Pot Limit Omaha is a very dynamic game — especially compared to No Limit Hold’em.
There are 1,326 possible starting hand combinations in NLH, which might sound like a lot, until you read that PLO has a mind-boggling 270,725 starting hand combinations.
NLH players get to work with easy-to-view range matrices like this:
There are no such convenient range matrices for PLO players, as including them all would be logistically impractical.
2018 edit: The above was true when this article was published, but we just released a new preflop PLO tool actually is practical and easy to use. Learn about our new PLO Matrix solver now!
This is one of the reasons that the game is so dynamic – with such a variety in possible hands, PLO constantly provides unique situations for players. Working out your pre-flop hand selection strategy in PLO can be daunting, but there are still a number of factors you can consider in order choose starting hands that will win. In this article, I’ll break down 3 of them.
But first, it’s important to understand why starting hand selection is especially important in Omaha.
Hand Selection in PLO
With players holding four cards instead of two, the frequency at which your hand connects with the board is much higher than in NLH. If you aren’t selective with your starting hands, you’ll continually encounter situations where you’ll make good-but-second-best hands that lose at showdown versus players with stronger pre-flop ranges.
Conversely, if your range is strong, playable and generally well-considered, you’ll find post-flop situations much easier to navigate and will be on the winning side at showdown way more often.
3 PLO Starting Hand Factors
Making strong hands is relatively easy in PLO, so it is preferable to play hands that can make the nuts relatively easily.
Look to play pots with high-card hands that have the ability to make the nut flush or nut straight and hold their equity well to showdown. Hands which frequently make the second nuts – suited Kx combos or low rundown hands (like 6543) – can get you into problematic spots and should be approached with caution.
A hand such as 3s4d5s6d might look appealing as it is well-connected and suited, but it makes only weak straights and weak flushes, with no real value in its potential for pair combos.
Playing ‘nutty’ hands also allows us more effective bluffing opportunities on later streets. This is because of the value that bluffing with nut blockers has in PLO.
For instance: Imagine you have A♥T♠J♠9♦ and the board runs out 7♥T♥5♦6♣2♥.
Given that you hold the nut flush blocker and a blocker to the nut straight, your opponent is significantly less likely to hold a strong hand, which allows you to bluff effectively (see: How to Incorporate Blockers Into Your PLO Game).
Hands like 3♠4♦5♠6♦ rarely have relevant blockers, and will often face difficult spots when facing aggression on run outs like this.
This refers to the ability of your hand to make straights/straight draws. Ideally, you want to look to play hands where all four cards are in some way connected with one another.
For example, all combinations of 7♥8♥9♠T♠ connect with each other (T7s being the largest gap). Such a hand would be preferable to 9♣8♦5♦Q♦ where the Q and the 5 don’t connect.
While the raw equities of both hands run close pre-flop, it will be tougher to realize your equity with a hand that is not as well-connected. Having mid-to-high rundown type hands can be powerful to play with post-flop given their drawing capabilities.
Obvious statement alert: in PLO, double-suited hands are preferable to single suited hands.
Not only does being double-suited give you a higher chance of making a flush, it also allows you to realize equity more easily — you’ll see the turn and river more often with so many flush draws and backdoor flush draws to chase.
Be wary that having more than two cards of the same suit in your hand — such as A♦K♦J♦T♣ — weakens it, as you block your own flush draw outs.
Also, it is important to again consider the value of blockers when thinking about the suitedness of your hand. Imagine that you are dealt A♠T♥T♦J♦. Even though your hand can’t make the nut flush, the fact that you hold the As is a powerful tool that can be leveraged on spade-heavy boards.
Hierarchy of Importance
If you wait for hands with good nuttiness, connectedness and suitedness, it will be a long wait for a playable hand. That isn’t how we advocate choosing hands.
Instead, think about each of these criteria as individual components — the more components a hand has, the stronger it is. In an order of importance, these components can be ranked as:
- Nuttiness (particularly high cards)
Like in NLH, unconnected and unsuited high card hands have more raw equity than connected and suited low card hands. You’ll flop well more often when playing a high-card heavy range, as having strong pair/two pair combos are more likely on the flop compared with the likelihood of flopping a straight or flush.
The connectedness and suitedness of your combos are important for playability on later streets and will help you to better realize your raw equity.
A hand which satisfies the preference for high-cards along with either suitedness or connectedness will usually make for a playable hand in most positions in PLO. Keep away from hands where none of the above components feature, and always approach with caution with those that don’t make or maintain many nutted hands.
Bonus: PLO University Preflop Charts
Fernando “JNandez87” Habegger put together an excel sheet for PLO University members — probably the closest thing to a starting hand chart that exists in PLO. I’m gonna show you 4 rows from the “RFI Early Position” tab of the sheet.
Let’s go column by column:
- NR – numbering system not based on strength of hands. Simply used as a reference point in order to discuss each row of hands more efficiently.
- Type – categorizes hands based on if they are paired, suited or not.
- Type – further categorizes hands based on if they are connected, Ace-high or ragged.
- Text – a short description of the hands
- Cards – represents the spread — the top and the bottom card — in the row of hands.
- % of total – this is the total percentage of PLO starting hands this row represents.
- UTG – how many hands in the row JNandez recommends open-raising from UTG.
- 11.37% – total percentage of hands this row contains that we are using as open-raises from UTG. The numbers in this column add up to JNandez’s recommended open-raise range from UTG — 11.37%.
- UTG JN Ranking – JNandez’s personal 1-to-100 ranking system for starting hands from the given position (constructed with a long formula explained in PLO University)
The data on these 4 hand types demonstrate the importance of multi-component hands. Row 1’s hands are full of high cards, double-suited and well-connected, and all of them are playable from UTG as a result. The hands in rows 12 and 40 have one or two components covered — not enough to warrant an open-raise from UTG. Row 26’s single-suited and connected hands fall on borderline of playable/foldable from UTG — the top 25% best combos from the row are playable, and the remaining 75% are folds.
PLO University is no longer available for purchase, but our latest PLO course, the PLO Launchpad, also has a wide array of preflop “charts” similar to the one above.
Read more from Upswing Poker:
- Learn how to analyze your hands away from the table — the right way — with How the Top Pros Analyze Hands in 2017
- Don’t let straddled pots get you down with The Professional Approach to Straddled & 3-Blind Pots
- Does your poker career feel stuck? So did Doug Polk’s. See how he turned it around here.