Pre-flop PLO with Jeff Kimber
Monday, 3 December 2012
As I discussed last month, nearly every PLO player who is struggling to win consistently has one thing in common – their pre-flop hand selection is too wide.
I know this all too well having found it to be a major leak in my own game, and 99% of the students I have mentored and have needed work on their game have struggled to grasp the concept that being tight before the flop is essential to nearly every winning PLO cash game player.
This is obviously not the case for absolutely everyone – Tom Dwan definitely plays too wide a range, but he is the exception rather than the norm, and besides, when you’re as good as him post-flop, why not? But for the majority of players (who are not as got as durrrr) this is the key to success in pot limit Omaha.
With hand ranges running so close together (how many times does someone justify a bad play with the “you’re never far behind in this game” excuse?), it can be argued that, especially in a pot limit game, pre-flop does not matter too much. I know from bitter experience this is not true.
From working on my game, and in many hands that I analyse for others, I have seen countless hands where the turn and river decisions are so difficult you could ask three good PLO players for an opinion and get three different answers, but players bring these tricky decisions on themselves by being too loose and in pots they should never have been in.
Quite often the player will make a correct move on the turn yet still lose the pot, but my response is, “I agree you were unlucky on fourth street, but you shouldn’t have lost one dollar in this pot because you should never have played the hand in the first place.”
PLO hand ranges do run close together, but that means that any edge we have is a significant one. Quite often a session will come down to a number of 55/45 flips, but as long as we’re getting the 55% each time, our bottom line at the end of the month will be just fine. Unless we’re definitely going to see a river, pre-flop equities don’t really matter that much anyway; it’s more how a hand plays.
The key fact to remember is that we are most likely to win big pots in PLO by dominating our opponents’ ranges – having a higher straight, the nut flush against a smaller flush or set over set.
We’re not likely to do that with low cards or eight-high flush draws, so our starting hand requirements must be predominantly made up of broadway cards, which will always be the top straight, and suited aces, which always make the nut flush. In PLO our starting hands should be high cards, suited, or connected, and any hand that ticks all three of those boxes is a premium and we’re going to play it. Our pre-flop selection is therefore influenced by how likely we are to improve later in the hand.
Playing flops and further streets is a bit like a detective game in which we’re hunting out the added equity for our hand, and high, suited, connected hands will very often pick up equity down the streets and allow us to proceed.
Take a hand like AcKdQdJc, an undoubted PLO premium. The dealer would have to hand you the deck of cards and let you root through them for a few minutes until you found a three-card flop which didn’t fit with this hand somehow and therefore increase its equity.
Even on a flop with just one of our suit, either a club or diamond, we pick up on average 2% for each backdoor flush draw (presuming our flush is good) and we also take away equity from our opponent with blockers.
A single-suited hand flops a flush 1% of the time and a flush draw 12% of the time, while a double-suited hand flops a flush 2% of the time and a flush draw 24% of the time. A double-suited hand flops either a flush draw or a backdoor flush draw 85% of the time, so when we’re looking for equity, suited cards are key.
Connected cards are much more important in PLO than in NLHE because the extra cards make draws so much bigger. An open-ended straight draw can be a monster in hold’em, but just eight outs isn’t much to write home about when wraps can give an opponent as many as 20 straight card outs against you.
Holding premium suited and connected cards also leads to that dream scenario for a PLO player, the freeroll, where you both have the same hand, normally the nut straight, when the money goes in, but you can hit a flush or a higher straight with your back-up to scoop the whole pot.
Big cards make the nuts more often, so are the most desirable – they make higher flushes, higher straights and bigger sets and full houses.
Pure rundown hands like J-T-9-8 flop a straight 5% of the time, a 12-card wrap 18% of the time and an open-ended straight draw or nine-card wrap 13% of the time, meaning it hits around a third of all flops, especially given any open-ended draw means you must have two pairs as well.
While a pure rundown is obviously preferable, gapped run downs can still be playable and even lead to bigger wraps, but having gaps at the bottom (eg J-T-9-7) is preferable to at the top (eg J-9-8-7) because these hands flop higher draws and more outs to the nuts.
Paired hands hold some value in PLO, but only under certain circumstances. Obviously a hand containing two aces, kings or perhaps queens can flop top set and dominate an under set, but smaller pairs can often get you into trouble (being dominated or giving equity in terms of straight draws) and also take away the your own equity in terms of flopped two pairs and straights.
Before you enter a pot, you should ask yourself what kind of advantage you have over your opponents, and if you can’t find at least one, just fold.
You can have better cards, which you can judge by being selective over your opening range, and you’ll play these hands no matter the action.
You can have a skill advantage, where your hand increases in value based on the poor standard of opposition. Against bad players, our hand value goes up if they have a tendency to stack off lightly should you connect, to play their hands “face-up” and allow you to steal when they miss, or make it obvious to you when they have made the best hand and allow you to get away cheaply.
The final asset you can have is positional advantage, where the action is folded to you on the button and you open a far wider range, with position allowing you to control the action and the pot size, apply pressure and seize on weakness and ultimately win more pots than your equity dictates by bluffing or value betting perfectly to increase profits.
We can play with just one of these advantages, but having two is better and all three is the perfect scenario. Having the best cards in position against a fish is great, but obviously this set-up doesn’t happen very often, so against good players, look to play better hands in position, and when you’re out of position, look to attack fish while holding better cards.
The bigger the skill advantage, the less important the cards, and to some extent the position, although, as discussed last month, our VPIP should naturally decrease the further away from the button we find ourselves as it’s imperative for our range to be much tighter in early position than in late.
Each hand you play will have its own characteristics, so decide whether to enter a pot based on whether you expect to win money because of its strength, because of the weakness of your opponents or because you play well in position.
Pre-flop is the easiest street to play. Pots are small, decisions aren’t costly, you’re not under pressure, yet it’s the one that sees by far the most mistakes made. Think of your pre-flop strategy as laying the foundations for the big pot you’re about to build, and try and make those foundations as solid as possible, ensuring that things don’t come crashing down around you.