Comparing Starting Hands in Hold’em and Omaha

A commemorative poker chip is seen in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images for Rock ‘n’ Roll Running Series /AFP

Have you tried the Game of the Future yet? Texas Hold’em is still the most popular poker variant the world has ever seen, but Omaha Hold’em – or just “Omaha” for short – is gaining ground.

And no wonder. Omaha is almost exactly the same as Hold’em, but you start with four hole cards instead of two.

This opens the game up significantly; instead of 1,326 possible starting hands, you’re now faced with 270,725 different ways of getting dealt a 4-pack of hole cards.

Those are both big numbers, but they can be whittled down considerably. Suits don’t matter in either game – Spades don’t outrank Diamonds, for example.

Hands Fall Categories

That means you only have to work with 169 starting hands when you’re playing Texas Hold’em. These hands fall easily into different categories, such as the following:

  • Pocket Pairs (AA through 22)
  • Suited Aces (AKs through A2s)
  • Suited Connectors (AKs through 32s)
  • Broadway (any two unpaired cards ranking Ace through Ten)

You also have off-suit Aces and connectors, suited Kings, one-gappers, and so on. With a little legwork, you can use these categories to figure out and memorize which Hold’em hands to open from which positions at the table.

What About Omaha?

Even after we take the suits out of the equation, there are still 16,432 different starting hands in this game.

Unless you’re some kind of savant, that’s way too many hands to memorize. We can still put these hole cards into useful categories, though. Let’s start with the most important starting hands in Omaha:

Pocket Aces

The most powerful starting hand in Hold’em is also the most powerful in Omaha – but it does get watered down a bit by those other two hole cards.

Running pocket Aces into any two random cards gives you 85.20% “hot-and-cold” equity in Hold’em; in Omaha, AAxx gives you 66.08% equity. That’s still a lot of equity.

If you’re brand-new to Omaha, working with AA hands is pretty easy: Open them from any position at the table.

You can also 3-bet the vast majority of these hands, although you’ll want some backup equity if you’re going up against a tight range. Speaking of which…

Double Pairs

The best kind of pocket Aces in Omaha are the ones that have another pocket pair attached – preferably a Broadway pair, which allows you to make nut straights.

There’s still some debate about which hand is the very best in Omaha, but AATT double-suited (meaning you have ATs twice) gives you 71.54% equity versus four random hole cards, compared to 70.68% for AAKKss.

Rundowns

This is the other major category for Omaha starting hands. Getting dealt four consecutive cards is gold in this variant; your chances of making a straight are excellent, and the higher your rank, the more likely you’ll make the nut straight.

Again, just like you’d rather have suited connectors in Hold’em, double-suited rundowns are extra-special in Omaha.

The best of these hands is AKQJss, but just like AATT is better than AAKK, you’d rather have your Ace and King be separate suits with these rundowns:

  • AxKyQxJy: 61.34%
  • AxKyQyJx: 61.25%
  • AxKxQyJy: 61.13%

These are subtle differences, but notable ones; if you’ve got the Ace-high flush, you’re hoping your opponent will call with a worse flush, and that’s unlikely if you’ve got that suited King in your hand.

Better to “unblock” your opponent instead and combine AQs with KJs, which in turn gives you slightly more equity than AJs and KQs.

As with Hold’em, there are other starting hand categories to consider in Omaha, including pocket Kings, one-gap rundowns, and such.

But if you can wrap your head around these three groups, you’re well on your way to mastering the Game of the Future. Keep up the good work, and may the rectangles be with you.