How to Understand the Top Poker Variations
We all know that Texas Holdem is the most popular variation of poker. But this was not always the case. In fact, there are a few classic poker variations that are still quite popular for friendly games and tournaments. Here is a short look at a few classic poker variations.
We at Juicy Stakes Poker feel that we have to start with the King of poker variations. Texas Holdem is so much more complex than it seems at first glance. After all, we don’t know only two of the seven cards a player will be able to use if they stay in the hand until the river.
The complexities of Texas Holdem derive from the betting rotation, the blinds, and the entire concepts of range and position. Ironically, although many poker players think that the modern science of poker began with Texas Holdem, it didn’t. Mathematics was coming to poker in the same sense that mathematics has come to professional sports.
It’s just that Texas Holdem was the game of choice for so many poker players when poker math hit the poker world. The mathematics of poker is actually the scientific justification of many elements of poker play that players had “known” for many decades but lacked the skill to codify. The mathematicians came along and codified what had been common knowledge and added many elements that had been believed counter-intuitively.
Texas Holdem is proof that even two unknown cards add giant tsunamis of uncertainty to many hands. Now we will look at the second most popular form of poker, Omaha and its variants, and we will see even more complexity!
This type of poker has many similarities to Holdem but also has its own unique strategic elements. We will start with Omaha High Hand.
Each player receives four hole cards. The five community cards come out as in Texas Holdem: the flop of three cards, the turn, and then the river so, at the end of the hand, there are also five community cards. Now the truly unique element of Omaha: players have to use three of the community cards and only two of their four hole cards to create their best hand.
One aspect of Omaha that most players catch onto very quickly is that it is best to get a strong pair in the hole, not three of a kind or heaven forbid four of a kind. Similarly, four to a flush in the hole wastes two of the cards. Many players, with moderate pairs and a third or fourth hole card that ostensibly “helps” them but which are wasted in accordance with the rules of the game, will fold since their chances of improving through the community cards have been weakened by the presence in the hole of wasted cards.
Omaha Has Many Elements Similar to Texas Holdem
We have seen that Omaha has community cards. It also has the small blind and the big blind. Betting sequence follows the pattern of Texas Holdem.
So, players have to take position into account when they bet in early position. Hand ranges also play a vital role in evaluating hands. The biggest aspect of Omaha High Hand that makes this variation even more complex than Texas Holdem is the presence of an unusable third and fourth card in every player’s hand.
We simply don’t know what cards players have that we need.
Amateur Omaha players make mistakes that experienced players can readily see. The most common is simply forgetting that they need to use three of the five community cards. In Holdem, they also use at least three community cards since players have only two hole cards. But in Holdem, a player can use four or even all five community cards!
In Omaha, they have to use three community cards and two of their hole cards. The simple act of misunderstanding their holding is the most common mistake new Omaha players make.
Omaha Hi-Lo Adds a New Dimension
As if Omaha High Hand wasn’t complex enough, we have Omaha Hi-Lo. In this variation there are unique rules that govern what constitutes a low hand and what happens if no player can show a valid low hand.
Here are a few of the subtleties of Omaha Hi-Lo that gamers need to know in order to play this poker variation competitively.
- The dealer deals the cards as in Texas Holdem with the big exception that every player has four hole cards of which he must use only two.
- Players pick the two hole cards and the three community cards that give them the best high hand and the best low hand. They can use different cards for high and low but they still have to use two hole cards and three community cards.
- The low hand has to be a hand with no pairs and can only start from the eight down.
- The highest card in an eligible low hand determines the strength of the hand. Since a low hand can start with an eight or lower, the eight is actually not a great card to begin a low hand with.
- A 7-6-5-4-3- hand is better as a low hand than an 8-4-3-2-1- hand.
- Straights and flushes don’t count as such in a low hand. So, the best low hand is 5-4-3-2-1.
- Although we said that a three of a kind in the hole wastes a card in Omaha High Hand, a three of a king in aces is great in Omaha Hi-Lo since you can use the pair in the high hand and the third ace in the low hand.
- The best strategy in Omaha Hi-Lo is to play a hand that can win both the high hand and the low hand. This requires being able to quickly evaluate the potential of your hole cards. You can use two of them for the high hand and two for the low hand.
- An ace in the hole is a powerful card and it is more powerful if there is also one other low card in the hole. Whereas ace-2 is not a good hand in Texas Holdem, it might be the start of a very good hand in Omaha Hi-Lo.
The experts say that players should be prepared to at least call about 35-40% of all Omaha Hi-Lo hands since there is the possibility of getting a flop that will build up either your high hand, or your low hand, or both. This is in stark contrast to Texas Holdem where players who know what they are doing will fold about 80% of their hands before the flop.
A secondary corollary to the idea of playing a lot of hands is that players have to be ready to fold in Omaha Hi-Lo in a large percentage of hands when they are not helped enough by the flop.
There are Many Variations of Poker
You cab find tournaments in many other poker types other than the ubiquitous Texas Holdem and the Omaha games. Each game requires long hours of study to master the subtleties inherent in those specific variants.
A player who excels at Texas Holdem needs a lot of practice in Omaha before he or she can say that they know the games well. Similarly, if you are proficient at Holdem or Omaha, you probably aren’t nearly as proficient in stud. Furthermore, five card stud and seven card stud are two very different forms of poker!
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