Considering a switch to the great game of PLO poker? Want to know everything you can about PLO strategy? Well, you’re in luck!
Taking the PLOnge (Part 1)
The purpose of this two-part article series is to outline the core items a NLHE player should understand before switching to PLO poker and understanding the nuances of PLO strategy.
Some of the material will be familiar to or be quickly understood by some readers, but even those items are worth repeating because they form the foundation of a good PLO strategy.
First of all, there are obvious similarities between NLHE and PLO poker
- Both are flop games with four streets of betting and ‘standard’ starting stacks of 100BB.
- Both are big-bet games (though the pot-limit restriction in PLO poker takes on greater significance when comparing the two).
- At showdown, both games use (at most) two hole cards, so interpreting the possibilities on a given board is reasonably familiar.
At the same time, the massive difference between the games is, of course, the additional two hole cards in PLO poker. This multiplies the number of two-card combinations by six and significantly increases the absolute strength of the average hand.
Thus, the goal of this article is to expand on the impact of the two additional hole cards and more subtly understand what it means that everyone has a stronger absolute range.
How Equities Differ in PLO Poker
In addition to the obvious increase in absolute hand strength, another key effect of having four-card hands is that hand values run closer together. (Only in the very rare case where all relevant players know exactly which two cards they will use at showdown would this not be true.)
In reality, equity match-ups are typically a composite of multiple possibilities with each player gaining equity from multiple components of their respective hand. Even if one player has a pure fixed-value hand like top set with no redraws, his opponent(s) are most likely to have combo draws that use multiple combinations.
This idea is well known even among inexperienced PLO poker players, but what to do about it is not.
The best AAxx hands have -70% pre-flop equity versus a random hand (AA has 85% in NLHE), and nearly every pre-flop matchup between good hands is 55/45 or similar.
The same is true post-flop. Although there are individual dominating scenarios, most key flop and turn hand versus range matchups are in the 60/40 range or closer (monotone and paired boards are notable exceptions).
This makes it very important to correctly account for the distribution of equity over future streets and for the ranges being set up for future streets. Finding equity edges matters, but playability matters more. An easy way to lose money playing PLO poker is to consistently put yourself in spots where a good opponent can force you to fold significant equity.
Board Texture Shifts in PLO Strategy
In order to account for the distribution of equities over future streets, it is necessary to understand two things about board texture shifts:
- How shifts in the board texture influence equity relationships in PLO poker
- How likely different board texture shifts are given particular flops
Of course, board texture shifts occur in NLHE too, but they are more relevant in PLO poker. This is because PLO strategy ranges always contain the relevant high-card strength, suitedness, and connectedness combinations.
The proportion of ranges that flop sets, straight, flushes, wraps, flush draws and combo draws depends on the flop, but there is almost always greater and smoother coverage of all runout possibilities in PLO poker than NLHE poker. For example:
No Limit Hold’em Cash Game, 100BB Effective Stacks
folds to co, Hero raises to 2.5BB, Only Big Blind calls
Flop (Pot: 5.5BB)
Big Blind checks, Hero bets 4BB, Big Blind calls
Turn (Pot: 13.5BB)
Let’s imagine this hand was PLO poker. Now, there are a lot more combinations of 76 and a ton of Kxxx combinations that pick up spades and/or at least a gutshot, and all of the several river card contingencies are in play.
The board texture shift from the flop to the turn in this hand was a significant one. It shifted from a suited and moderately connected flop with a fairly strong top set to a double-suited and very connected turn with a very vulnerable nut straight.
The smoother coverage of board texture runouts coupled with higher absolute hand strength makes having the nuts and drawing to the nuts much more crucial in PLO strategy.
The Importance of the Nuts in PLO Strategy
It is important to understand that the nuts is not always present, but it is always relevant.
On the flop and the turn, there are many cases where the current nuts and the best draws to beat it have similar equity. In those cases it is most accurate to say the ‘very top’ of ranges is always relevant.
Even when the nuts and/or hands with equivalent equity are not in anyone’s hand, they are a large enough part of everyone’s range to impact hand versus range equities and the options available to the upper-middle and middle of ranges.
It is (usually) criminal to not raise the river with the second or third nuts in NLHE; in PLO poker it is often suicidal if you do. Once you factor in the reduced chance of extracting value from weaker hands and the greater probability of paying off the nuts, it should become clear why drawing to non-nut hands is dangerous.
That’s not to say non-nut hands and draws are worthless in PLO poker. These hands certainly have PLO strategy value, both in terms of raw equity and realizable equity. However, they are always much stronger in a multi-component hand that has nuttiness in some direction. For example:
The flush draw equity of…
…will be much easier to realize on…
…because the hand has more nuttiness and multiple components on the former board.
That wraps up part 1 of this series. In the next installment, I’ll explain when it is correct and incorrect to draw analogies between NLHE hands and PLO hands.
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