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Pot Limit Omaha From Square One - Part III: Isolating & Cold Calling

Pot Limit Omaha

In the first two parts of Pot Limit Omaha From Square One, we discussed some game fundamentals and covered a few of the main ideas about how to select your starting hands. Our selection of starting hands was quite simple and straightforward because it made sense to do it in such a way. Since this series is mostly geared toward those new to PLO, coming up with a simple system of hand categorization was the best way to go as it is easier to understand, learn, and memorize.

However, Pot Limit Omaha is anything but a simple game, and knowing your good starting hands from bad is just a part of the equation. A lot of your profits will come from playing your position and understanding table dynamics even when your hand isn't all that great to begin with in absolute terms.

In Part III, we'll focus on isolating and cold calling before the flop. What this means is that we'll try to define hands and situations that make good candidates to 3-bet isolate the original raiser and spots where it makes more sense to simply cold call and try to see the flop. Unlike Texas Hold'em, which is much more defined in this particular regard, you'll see much more cold calling in PLO for reasons explained further in this article.

PLO Guide Part III

Focus on Position

Dealer Button

We’ve mentioned this at least a dozen times in this series already, but you can expect to hear it many times more – in Pot Limit Omaha, position is king, and your play should be heavily influenced by this factor. When you’re considering your options between isolating and cold calling, you should always keep it in mind.

For example, you can cold call a lot of hands on the button because you’re guaranteed to have position for the rest of the hand no matter what. With position being so powerful, you can afford to profitably call with a wide range of hands when seated in the dealer position especially if you’re up against players who aren’t too experienced (which will be the case if you’re just starting out and playing in lower-stakes games).

There is very little incentive to 3-bet and bloat the pot in position when you’re on the button. It may seem counterintuitive, but unless you’re holding an absolute premium, you don't achieve much by raising. In fact, by reducing the SPR, you’re making things easier for the original raiser when you do get called, and you’ll get called much more often before the flop than in Hold’em.

PLO Equity Simulation

For example, if you're seated in position with a hand such as As7s6hJh, which is quite playable on the button even if it isn't a premium hand, you can see that you're slightly behind the opener's hand. The equities themselves are very close, but you don't achieve that much by raising as you have a hand that needs to connect well with the flop.

Out of position, you should be inclined to 3-bet or fold more. The same hand from the example above, if you're seated in the blinds, is probably a decent 3-bet candidate especially with an opener and one or two callers in-between. You might get a decent number of folds due to the pot being big enough for your bet to actually make players give up. Even if you're left with one caller, you'll get enough flops with decent enough equity where your continuation bet will be enough to win you the pot.

Isolating Against Limpers

Coins

The above discussion was focused on raised pots, i.e., ones where someone has already shown strength and interest in seeing the flop and playing their hand out. In PLO, especially in smaller stakes games, this usually means they'll be less inclined to fold without seeing the flop, which defeats the point of raising with weaker holdings.

Things change if you’re facing one, two, or more limpers though. Unless someone is getting tricky with a big hand like AAxx, by limping, they’re signaling weakness and a hand that can’t stand too much heat. In these situations, you should aim to iso-raise as often as possible especially in later position. By doing so, you’ll achieve several things:

  • You may get absolute position (when isolating from the CO or HJ and getting BTN to fold)
  • You’ll thin the field
  • You’ll have the betting lead heading into the flop
  • You’ll have built the pot for those times you flop a big hand or a draw

Unlike the first scenario, your raise achieves its purpose here. You’re not bloating the pot to the point where SPR is such that your positional advantage could be negated. Instead, you’re taking control of the hand, and you’re adding more money into the pot where you’re likely to be a statistical favorite, even if by a small margin.

Let’s look at an example of a somewhat typical limped pot in smaller stakes PLO.

PLO Equity Simulation

So, although we have just 22.6% overall and one of the limpers has a theoretical advantage before the flop, their hand is such that they’ll need to get a fairly specific flop to be able to continue. The same goes for the rest of the limpers. Of course, you’re aiming to get at least one or two of them to fold and, if possible, take the hand heads up.

If you do end up in a situation where all three players decide to call, there is not much reason to continue firing unless you get a good flop. If you miss completely, there is absolutely nothing wrong with giving up against three opponents. Trying to turn your hand into a bluff on the flop won’t work very well against multiple opponents with undefined ranges, which tends to be the case in these limped pots. Players will often show up with hands that you couldn’t possibly put in their ranges.

Deciding Based on Your Hand

Checklist

So far in this article, we’ve mainly focused on our position and the opposition. These are very important factors to always consider when playing PLO and may often be of greater significance than the strength of our hand alone. That said, we certainly don’t want to disregard our hand either as those four cards we’re dealt will also play an important role in how we decide to proceed in the hand.

The main consideration when deciding on whether to overcall or isolate has to do with one question: Do we want multiple opponents in the hand? For example, if you’re set mining in Hold’em, you don’t particularly mind seeing several opponents take the flop. If you hit your set, the odds are at least one of them will get a big enough piece to give you some chips.

In Pot Limit Omaha, there are certain hands that you don’t mind taking against multiple opponents, and there are hands that you preferably want to take against a single player. Defining these hands’ categories is crucial for your decision-making process.

Hands with Nut Potential

We’ve already covered the main types of starting hands in PLO in Part II of Pot Limit Omaha From Square One, so we won’t be going back too much to the subject. However, hands that have solid potential for flopping the nuts or the nut draw are good candidates to take multi-way. With these hands, you don’t get much value by pushing other players out because when you do hit a favorable flop, you don’t particularly care how many other players there are in the hand.

PLO Equity Simulation

The above example is a good one for what we’re talking about here. Even though we’re technically behind, we’re actually a solid favorite to win the hand against the entire field. There is no scenario in which we’ll mind getting our chips in the middle in this particular scenario.

This is the kind of hand that plays very well against multiple opponents as long as you keep in mind that you want to only get involved with very strong made hands and nut draws. You need to be able to get away facing a lot of heat if you flop a mediocre hand with no solid redraws.

On the other side of the spectrum are strong hands that don’t do so well multi-way. Big pocket pairs, such as AAxx and KKxx are the best examples. To get the maximum value from these hands, you’ll want to thin the field as much as possible and get them heads-up to increase your chances of winning and, in general, make your life much easier.

PLO Equity Simulation

By taking the hand heads up, we’re increasing our winning chances. But, more importantly, we’re simplifying the situation. Unlike hands with great nut potential, hands containing big pocket pairs are extremely tough to play against multiple opponents. Of course, if you flop top set, this changes, but you won’t get in that spot nearly often enough to warrant wanting to take these hands multi-way.

So, with pocket Aces, for example, your goal should be to pile in as much money as possible before the flop and push out as many opponents as you can while at it. We’re talking about fairly standard spots here where you’re 100 to 200 big blinds deep. As you get deeper, your approach may change, especially with the non-suited variety, but that’s a discussion for another day.

3-Betting as a Bluff

Exclamation Point

While it can be a very powerful tool in Hold’em, 3-bet bluffing before the flop isn’t nearly as profitable in Pot Limit Omaha. While it definitely has its place, you should use it sparingly and make sure the conditions are right before making such a move.

In general, what you don’t want to do is bluff with hands that have really poor equity. It may make sense to have some super-weak hands in your 3-bet bluffing range in Hold’em, but in PLO, since you’ll have to play many more flops, hands like 2x3x7xJx (which is a great example of a trash hand) can really put you in a world of hurt.

Try to pick hands that at least have some playability even if they’re low on the starting hands chart. For example, a good hand to occasionally 3-bet bluff with would be Js8h6s3c. This is definitely not a strong hand, but it does have some playability, and there will be some flops you’re actually going to like and that will give you enough equity to keep on barreling.

In general, try to reserve your bluffs for those times when you’re in position. Once again we’re going back to that old topic, but it really is that important. Trying to bluff your way to a pot in PLO with a weak hand AND out of position is a rather suicidal mission. Overall, it will be very hard for you to make these types of 3-bet bluffs profitable in the long run.

When to 3-bet Bluff?

For your bluffs to make sense, you have to be in a situation where you expect to win the pot before the flop some of the time and then also win often enough on the flop even when you don’t connect or don’t connect particularly well. This is harder to achieve than it sounds because people don’t fold as often to continuation bets in PLO simply because they’ll often flop some equity and stick around.

So, when thinking about 3-bet bluffing, consider following factors:

  • Is the opener an active player who raises a lot of hands?
  • What are their flop stats, i.e., do they mostly play fit or fold?
  • How often do they 4-bet, i.e., are they only doing it with AAxx hands?
  • How aggressive are the players in the blinds?

