Making sense of poker: Do different poker game variants require different approaches?
One of the main reasons that poker is such a skilful card game is the fact that there is a plethora of game variations played each and every day. Playing poker doesn’t just mean sitting down for a game of Texas Hold’em, it could be a game of 7 Card Stud, 2-7 Triple Draw or Pot-Limit Omaha.
The beauty of poker is that each variant has its own strategies to deploy and master. Within this article, we’ll explore the three main poker games hosted in card rooms or websites and how their strategies differ from game to game.
You might not be aware that there are at least a dozen poker variations available, each of which is played to a different format and structure. For the purposes of this article, let’s look at the three most popular poker game variations that people choose to play in land-based and online poker rooms. We’ll determine what sets them apart and their basic rules and gameplay.
There can be no doubt that Texas Hold’em is the most played form of poker today. In fact, you will struggle to find a land-based or online card room that doesn’t offer a huge choice of Texas Hold’em action, spanning cash games, sit ‘n’ go’s and multi-table tournaments. Texas Hold’em really shot to stardom back in the early 2000s after the shock success of an amateur poker player, Chris Moneymaker, who bagged the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event, earning him a cool $2.5m first prize. Moneymaker’s success helped inspire the “poker boom” that’s occurred ever since.
The incredible rise to stardom of Chris Moneymaker - an amateur poker player who changed the game forever
In terms of gameplay in Texas Hold’em, it’s all about how you make the most of the community cards dealt on the table by the dealer. There can be as many as five community cards to utilize. The player with the highest-value five-card poker hand – using any mix of your two hole cards or five community cards – wins the pot.
Omaha Hi is considered the second most popular form of poker played around the world. This poker variation is also commonly known as Pot-Limit Omaha (PLO). Omaha Hi plays in a similar fashion to Texas Hold’em, except for two key differences. First and foremost, players are given four hole cards instead of two. For a player to win the hand they must still create the highest-value five-card poker hand, but their hand must contain two of their hole cards.
As the game is also called Pot-Limit, you’ll also need to be mindful that the maximum a player can bet or raise their opponents is the size of the pot at the start of each round of betting.
Thirdly, Omaha Hi-Lo, also commonly known as Omaha 8-or-Better, is another popular variant of Pot-Limit Omaha. Players are still dealt four hole cards, like a game of Omaha Hi, but at the showdown the pot is shared equally by the player with the highest-value five-card poker hand and the person with the lowest-value five-card hand. However, the lowest-value hand is only eligible if it contains cards with values of eight or less.
The lowest possible winning hand in Omaha Hi-Lo is any containing a straight from Ace through to five. It can be harder for some poker players to grasp Omaha Hi-Lo, particularly those that initially learned how to play Texas Hold’em and aren’t used to considering low-value as well as high-value hand combinations.
Let’s start by comparing the strategic differences between Pot-Limit Omaha and Omaha Hi-Lo. First and foremost, the issue with Pot-Limit Omaha is not the fact that you have four hole cards but that you have to use two of your hole cards to make a winning hand. Even if the five community cards are in your favor, you need to have two cards in your hand to complete that straight, flush or full house. It’s therefore important to be very selective with the hands you play. If you don’t like the look of your hole cards with the flop, get rid. It’s known among PLO players as a “pump or dump” approach – bet/raise or fold it.
In comparison, Omaha Hi-Lo players not only have to consider the highest possible hand they can make but the lowest too. This means that bluffing is much less of an influential technique here, given that opponents may be trying to make either the highest or the lowest-value hand – or perhaps both. Subsequently, more players will be prepared to play their hand through to showdown than in Pot-Limit Omaha. Premium hand selection is therefore important to maximize returns.
The biggest strategic difference between both Omaha variants and Texas Hold’em poker is that the latter tends to offer players much fewer “outs” to make their winning hand. As Pot-Limit and Hi-Lo Omaha give players double the number of hole cards, high-value winning hands occur much more frequently than in Texas Hold’em. Subsequently, the hand strengths required to win in Texas Hold’em tend to be of lower value on average. As there tend to be more “outs” in Omaha than Texas Hold’em, it can also be easier to employ bluffs in Texas Hold’em to force opponents off their hand and stop them chasing the card(s) they need.
Most people would agree that Texas Hold’em is a good starting point for any poker beginner. Simply because you only have two hole cards to consider. It’s much easier to assess whether two hole cards have hit the flop than four. When it comes to playing Omaha, you’ll need to be mindful of more potential outs that your opponents may have, as well as low-value outs if you choose to play Omaha Hi-Lo.
If you want to play a form of poker that allows you to better understand the hierarchy of hands and the dynamics of betting, Texas Hold’em is a great shout. The quality of play at Texas Hold’em tables has improved ten-fold since the “poker boom”, even at the micro-stakes tables. It therefore takes a lot of commitment and discipline to master, even if the basics are easy to pick up.
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