Taking the PLOnge (Part 2)
It is very tempting to draw analogies between NLHE hands/situations and PLO hands/situations…
…but sometimes such analogies can actually do more harm than good, and even the best ones have their limits.
This is because there are many elements of PLO that simply cannot be mapped to NLHE analogues.
That said, there is value for a transitioning player both in learning the reasonable analogies and in understanding why analogies do not exist where they do not.
Analogy #1: PLO’s Big Pocket Pairs vs NLH’s Small Pocket Pairs
One useful analogy is between big pocket pairs (KK-QQ) in PLO and small pocket pairs (55) in NLHE.
In both cases the value of the pair is not irrelevant, but the main value of the hand is set-mining.
A flopped top set with KK or QQ shares some of the properties of a flopped bottom set in NLHE. It is a very strong hand – the current nuts in PLO and the effective nuts in NLHE. However, it will usually either face a board where it has to dodge draws with significant equity to win a large pot or where it is difficult to win a large pot.
Imagine this (beautiful) scenario in No Limit Hold’em:
$1/$2 No Limit Hold’em Online, $200 Effective Stacks
Hero is on the button with:
folds to co, CO raises to $6, Hero calls, sb folds, Big Blind calls
Flop (Pot: $19)
Big Blind checks, CO bets $15, Hero calls, bb folds
Turn (Pot: $49)
CO bets $49, Hero calls $49
River (Pot: $147)
CO bets $130 all-in, Hero calls $130
Hero wins $407 with a set of fives
Stacking top pair with bottom set on a board like this is a classic dream spot in NLH.
The PLO equivalent is stacking an underset on an unpaired board or trips/lower full house on a paired board. For instance:
…on a flop of either…
Beyond hands like these, the PLO top set is mostly getting action from good draws.
Now, back to the set of fives in NLH. Beyond the strong pair/two pair hands, bottom set is only getting action from a strong range of the rare oversets and good draws.
Of course, a good draw in PLO has more equity against a set than a good draw in NLHE, but the analogy is still reasonable.
It is important to note that what we are really talking about in the PLO case is the hand component KK/QQ, as the side cards clearly matter.
Some hands are little more than a set-mining hand, such as:
It is almost always preferable to play these as pulling hands- calling or overcalling a raise and aiming for a multi-way pot where our sets have a better chance of getting paid and our overpair becomes less valuable.
But the situation is different with other hands, such as:
Here the set value of the KK blends with the value of two strong flush draws and a nutty 3-wrap, and the drawing components enhance the value of the KK as an overpair.
This is a strong hand for a single-raised or 3-bet pot with any number of opponents, and we should usually push its equity and playability edge by 3-betting an opener.
The general problem with KK as an overpair is not that it has no showdown value, it is that without secondary equity it usually does not have enough value to realize its equity.
Hands like KKQJds have a lot more easy stack-off flops, like 9c8h4h. In these situations, it will more often win pots with the KK part of the hand (usually on blank runouts or board-pairs).
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Analogy #2: NLH’s Suited Connectors vs PLO’s Rundowns
A second classic analogy is between suited connectors in NLHE and pure (JT98) or single-gapped (JT97/JT87/J987) rundowns in PLO.
While there is a bit of truth here, particularly with respect to the role these hands can play as range-balancing pre-flop 3-bets, this analogy is mostly flawed.
The PLO rundowns are simply too powerful to legitimately map to the NLHE suited connector.
Let’s compare two hands, one from each game:
…and in PLO.
JTs is arguably the best suited connector – although KQs/QJs have it notched for pair value and suit strength, JTs is the only hand that makes four nut straights.
Even so, it will only flop one of those straights about 1% of the time. It will also flop a flush another 1% of the time, a flush draw about 10% of the time, and an open-ender about 10% of the time.
Meanwhile, JT98ss has the same flush and flush draw frequencies and JT98ds has them doubled. Both flop a straight 5% of the time, a 13+ out wrap 18% of the time, and an open-ender 12% of the time. Plus, its open-enders always come with two pair, and most of its wraps come with one pair.
Furthermore, while one medium flopped pair is more valuable in NLHE than PLO, the PLO hand will flop it much more often and will also have significant backdoor equity every time.
