STRATEGY

Rules of Omaha Hi-Lo Poker – How to Play Omaha-8

When it comes to most poker games, the objective is to get the best hand. In many cases, the best hand would be the highest ranking poker hand. Thus, for example, if you get a pair of threes and your opponent has a pair of Queens, he wins the pot. While this is true for many variations of poker, there are games where you don’t necessarily have to have the highest ranked hand to win.  One of these is Omaha Hi-Lo.

Omaha Hi-Lo is a popular game for many reasons, but one of the biggest is the fact that you can split the pot in half, simply by having the lowest cards possible. In this case, you can win with just an assortment of low cards, such as 2♥, 4♠, 6♣, 3♦, and an 8♥. Because of the different dynamics at work with this game, you can have a lot of fun and mix up your strategy depending on your hand.  For that reason, we have created a strategy and gameplay guide to help you not only learn the basics but to help you improve your skills and hopefully win a few pots along the way.

History of the Game

Although the exact history of this game is not known, we do know that it gained popularity in Vegas back in the glory days of Old Sin City. The game was introduced at the Las Vegas Golden Nugget Casino, back when that name meant something. When the game first started, it was called “Nugget Hold ‘Em,” but as it spread to other casinos, Omaha became the official name.

Back in the early days of Omaha, the game was a bit different than it is now. The mechanics were similar to Texas Hold Em, in that each player got two hole cards and there was a community board. The biggest difference, however, was that players had to use both of their hole cards, meaning they could only take advantage of three of the community cards.

As the game evolved, the two-card rule stuck, although in current variations players receive four hole cards instead of two. In various places around the world, Omaha is still played as a high hand game, but most of the time it is offered as original or hi-lo. For this article, however, we’re only going to focus on the Omaha Hi-Lo version of the game.

Rules of Omaha Hi-Lo

Omaha Hi-Lo Rules

The mechanics and rules of this game are similar to Texas Hold Em, but there are some critical differences. To better understand the game, we’ll walk you through a pretend hand, followed by a real one. For simplicity, we’ll stick to two players.

Dealing: Both players get four hole cards to begin. This game is played with blinds, meaning that the first round of betting starts after the deal.

Player 1 hand: Q♠ 4♣, 6♠ 2♦

Player 2 hand: 4♠ 3♣, A♦, 7♦

Round 1

The dealer burns a card then deals the flop (three cards). These are community cards. For this example, we’ll say that the flop is as follows:

A♣, 8♦, 3♣

Another round of betting commences.

Round 2

The dealer burns another card, and then reveals the turn. Now the board looks like this.

A♣, 8♦, 3♣, 5♦

Betting continues.

Round 3

A final card is burned, and the river comes out. The final board looks like this.

A♣, 8♦, 3♣, 5♦, K♦

At this point, there is a possibility of a low hand and a high hand. For a low hand to exist, there must be at least three cards of value 8 or lower. In this case, there are four “low” cards (aces are high or low depending on context).

Showdown

Both players reveal their hands.

When comparing hands, it’s important to remember that you cannot double up on low cards. Thus, if one player’s lowest 5-card hand contained two of the same number, it would not qualify. In this case, however, Player 1 has the lowest possible hand, which is:

A♣, 2♦, 3♣, 4♣, 5♦

This is both a straight and what’s called the nut low. That term refers to the lowest hand you can get, which is always Ace through five. In many cases, having this hand will award you the high and low winnings, except that Player 2 has a flush. Player 2’s hand is:

A♦, 5♦, 7♦, 8♦, K♦

A flush beats a straight, so he is awarded the high hand. In this case, both players would split the pot evenly.

Things to Note

In Omaha Hi-Lo you can only use three community cards to make a hand. Thus, if Player 2 had three diamonds in his hand and there were only two on the board, he would not have a flush. Similarly, if he held a single diamond, he couldn’t match it with four communal diamonds either.

To help you understand what happens when a hand copies, we’ll look at an example.

