Omaha is a stud poker variant which arose out of the popularity of Texas Hold ‘em, evidently because people didn’t find the madness of Hold ‘em to be quite stressful enough! Functionally, the games of Omaha and Hold ‘em are the same in terms of betting, layout, and tournament structure. There is one key difference between the two games that makes transitioning from one to the other a real challenge…so read these rules carefully!
Number of Players
2 – 10 (per 52 card deck)
A standard deck of 52 playing cards, jokers removed.
Starting from the dealer’s left, each player is dealt 4 cards face down. Deal proceeds clockwise.
Once the opening hands have been dealt, the first player to act (left of the dealer, or the big blind) opens the betting with the usual “call,” “raise,” “fold,” etc. Once the pot is “correct” (all remaining players have matched the highest bet), the dealer proceeds to deal a set of “community” cards (cards that will be common to each players hand) in the following order:
The Flop - Just as in Hold ‘em, the flop consists of 3 face up cards placed in the center of the table (usually after one card is “burned” off face down in the muck…a tactic used to discourage cheating). These 3 cards are common to every player’s hand. After the flop is dealt, there is another round of betting. So far…just like Hold ‘em, right? Well…here’s where the big difference comes in. To make up their 5 card poker hand, each player must use EXACTLY 3 cards from the table, and ONLY 2 of their 4 face down cards. This is where most Hold ‘em players get really confused when playing Omaha for the first time (for help, see “example hand” below).
The Turn - After all bets have been settled, the dealer “burns” (sets aside) another single card into the muck, and then deals another face up card onto the table with the rest of the community cards. Players now attempt to make the best poker hand possible using any 3 cards from the table, and any 2 cards from their hand…remembering that they still must use EXACTLY 2 from their hand, and 3 from the table. Another round of betting follows.
The River - Once betting is finished, the dealer burns a card and turns one final card face up onto the table. This gives all remaining players 5 cards on the table, of which they must use 3, and 4 cards in their hand, of which they must use 2. This is followed by one last round of betting, after which all remaining players reveal their hands to determine who wins the pot.
Because of the high number of excellent hands that are possible in any given game of Omaha, casinos discovered early on that making a “no-limit” version was not a great way to play the game. After all, if a player bets everything on an excellent opening hand, or even a “made” hand post-flop, the likelihood that they will get outdrawn in Omaha is much higher than in other forms of poker. Knowing this…players in a no-limit game of Omaha often find themselves not wanting to bet much of anything, which makes for a pretty dull game. For this reason, Omaha is usually played in “fixed” limit or “pot” limit games.
For your opening hand, you are dealt: Ace of clubs, Ace of hearts, Ten of spades, Nine of spades. Automatically, you might be thinking, “Pocket aces! A monster opening hand!” Very true in Hold ‘em…not necessarily so in Omaha. Due to the extra cards everyone has been dealt, it is on average, possible to make much bigger hands than in Hold ‘em. While two-pair might get you pretty far in other forms of poker, it is very often a huge underdog in Omaha, which means with only two ways left in the deck to turn your pair of aces into a set of three…those aces may not end up doing you much good at all. In fact, even if you do get lucky enough to see another ace on the table, your three of a kind is still very likely to get beaten by something higher.
Let’s assume the flop is: 6, 7, Jack all of hearts. At the moment, the 2 aces in your hand might seem to be ahead (because they are obviously higher than everything on the table), but be careful…with so many cards being dealt out before the flop, the likelihood that at least one other player holds a pair of hearts in their hand (and therefore has a flush) is very high.
Now let’s say the turn card is the 8 of hearts. Glory hallelujah! You just hit the ace-high flush right? Wrong. Remember…you can only use 3 of those hearts on the table, and since you only have one heart in your hand, not only do you NOT have the ace-high flush…you don’t have a flush at all! But hold on…you DO have a 9 and a 10. If you use those 2 cards from your hand along with the 7, 8, and Jack on the table, you now have a jack-high straight!
The river card is the 10 of clubs. At first glance, your brain might think “okay, I just paired the 10 in my hand, so if I wanted to…I could make my hand two-pair: aces and tens.” But then you remember that this would mean using 3 cards from your hand, which isn’t legal. And anyway, why would you want two-pair when you’ve still got a jack-high straight? That’s not a bad hand! But before you decide to bet big, just remember…there is a HUGE possibility that one or more players has you beat with a flush. In fact, it isn’t at all uncommon in this game for the pair of tens on the table to have given someone a full house.