JTs and JT98ds are both excellent hands (and excellent 3-betting hands) for somewhat similar reasons…
…but overall, JT98ds is an exclusively PLO beast. The archetype for the extremely smooth hand strength distribution that is very valuable in PLO and simply not seen (or really needed) in NLHE.
A slightly more valid analogy would be to compare suited high-card/low-card hands and semi-connected double-suited mid-high hands. Such as:
in NLHE and…
The PLO hand’s weak connectedness has it near the bottom of the list with respect to that component, as every unpaired hand makes some straights (note the K/8 and J/6 combos are self-blockers, causing KJ/J8 and J8/86 to share QT9 and T97 respectively).
The PLO hand’s difficulties with making a decent two pair mirror Kc7c’s kicker trouble. Also, one strong suit and one weak suit in PLO is not all that different from one strong suit in NLHE.
Similarly, big PLO broadway hands like that can easily flop top two pair are reasonable analogues of broadway hands in NLHE that can easily flop top pair-strong kicker. Such as:
in NLHE and…
On the PLO side this is really a hybrid of flopping top two and flopping top pair with three live kickers. For example:
AKQJ will flop two pair 12% of the time, and it is always top two. This is far less than the 33% of the time AK flops top pair-top kicker, but factor in the 40% of the time AKQJ flops top pair + three live kickers and/or a straight or flush draw and the analogy gets better.
When the PLO flops one pair, it will usually be strong enough to see the river and win the times it runs out two pair or better, which is more than can be said for most flopped one pair. Plus, there is the additional equity from the gut-shot it always has with top two (and the open-enders hands like AQJT/KQJT can have).
Another area that deserves attention is suitedness. Is it possible to equate the X-high flush in NLHE with a PLO counterpart?
Surprisingly, the answer is simpler than that.
On a monotone flop, the probability a specific PLO player was dealt the nut flush is 3.6% and the probability a specific NLHE player was dealt any flush is 3.8%.
Factor in that suited aces are more highly-weighted pre-flop in PLO than the average suited NLHE hand, and it is actually more likely the PLO player has the nut flush. Yet non-nut flushes and non-nut flush draws play a significant role in PLO, and there is no direct NLHE analogue for them in terms of dealt frequencies.
Because exactly two cards are used at showdown in PLO, there is no analogue for NLHE’s three-flush board flush draws. This gives possible-flush boards in PLO a uniquely static nature. There are a lot of flushes, their equity hierarchy is fixed, and only a set has much of a draw.
It is reasonable to say that having a suited ace pre-flop in PLO is roughly as valuable as having any suit in NLHE, and that having two high suits in PLO is roughly as valuable as having one high suit in NLHE.
But taking the analogy further to how the hands will actually play is overkill.
Analogy #3: Strong Combo Draws in Both Games
A final place where it is possible to make a light analogy, but not a strong one, is combo draws.
Consider the following flop:
It is reasonable to see similarity between…
in NLHE and..
Both hands will be comfortable playing fast and aggressive, knowing that good equity against any stack-off range will allow them to force folds from hands that they want to fold.
The live overcards in the NLHE case even map decently to the pair of Jacks in the PLO case. And though the NLH hand has fewer outs, it is also more likely it has clean non-nut outs, and it will much less often have to fade a redraw from a set.
The analogy breaks down in three key ways:
- Even though the NLHE hand faces a weaker stack-off range, the best PLO combo draw will always have more equity against a strong PLO range than the best NLHE hand in a mirrored situation.
- There are many more types of combo draws and many more combinations in PLO, especially on wetter boards.
- The risk and value of draw domination is much more relevant in PLO.
The live kickers against one pair are nice, and it is possible to run into JX of spades, but in NLHE there’s not much difference on the JhTs4s board among KsQs, Qs9s, and 9s8s.
On the other hand, consider the massive difference on the PLO board between:
(17-out overwrap, second-nut flush draw and top pair)
(13-out underwrap, fifth-nut flush draw, and no pair)
That difference exists precisely because so many combinations flop a decent or better combo hand that the ranges those hands matchup against include many similar hands.
The hand versus range equity difference between the top and bottom end of that hierarchy is a thus lot greater than the difference between KsQs and 9s8s.
Keep an eye out for the third and final part of this article series on the hand value hierarchy in PLO, and if you haven’t already, check out part 1 here.
Tom Chambers is a professional PLO and mixed games player, writer, and coach.