Online poker strategy guide - When less is more
Card sense is often thought to be a combination of intuition, common sense, and experience, and I suppose that's exactly what it is most of the time. But much about poker is also counterintuitive, and not everything is what it seems; or more precisely, not everything is as your intuition suggests it might be. About two years ago I wrote a column about counterintuitive strategies in hold'em, but hold'em isn't the only game where an over-reliance on intuition can get you into trouble.
High-low split games, particularly Omaha Eight-Or-Better High-Low Split and Seven-Stud Eight-Or-Better High Low Split (mercifully abbreviated as Omaha/8 and 7-stud/8, respectively), are full of counterintuitive aspects too. While many players learn the error of their ways either through painful experience or as a result of studying the game, many beginners and even some experienced players make a number of mistakes that can easily be avoided.
The very reason many players are drawn to high-low split games is based on an intuitive fallacy. Ask anyone new to either of these games why they play, and they'll usually say something about the added action, and the fact that many more starting hands can be played compared to hold'em. Part of that statement is true; there's usually plenty of action, particularly if the game if filled with players who hold to the belief that more starting hands can be played in split-pot games than in games where there's only one winner. But the truth of the matter is that fewer hands should be played in split-pot games, and that's a fact that may not comport with every reader's intuition.
Here's why. Much of the added action is illusory. Pots are split most of the time, and if you're in there gambling it up with a one-way hand that can't capture both ends of the pot, then half of that money does not, can not, and will never belong to you as long as there is a low as well as a high hand. There may be a mountain of chips in the center of the table, but half of it is ticketed for another destination.
Still, half a loaf is indeed better than none, yet many players frequently enter pots with hands that are a long shot to capture even one end of the pot, never mind scooping it all. These are the players that hang in until the bitter end, and invariably lose to a better high or better low hand. This can be costly. When one of your opponents has a lock on one side of the pot and can raise or reraise on every betting round with impunity, that's when it gets costly to stick around with less than the best hand or best draw.
With four private cards, some players don't realize that there are not twice as many starting combinations in Omaha as compared to hold'em; there are six times as many. It's imperative that these four private cards work in combination to have the best shot at capturing the pot. For example, starting with ace-deuce and two unrelated cards is not nearly as powerful as beginning with a hand like ace-deuce-trey-five, or a hand like AsAc2s3c where you have a big pair, three cards to the best possible low hand, and each of your aces is suited, giving you the best chance at the nut flush.
Even if you flop the nut low or make it on the turn with ace-deuce, if an ace or deuce were to pop out of the deck on a subsequent betting round, your hand might be "counterfeited," and no longer be the best low hand. Here's an example. Suppose you held A-2-Q-9 and the flop is 8-7-5. You have the best possible low hand right now, but if the turn card were another ace, someone who had 3-2 in his hand would now hold the best possible low hand. If a deuce fell on the turn, the best low hand would then be A-3.
But if you had another good low card as a companion to your ace-deuce, you'd have nothing to fear if a communal board card duplicated one of your cards. You might even welcome it, since it would coutnerfeit any of your opponents who were in their with a naked ace-deuce.
The lesson here is that because there are many more two card starting combinations available to you in Omaha/8 than in hold'em, it important that all or most of them work in concert. Because it's harder to coordinate three or four cards than two of them, there are fewer good starting combinations in Omaha/8 than you'll find in hold'em.
Some 7-stud/8 players always seem intent on entering the pot with two low cards and one high one, or calling with an eight showing after opponents have called with lower cards showing. It's not easy to make a low hand in 7-stud/8. Even when one begins with four good low cards, it's possible to catch three bananas and never make a low at all. Given that difficulty, why would anyone take a card off the deck when they suspect they are swimming upstream? If you begin with one big card and two low ones, you are essentially playing six cards against your opponents seven. If your opponent has an ace showing which is simultaneously the best high card and the best low card in the deck it's like you are playing six of your cards against eight of his.
If you begin with three low cards that are worse than an opponent's low draw, you still might win the low end of the pot, although it means you have to catch a good card, while your opponent catches a bad one for you to level the playing field. Unless you have a two-way hand that stands a chance of scooping the entire pot, chasing with a lesser hand will generally cost a lot of money in the long run.
Another counterintuitive error often occurs when one makes an unbeatable high hand. Suppose you're playing Omaha/8 or 7-stud/8 it doesn't really make a difference which game it is and you find yourself with quads fairly early in the hand. If you were playing hold'em, your inclination would be to trap as many opponents as possible by giving them an opportunity to draw to a second best hand. But in split-pot games, allowing opponents to draw for the low end of the pot this can effectively cut your win in half.
In a split-pot game you generally want to bet, raise, and reraise at every opportunity. Try to knock out those opponents on a low draw by making it too expensive for them to stick around. If they insist on drawing, even in the face of a raise or two, then you're doing the right thing by making them pay dearly for a chance to steal half the pot out from under your nose. If you're lucky, a low hand might not be made and you'll win a big pot. If someone does make a low, at least you charged him the maximum to get there, while simultaneously forcing anyone else with a high hand to keep paying while he or she is drawing dead.
In poker, as in life, intuition can be a valuable attribute, but temper it with thought and logic. And don't follow it blindly. If you persist in doing so, magicians will fool you, con men will swindle you, and good poker players will take your money.
Written by Lou Krieger