Player’s hand: 2♣, 3♦, 6♠ 8♦

Board: 2♠ 6♣, K♦, 8♣, Q♠

In this case, the player cannot make a low hand. The reason for that is because he has to use two of his cards, but only one of them doesn’t copy with the board. Thus, he cannot count his two, six, or eight as unique cards, meaning that he only has four “low” cards to make a hand. In this case, he would have a high hand of two pairs, (sixes and eights), but no low hand.

Live Play

Now we will take a look at a hand that I played on PokerStars.  In these pictures, I’m playing as pokerhack_co at a $0.01/$0.02 Omaha Hi-Lo cash table.  Let’s start by analyzing my hand.

Blinds

Hi-Lo Blinds

Starting Under the Gun, I have a fairly strong hand.  It is Double Suited, that is to say, has two cards from one suit, and two from another, giving me the highest possible chance of a flush.  There are three cards that are fairly high, with the A♦, K♦, and 10♥.  There are also good low cards in this hand, thanks to the A♦ and 2♥.  All in all, this hand contains a great many possibilities, and I would be wise to pursue it, even when out of position.

Flop

Hi-Lo Flop

Three players have decided their hands weren’t good enough, and that leaves us with me, as1060 and dj77mc.  My hand strength has shifted somewhat here.  No strong high options have presented themselves as yet.  With three different suits on the table, the chances of a flush have all but disappeared.

At this stage, I still can’t put together a low hand, with my best cards in that respect being: A♦, 2♥, 4♣, 5♥. I need a 3, 6, 7 or 8 to complete a solid low hand.  I check here, as1060 raises by the minimum of $0.02, and dj77mc folds.  My hand is worth taking forward for that amount, so I call, and we move on to the turn.

Turn

Hi-Lo Turn

I have lucked in! Not only is the 3♦ good for completing a straight, but it is also a diamond, ruling out flushes. In fact, other than higher straights, the only hand that can potentially beat this is a four-of-a-kind. That would require a 3,4 or 5 on the river that matched a pair as1060 may be holding.  The odds on that are extremely long, but worth being aware of. Just like most other forms of poker, instinctive knowledge of hand values is a crucial skill.

The hand I am holding now is known as a Wheel.  Off-suited Ace through five.  It’s the best low hand, and it guarantees the low pot (or a share of it).  As a straight, it is also a strong contender for the high hand as well. Knowing that I won’t likely come out lower than I started, it makes sense for me to play aggressively now.  I push the bet to the maximum.  This variant of Omaha is usually played Pot-Limit, so that is $0.15 more from each player to go to the river.

River

Hi-Lo River

The J♥ here is fairly inconsequential for me, as it does not improve my hand in any way.  Assessing what it may do for my opponent, we see it can bring nothing of any use to them either.  This means both players are wagering on the same hands they played previously.  as1060 bets $0.50.  Analyzing this in detail, we can surmise that unless as1060 is playing a huge bluff, he also has a straight.  Whether it’s high or low is the concern.

For the sake of practice let’s break down the options:

as1060 is holding a low straight (moderate chance):

  • Both players tie for Hi pot (Straight to 5)
  • Both players tie for Lo pot (Wheel)

as1060 is holding a high straight (moderate-low chance, but the size of his bet suggests higher):

  • as1060 wins Hi pot (Straight to 6 or 7)
  • I win Lo pot (Wheel)

as1060 is holding both straights (low chance, but with such a large bet, it could be likely):

  • as1060 wins Hi pot (straight to 6 or 7)
  • Both players tie for Lo pot (Wheel)

as1060 is holding no good hand (very low chance in Omaha):

  • scoop both pots

Looking at all these options, if I fold, I lose the $0.30 I have staked so far.  If he calls the bet, there is a small chance of losing $0.35, but the most likely outcome by far is breaking even.  There is a minute chance of taking the whole pot, but without time at the table to assess as1060’s play style it’s impossible to know if he’d go for such a risky bluff, so it’s best to disregard that when it comes to making the decision.  In the end, I choose to call.

