAxx, and in Part 3 we will study this scenario in detail by looking at so-called flop equity distributions. We will pit AA against various starting hand structures, and investigate which structures can survive a preflop 3-bet, and which structures can only be played against AAxx when they can see the flop cheaply (high pairs with poor side cards definitely prefer the latter).


9. Summary



In this article we have laid a foundation for PLO preflop play. We have defined a simple overall core strategy, discussed the various components of starting hand strength, and defined two starting hand classification schemes based on structure and strength.

From the beginning we have stressed the importance of always having reasons for every decision, and having an overall game plan that ties together the preflop play and postflop play for the hands we choose to play. We don't need a perfect plan as long as we always have a reasonable plan based on sound poker logic.

Armed with the concepts discussed in this article you should be able to navigate PLO preflop scenarios without making many big mistakes. I recommend that you make a habit out of structured thinking while playing. Take your time and verbalize your thoughts ("I call because .. ")

In Part 3 we will continue our discussion of PLO preflop strategy, and we will move on to some more advanced concepts, for example:


  • More about the connection between preflop play and postflop play
  • 3-betting
  • Flop equity distributions and their importance for starting hand playability


Until the next article, play and think, think and play!

Good luck!
Bugsgap in the middle. The lack of suits is enough to demote this hand to the "Marginal" category, inependent of the quality of the straight structure, which is speculative. So our showdown equity is quite poor.

Next, we look at the scenario we're in. We are out of position in a multiway pot, and steal equity is non-existing for us. So if we choose to play, we will have to plan around showdown equity. But we have a hand that isn't suitable for playing make-a-hand-poker in a big, multiway pot, so this is an easy fold.

This example and the previous example illustrate how postflop play can dictate preflop play. In the previous example we had an opportunity to plan around stealing, so we raised a speculative hand to isolate. In this example we were forced to plan around showdown equity with our weak hand, and this dictated a fold because of poor showdown equity.


8.6 Folding a speculative hand to a 3-bet



You are playing $5PLO at a full 6-max table. It gets folded to you, and you ($5) raise pot with K K J 3 on the button. SB ($4.30) calls, BB ($5) 3-bets pot to $0.68. What is your plan?

You have a big pair with poor side cards. This is a speculative hand, but it's an automatic button open-raise. You get called by the small blind, and then the big blind 3-bets pot. This indicates great strength, and AAxx will make up a big part of the big blind's range.

You have the worst type of hand structure to play against AAxx, namely a big pair with uncoordinated side cards, and we have only 25% preflop equity against a random AAxx (ProPokerTolls calculation)

Calling the 3-bet is equivalent to playing strictly for showdown equity (set value), since we almost never flop anything else worth continuing with, and since our steal equity is poor with a 3rd player in the pot. The problem with calling for set value is that we're not getting the implied odds we need when 1/7 of our stack goes into the pot before the flop. So we fold to the 3-bet.

This is an example of a situation where beginners call too often without having a plan for the postflop play. They feel their big pair is too good to fold, so they call, hoping to flop a set. By doing this, they are simply setting themselves up for getting pushed out of a big pot postflop most of the time.

A big pair without supporting side cards is the worst hand structure you can have when you suspect you're up against AAxx, and in Part 3 we will study this scenario in detail by looking at so-called flop equity distributions. We will pit AA against various starting hand structures, and investigate which structures can survive a preflop 3-bet, and which structures can only be played against AAxx when they can see the flop cheaply (high pairs with poor side cards definitely prefer the latter).


9. Summary



In this article we have laid a foundation for PLO preflop play. We have defined a simple overall core strategy, discussed the various components of starting hans strength, and defined two starting hand classification schemes based on structure and strength.

From the beginning we have stressed the importance of always having reasons for every decision, and having an overall game plan that ties together the preflop play and postflop play for the hands we choose to play. We don't need a perfect plan as long as we always have a reasonable plan based on sound poker logic.

Armed with the concepts discussed in this article you should be able to navigate PLO preflop scenarios without making many big mistakes. I recommend that you make a habit out of structured thinking while playing. Take your time and verbalize your thoughts ("I call because .. ")

In Part 3 we will continue our discussion of PLO preflop strategy, and we will move on to some more advanced concepts, for example:


  • More about the connection between preflop play and postflop play
  • 3-betting
  • Flop equity distributions and their importance for starting hand playability


Until the next article, play and think, think and play!

Good luck!
Bugs