PLO: Hold’em on Steroids

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I introduced four-card poker to the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas in the spring of 1982 with my friend Gwen from Seattle. The game we spread at the Nugget started out as limit, but after two hours of boring, short-handed poker, we decided to change it to pot-limit.

Then something strange happened.

The game filled up as players started to arrive for the WSOP. They loved this new four-card version of Hold’em. The game was later called “Nugget Hold’em” by Bill Boyd, the card room manager and a legend in the poker world.

Nugget Hold’em became a regular game after the WSOP concluded. When Steve Wynn closed the poker room, the game moved across the street to Binion’s and became $4/$8 limit Omaha, and the rest is history.

When I moved to California in 1985, I spread the PLO mix at the Horseshoe Casino in Gardena, where I was the casino general manager. I could never imagine then that Omaha would become the second most popular poker game in the world.

But after fifty years of playing the game, I realized some things never change; the best poker players still win the money.

PLO Starting Hands

Here are a few strategy tips that will help you become a winning player at Pot-Limit Omaha (PLO).

If you look at hand charts, AAKK double suited is listed as the top starting hand. The next best hand would be any AAJ10 double suited while some charts list AAQQ suited as the second best hand.

I spoke with a few professional PLO players who win consistently. Eric Garcia, Peter Cutler, Dimitri Gazetovici and Warren Oberman come from a wide range of backgrounds from a PhD to engineers and a VP of a software company.

When it comes to starting hands, they generally agree on the top starting hands, which include AAKK, AA10J, KKQQ down and all paint double suited. The bigger the pairs and connectors, the better pre-flop your hands are.

Nick Savadian, the Hollywood Park Casino host for PLO games, gave me his top hands: “AAJ10 double suited and 2nd probably AAJQ double suited and third 10J 78 double suited. For PLO mix my favorite starting hands are AA23 and AA2J double suited or A234.”

Strategy for Beginners

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Tip 1: Group your top hands together into three groups: Group A, Group B and Group C with about ten starting hands in each group.

As you gain experience and expand your game, you can expand your hands. It’s best to start out playing tight to avoid the temptation to gamble. It’s important that all your hands be suited (ideally double suited) and connected with as few gaps as possible.

Now picture a traffic signal with red, yellow and green lights. A red light is the first three spots to open where you will fold most of your hands. A yellow light is next three spots to open, so proceed with caution. The green light is the last three spots on the button and blinds, so feel free to go if the conditions are right since you have all the information on the action before you act.

In the red light zone, you can open or raise with the hands in your Group A or Group B. In the yellow position if someone has opened the pot with a raise, then proceed with caution and only use hands in Group A. You can play any group in green depending on what’s happened because you have all the information from the previous six spots.

Tip 2: Know your players. Watch for a few minutes before playing. Look at their chip stacks and analyze their behavior.

Tip 3: Chip stacks and pot size determine how you will proceed with the hand. Remember when you bet, it opens the pot for a much larger bet. Bet sizing in PLO separates great players from weak ones. You can often tell a new player because they only have one move–”Pot.”

Beginner Mistakes

Don’t shut yourself out of a pot because you want to be to aggressive. Let me give you an example. In the Main Event at the WSOP, I picked up KQ of spades. I flopped an open-ended straight flush draw. Two players checked, and I bet $300. Both players called. The next card paired the board on the turn. Both players checked again, so I decided to steal the pot and bet $1400. Both players moved all-in.

It was obvious they had full houses, and I had to throw my hand away. They had given me a free card, but I didn’t take it, and that hand has haunted me ever since because the river was an Ace of spades making me the royal flush.

I shut myself out of my pot. The principle is the same in PLO. No shame in checking.

Another beginner mistake I often see is a player betting second or third best hand. For example, it is checked to them when they are drawing to the third or fourth flush draw. They bet the pot and another player comes over the top for all their chips.

Now what? Our player should have taken the free card.

Ready to Play

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Hollywood Park Casino, located in Inglewood, California, offers a variety of Omaha games, including $4/$8 Big O (five-card Omaha), $40/$80 limit Omaha high-low and $20/$40 OE mix of Stud and Omaha.

They also spread several PLO games such as PLO mix and PLO high only. The best way to get practice is to get on the table and play. If you like No-Limit Hold’em, you will love PLO.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player most well-known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995 and Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.

Robert has over 30 years’ experience in casino marketing and player development. He has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM. He is currently working as a casino consultant.

Robert can be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting, marketing and coaching. Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner.