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PLO From Square One: Part VIII - Playing as a Caller

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So far in our Pot Limit Omaha series, we’ve covered a variety of topics that should help you create your game plan in pretty much all situations. In this final part, we’ll deal with another important subject, which is playing hands as a caller. With it, this guide should be fairly complete: at least as much as any guide can truly be “complete” for such a complicated game as PLO.

PLO: Playing as a Caller

We’ve already mentioned a number of times in these articles that flat calling is much more frequent in PLO than it is in NLHE. This is especially true when it comes to defending the blinds, but your calling frequency in other positions increases as well.

The reason for this is twofold:

  • With equities running closer, you’ll want to see more flops
  • 3-bet squeezes aren’t as frequent in PLO

Flatting a raise on the button, for example, is often viable because the blinds can’t afford to 3-bet light very often. Since this is a pot limit game, the original raiser will often be priced in, which will bring you in as well, so they’ll have to play a bloated pot out of position with a weak hand.

With these initial thoughts out of the way, let’s now proceed to discuss several subtopics with regard to playing as a caller in PLO. Many of the ideas and concepts discussed in previous articles will apply here, so you should probably check those out first especially if you’re a new player.

Defending the Big Blind

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The first and most common scenario where you’ll be playing as a caller in PLO is when you’re in the blinds. For all the reasons mentioned above, you’ll often be inclined to call a raise and take a flop especially against a late position opener.

As mentioned, you don’t really want to be 3-betting wide even against aggressive opponents. Unlike NLHE, where this approach can work quite well, it won’t yield nearly enough folds preflop in PLO. And we’ve already mentioned countless times how important position is in PLO. So, you don’t want to be forcing scenarios where you’re the one OOP with a weak hand, playing a big pot.

But how do you decide what hands to call with and what hands to give up or 3-bet?

We think that given the favorable odds involved, you’ll want to be calling with almost all hands we’ve defined as marginal or speculative in Part 2 of this series. When it comes to your premiums, you can balance things out by sometimes 3-betting and sometimes just flat calling. While you generally want to 3-bet your good pocket Aces hands, just calling with some of them for deception can be a good strategy.

PLO Range Equity ComparisonAn 80% Calling Range From the BB Does Decently Against a Typical BTN Opening Range

As you can see, if the button is opening around 30% of their range, even if you defend with 80%, you’re not that far behind on the equity. Given the amount of money already in the pot and your pot odds, it becomes clear why it is so important to have a fairly wide calling range in these spots.

Dealing with Continuation Bets

One of the main concerns players have about playing a wide range from the big blind is navigating tough spots after the flop. More often than not, you’ll flop a weak or mediocre hand. Every now and then, you may hit a monster, but even when you do, how do you extract value out of position?

These are all legitimate questions and concerns. This guide won’t give you complete answers to all of them because there are so many variables in play. However, what it will do is give you some fundamental concepts that you can use to guide you and improve your play over time.

First of all, you need to be ready to give up on your weakest hands immediately. When you defend a hand like KQ75ds and the board comes 5 6 J with no flush draw, you don’t need to get stubborn. You might have some backdoors, and if you’re very creative, you could make these situations +EV, but new players should avoid these spots. Simply fold on the flop and move on.

What you don’t want to do, however, is give up too easily on your semi-strong hands. A pair of Kings with a Jack kicker isn’t a super-strong hand in PLO in general, but if you’re up against a late position opener, it’s not that bad either.

Equity Example Involving Pair of KingsIn This Situation, Top Pair Is a Relatively Strong Hand

As you can see, even if we assign a 25% range to the opener, we’re still comfortably ahead on this flop with the top pair and a bit of backdoor equity. This doesn’t mean that once you call on the flop, you’re committed to the hand going to showdown.

Stay aware of changes in the board texture and your opponent’s actions. Unless they’re a complete maniac, if they keep on barreling on all three streets, they’re likely to have a lone pair of Kings beaten.

Finally, check-raising your opponent can be a good strategy, but you should do it with very good made hands and good draws to the nuts. While you’ll want to have a bluffing range as well in these spots when playing against really good players, you won’t have to do much balancing in smaller-stakes games.

Playing Turns

As mentioned, a PLO hand is far from over on the flop. Different turns and rivers can have a significant impact on how you want to proceed. There aren’t many truly neutral cards in PLO, though, so you’ll have to think much more about your decisions on every street.

When you’re playing as a caller out of position, you’ve given up the initiative. Thus, you have to do your best to figure out if you’re ahead of your opponent simply by thinking about their range and how it corresponds with the board.

Equity Comparison on an A TurnMost Top Pair Hands Are Vulnerable to Being Outdrawn

Continuing the previous example hand, look at how a card like the As changes everything on the turn. You’ve gone from about a 58% favorite on the flop to being a 67% underdog against a 25% opening range. So if a card like this comes on the turn and your opponent keeps betting, you can’t do much else but fold. It won’t always feel right, but with such a bad turn card for you, anything else would probably lose you more money in the long run.

PLO Equity Sim on Blank TurnThis Is a Pretty Good Turn to Continue With Top Pair

On a card like the 7d, you can see that there isn’t a big equity shift. You lose a bit of your edge, but you’re still a statistical favorite. So the 7d is pretty much a brick in this scenario, which means that you’ll need to keep calling on a card like this.

River Play

If you get to the river without initiative, it means you took the check-call line on both previous streets. Let’s say you check for one final time, and you face a bet from your opponent. What you need to think about is:

  • Did they skip the bet on the turn?
  • What does the river card change for their range?

As for the first point, you need to understand that most people won’t check back in PLO with very strong hands unless they have the absolute nuts. Everything else, they’ll feel they’ll need to protect, and they won’t be wrong for the most part. So when they check the turn, they usually do it for:

  • Pot control, or
  • To give up

This means that when they bet the river after checking the turn, they’ll often be going for a thin value bet and, occasionally, for a bluff since you’ve shown a lot of weakness by checking all three streets. Of course, you also have to figure out if and how the river card changes the hand dynamics.

The problem with the river in PLO is that it can often bring some weird backdoor draws that you won’t even notice. Therefore, someone checking the turn and bombing the river can also mean they backed into the nut straight, for example, or rivered the second-best set. Both of these hands are well concealed and more than good enough to merit a value bet given the action.

The bottom line is that it is impossible to come up with a magical formula that would give you a simple answer on every river card. You’ll need to be alert and carefully consider what types of hands may have materialized. Take your time with river decisions and don’t just snap call or snap fold in marginal scenarios. Even if you make an incorrect decision, the process of going through the hand will benefit your game in the long run.

Playing vs. a Missed C-bet

Skipping a continuation bet on the flop isn’t that uncommon in PLO. Certain boards are much more favorable for the big blind caller, and solid players are aware of this. They’ll often opt to skip a c-bet on these types of textures, avoiding any uncomfortable check-raises forcing them to give up on their equity.

Favorable Board for Blind DefenseA Low, Connected Board Like This One Probably Missed a Raiser's Range

This is a type of board that is likely to favor you as the caller from the big blind. Even if the equities are close overall, if you’re up against an early position opener, you’ll often see them check back on the flop. Their range is simply more likely to consist of big pocket pairs and high card hands, so they won’t be achieving much by betting on this flop.

In these scenarios, you can sometimes take the initiative on the turn and win the pot even if you failed to connect with the board. However, only do it on cards that aren’t likely to help your opponent, such as another small card or another spade. None of these cards is likely to help them after they decide to check through to the turn.

If you do hit the board hard, you’ll often want to keep checking and hope for your opponent to try and bluff at it. However, following the same logic, you can start barreling on the turn if it comes a high card like an Ace or a King as they will likely feel they need to continue when they pair up after giving up the flop initiative.

Donk Betting

One final segment we want to cover in the first section of this article is donk betting, i.e., leading into the original raiser after just calling preflop. In No Limit Hold’em, this is not much of a strategy. In fact, most pros agree that you don’t need to have any donk bets in your range ever (although the recent performance of the Pluribus bot suggests that donk betting definitely has its place even in NLHE).

With PLO though, you can expand your strategy to include some out of position leads. We don’t advocate overdoing it, of course, but it can be useful in some scenarios.

Some of the best examples that come to mind are ones where you flop a strong draw like a wrap on a small board. If you suspect your opponent will check back on a board like this, you can bet yourself. That way, you’ll frequently win the pot right then and there instead of allowing the hand to check through and proceeding to a high card turn that severely limits your options.

If you’re playing against observant players, though, you’ll want your donk bet range to also include some very strong made hands. This will prevent your opponents from blowing you off the hand with a big raise or floating you in position to see what you do on the turn. Once again, don’t do this every time with these types of hands, but mixing it into your overall strategy does make sense.

Playing as a Caller in Position

Dealer Button

Being out of position is inherently disadvantageous in PLO especially when you’re also the one without initiative. When you do have position on your opponent, things tend to become much easier. Having the betting initiative isn’t nearly as important in Omaha as position, and having the advantage of knowing what your opponent does before making your own decisions is pretty significant.

In the previous installments of this series, we’ve talked about what types of hands are the best for calling in general. Basically, you want to play hands that have good nut potential but aren’t good enough to 3-bet with: hands like suited Aces with smaller connectors on the side, decent pocket pairs, and even some hands containing pairs as strong as Aces and Kings.

The goal of calling in position is mainly twofold:

  • Try to flop a big hand and win a big pot
  • Win the pot by bluffing when the opponent gives up

The first part is quite clear. You’ll be choosing hands that have good potential to make a hand you’ll be more than happy to get all your chips in the middle with. These hands also have the added benefit of giving you a chance to take over the initiative on the flop or the turn, often forcing your opponent to fold.

Great Board for Semi-Bluff RaisingWith Many Outs in Position, You Can Make It Difficult for a Weak Made Hand to Continue

Although the original raiser has the best hand at the moment, your equity on this flop is huge. If they decide to continuation bet, you can easily raise the pot and put them to the test. Even if they figure they might be good at the moment, they’ll know they’re likely up against a monster draw. Most players will simply choose to give up in these spots, and you’ll prevent them from realizing their share of equity.

Of course, there will be many spots where you’ll just have a decent draw you can call with on the flop. Once the original raiser decides to check on the turn, you can take over the initiative and start betting.

As you can see, playing as a caller in position is much easier than playing without position because you will have much more information to work with.

Calling 3-bets

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Although 3-betting may not be as frequent in PLO as it is in Hold’em, it still happens quite a bit. The fact of the matter is: You’ll probably be taking more 3-bet flops in PLO as you’ll often have odds too good to just fold before the flop.

The bulk of our discussion will focus on playing 3-bet pots in position, i.e., in situations where you open and one of the blinds decides to raise instead of calling. As for out of position play, you should keep things pretty straightforward. Stick to hands with really good playability, and only proceed when you connect with the flop well. If not, check-folding is usually the best way forward.

In position, however, you’ll often want to defend with a large portion of your opening range. You may want to fold your weakest hands on the button if you have a really wide opening range, but other than that, your odds combined with your positional advantage make calling almost mandatory in these spots.

Truth be told, people don’t do much 3-bet bluffing in PLO. Perhaps you’ll have to deal with it more as you move up through the ranks, but at lower stakes, these 3-bets are pretty straightforward, and the ranges look something like this.

Reasonable 3-Betting RangeA Typical 3-Betting Range in Small-Stakes PLO

You can also add some occasional bluffs into the mix and a few more suited and connected hands, but in general, 3-betting ranges are going to be pretty tight. This means that they won’t have very good coverage across all boards. In fact, a decent percentage of flops will clearly favor us as callers.

Boards containing smaller cards and connected runouts are usually very difficult for the 3-bettor to deal with. Once you call on the flop, they’ll have a very hard time continuing on the turn with most of their range. Big pocket pairs shrink in value on these boards, and when faced with turn and river aggression, these hands usually find their way into the muck.

Of course, people will still hero call you in PLO as well and will over-value the strength of their Aces. Thus, you have to be aware of who you’re up against to avoid wasting your time and money bluffing someone who won’t be bluffed. You can simply take these players to value town when you do flop big in these spots.

Multiway Pots

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Let's wrap up this discussion of playing Pot Limit Omaha as a caller with a brief overview of multi-way pots within this context. In PLO, you often won’t be the only caller in the pot. If you call an EP open on the button, you can expect at least the big blind to tag along. They’ll have great odds, so folding often won’t be an option.

In these spots, playing in flow is your best approach. Bluffing into multiple opponents usually won’t produce good results. Even if they check to you, unless you have a good hand, simply check it through and see the turn.

The only exception here would be if you have a good draw to the nuts on the flop. In these scenarios, you can start betting and raising as you don’t really care about the number of people. If you hit your outs, you’ll have the nuts, and you can still win by sheer aggression too.

Conclusion

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You will play many pots as a caller in Pot Limit Omaha, both in and out of position – that’s just the nature of the game. You can’t really go against it, so the best you can actually do is to learn how to do it well.

The advice contained in this article should provide you with some good general ideas as well as a few concrete examples of different spots you can expect to find yourself in. It will still take some time and effort to learn how to efficiently implement these into your game, but you have several good guidelines to start with.

In the end, our advice is that while grinding at the PLO tables, try your best to play every hand the way you think is right, and don’t worry too much about what happens. You’ll make mistakes, but you’ll also learn from them, and they might help you understand why some of the concepts discussed here make sense. As long as you keep working on getting better and analyze your play with an open mind, you’ll keep going in the right direction!

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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 learn how to analyze your poker hands, master different game formats, or read interesting articles - visit his website and also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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