Showdown

Hi-Lo Showdown

As I was expecting, my opponent holds a six.  You can see from the dealer chat what each of our hands are worth.  In the end, the pot is split, and the two players end up breaking even for the hand (any contribution from dj77mc has been nullified by table rake).  This outcome can be very common in Omaha Hi-Lo. Remember when playing that the Lo pot is more of an insurance policy against losing your stake for that hand, rather than a chance to win big.

Basic Strategy

When it comes to playing Omaha Hi-Lo, it’s important to bet based on what is possible for both high and low hands. Thus, if you have a hand that is full of cards ranked eight or below, you have a good shot at making a low hand. That means you can still bet and raise based on the strength of your low cards.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is when there is no possibility of making a low hand. We saw already how that could happen when you copy cards, but it is also a possibility if there are not enough low cards on the board. For example, if the board looks like this:

10♥, 9♣, 4♣, K♥, 6♠

There is no chance of making a low hand, regardless of whatever you are holding. Since you have to use three community cards and only two of them qualify, there is no way you can make a low hand.

Overall, when betting in Hi-Lo, you need to pay attention to which hand you are going for. In many cases, you may qualify for both a high and a low hand, which gives you further incentive to bet and raise.

Lo Pot and Showdowns

Another thing to keep in mind is that as long as there is a possibility of a low hand (based on the community cards), most of the time you will have a showdown. In other games, you can bluff your way to a win, but in Hi-Lo, someone may be calling you because he or she has an excellent low hand. In that case, bluffing is not something that you should attempt unless there is no chance of making a low hand.

As mentioned above, the Lo pot is something of an insurance policy against bad hands.  It means you need to pay attention to the amount going in from each player.  As was the case in our live example, if you’re head-to-head with one player, and you’re targeting different pots, then you’ll both just end up taking your own bets back.  Winning a split pot is only lucrative when more than two players make it to showdown. Otherwise, you are just recouping your stake and effectively playing for free. This isn’t necessarily bad, though; table rake from hands like this still counts towards your VIP scheme if you have one!

Finally, remember that some hands that look good can, in fact, be bad. For example, if you get four of a kind in your hand, you may think that you have a good chance of winning. However, because you can only use two of those cards, you are at a disadvantage. That means you can only make a pair, and you are automatically disqualified from making a low hand. In fact, if you start with quads, you should fold immediately. Trips are similarly poor and should be handled with care. Conversely, if your hand looks something like this, you should definitely see the flop:

Omaha Hi-Lo Hand

Related Definitions

As with most poker games, Omaha Hi-Lo has its share of words and phrases that go along with the game. To help you get acquainted with them, we’ve listed the top five phrases that you may hear at an Omaha table.

  • Nut Hand: this term refers to the highest and lowest possible hand. You’ll hear it in relation to the hand, such as the “nut low” or “nut high.” If a person has both of them, he or she has the “nuts.”
  • Wheel: In a Hi-Lo game, the wheel describes having the Ace through five. Since this is the lowest possible hand, it could also be referred to as the “nut low.” In many cases, however, having the wheel means that you have a shot at winning both the high and the low.
  • Scoop: when there is a possibility for a high and low hand, the pot is split. If, however, you win both sides, you scoop the pot, taking both halves.
  • Suited Player Hand: if two of your cards are the same suit.
  • Double Suited Player Hand: if you have two cards of one suit and two cards of another suit in your hand.

Omaha Hi-Lo Conclusion

If you’re looking for a fun game with extra strategy, then check out Omaha Hi-Lo. There are so many possibilities with this game that you can spend hours without ever having the same hand. Overall, this is a fantastic game for anyone who is a veteran of poker games and wants something more challenging.  We hope you enjoyed our guide to Omaha Hi-Lo, let us know what you thought in the comments below!


I am a poker enthusiast who also enjoys sailing, rugby, and gaming. A relative newcomer to the world of online poker, I will be putting our strategy guides to the test as I start the Bankroll Challenge: how far can I get without depositing a single penny? Keep an eye out for updates.


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