If the original raiser is very active, it means their opening range is quite wide, so they might be reluctant to call a 3-bet and play out of position with a weak holding. This is the first thing you’ll want to consider. Against someone who doesn’t open as many hands, you can’t expect too many folds before the flop, and you’ll regularly find yourself playing against a strong range.

Many players will call your 3-bet but will play straightforwardly from that point on, i.e., if they don’t smash the flop, they’ll let you have the pot. These players are good targets for some 3-bet bluffs as your flop continuation bet will have a high success rate.

In a similar vein, many players will never 4-bet with speculative hands and will stick to very strong premiums, such as pocket Aces and, occasionally, pocket Kings. If you know this for a fact, you can pretty much play perfectly against them whether you fold before the flop or call and play in position trying to crack their fairly narrow range. In addition to this, many players will get married to their big pockets and refuse to give up even on dangerous board textures, so you can win huge pots when you flop big and get out in all other situations.

Finally, consider the players in the blinds. How likely are they to come along for a ride or even 4-bet you when you 3-bet from the button, for example. In lower-stakes games, you will rarely encounter players capable of pulling cold 4-bet bluffs, so usually when they do pot it over your raise, you can be pretty sure they have a big hand.

Avoiding Trouble Hands

Exit Sign

There is a certain group of hands that you should actually avoid overcalling with even if you believe you’ll get to see the flop and beyond. These problematic hands are usually not worth getting involved with because of bad reversed implied odds. That is, when you do make your big hand, it will often end up being the second best by the river.

These are primarily hands containing small to medium pocket pairs without much else going on, for example 7s7hJd2d. In this particular instance, you’re pretty much hoping to flop a set of 7s, which may or may not be good. You have no good redraw options as your J-high flush is unlikely to be good if there is any amount of serious action in the hand.

These hands are problematic because even if you find a dream flop for your hand, where you have top set and there are no straight or flush options, there are so many bad turn cards. Then by the river, you’ll often be in a spot where you have no idea if your hand is good or not unless the board really runs perfectly.

Smaller pairs are also much likelier to flop a middle or bottom set, which is not nearly as powerful in PLO as it is in Hold’em. In fact, these hands could cost you a lot of money in the long run because you’ll often end up playing against a bigger set and pretty much depending on a single out or some backdoor options.

PLO Equity Simulation

If we consider this situation, even though we’re currently a favorite to win, there are just so many bad turn cards we don’t want to see. Almost every card in the deck completes some sort of a draw, and that’s not even accounting for the fact that we could be virtually dead against a set of Jacks.

These types of hands are definitely not the ones you want to take multi-way because with every extra player in the pot, the odds of your set being the best hand diminish significantly. Add to this the fact that it is very hard to dodge all the potential draws by the river, and you’ll understand why these types of hands are best folded before the flop in most situations.

Conclusion: Mixing It Up

Apples and Oranges

Pot Limit Omaha is a very situational game, probably much more so than No Limit Hold’em. Your decisions will be heavily influenced by the tendencies of the other players at the table and your position, sometimes to the point where your starting hand as such isn’t all that important. This is especially true in situations where you’ll be deciding between cold calling or isolating.

The main point of this article was to explain and highlight that in PLO, you’ll have to carefully consider your decisions in these spots and account for a number of factors to make the most money. Auto-piloting with a fixed range of hands won’t cut it in most Omaha games or, at the very least, won’t give you the best chances of winning.

In the next part of this series, we’ll look more into 3-betting specifically and how to adjust your ranges according to your position, opponents’ actions, and your holdings. This next part will help clarify some ideas presented in this article as it will go deeper into analyzing ranges and the math behind different decisions.

The main takeaway from this article should be that there are certain hands that you want to play against multiple opponents while some are better against as few as possible. Furthermore, iso-bluffing can be very tricky and should almost never be done out of position. And, finally, whatever you do, always do it keeping in mind your opponents’ tendencies and adjusting your play accordingly.

Photo of Tadas Peckaitis

Tadas Peckaitis is a professional poker player, author of the free book “Formula for Poker Success,” and founder of MyPokerCoaching.com. He may be a coach, but he wisely strives to improve his poker game every single day to not only better his results but to have a greater wealth of knowledge to share with his students, on his website, in his books, and in exhaustive guides such as the one you have just read - Pot Limit Omaha!

If you want to master different games, Texas Holdem poker rules and advanced strategies, you can visit his website and also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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