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PLO for Beginners (1) - Basics

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In this article
  • Basic rules and concepts
  • Mindset for PLO 
  • Typical beginner mistakes

This article is mainly aimed at players who already have some experience with Texas Hold'em variants and are now curious to try a different game variant.

This article outlines general concepts and typical beginner mistakes without focusing on the details. It serves as an overview and explains the important basics, and with the help of the other articles of the series you can subsequently deepen and expand this basic knowledge.

The following overview provides you with the basic facts on various key aspects.

Hand combinations

In Texas Hold'em you are only dealt two hole cards. Consequently, there are 1,326 possible hand combinations with 169 possible starting hands. When it comes to your absolute hand strength preflop, it does not matter whether you are dealt AdQd or AhQh. That's why these combinations aren't included more than once.

In Omaha, on the contrary, you are dealt an additional two cards, which dramatically increases the number of possible combinations: All in all, there are 270,725 combinations with 16,432 different starting hands. These numbers are nice to know, which should also make it clear why a starting hands chart for PLO is nearly impossible to create.

The rules of Pot Limit Omaha

Most basic rules of PLO are similar to those of Texas Hold'em. Before every hand, two players have to post the blinds and there is a flop, a turn and a river, just as in Texas Hold'em. However, the only difference between the two is a significant one: As mentioned earlier, in PLO you are dealt four hole cards instead of just two.

On top of that, you always have to use two hole cards and three community cards to make your hand at the showdown. Unlike in Texas Hold'em, you can't simply choose the best 5 of the 7 cards. That's why the worst starting hands in Omaha are quads in your hole cards. You can only use two of these cards, but have no chance of improving your hand.

Pot Limit

Another aspect that is special about PLO is of course the bet size: It is not unlimited as in No Limit, but there is no specified limit as in Fixed Limit either. The maximum raise always depends on the current pot size. As a rule of thumb you can keep in mind that a pot size raise equals the current pot + three times your opponent's bet. If there are $25 in the pot and your opponent bets $25, you can raise to a maximum pot size of 25 + 3x25 (75) = $100.

Find out more about the rules and pot limit in our strategy article Rules of PL Omaha.

Bankroll management (BRM)

You should stick to a BRM of 50 stacks, which might seem very conservative at first. Learn more about the topic in our article on PLO bankroll management. In addition to that, players who switch to PLO also need to pay attention to several other aspects.

Small limits

When switching to PLO from NL, you should play smaller limits at first to get used to the different playing mode. Don't directly go from NL 100 to PLO 100, as this might be a costly decision for you. Even solid NL 400 regulars sometimes have trouble at PLO 50 and don't manage to be winning players right away. Don't overestimate your skill. Despite all the similarities, PLO is a fundamentally different game and you will need some time to learn it.

100 BB

 Play with 100BB and avoid deep tables as a beginner, which are offered by a small number of poker rooms. It is very difficult to play deep-stacked and particularly beginners should stay away from these tables. A good alternative would be cap or shallow tables, the number of which is increasing. You only play for 40BB there and face somewhat easier decisions. This would be a good choice, especially for beginners.

You should also avoid short-stacking. The short stack strategy is also possible in PLO, but requires a fundamentally different approach to the game.

Mindset for big swings

You should mentally prepare yourself for major swings. You will encounter them on a regular basis, which is quite normal in PLO. Don't immediately start doubting your own game if you lose 10 buy-ins or more. It might be due to a swing, it might be due to your game. You should always analyse your sessions and post hands in our hand evaluation forums to get some expert views on your game.

Setting stop-loss limits (3-5 buy-ins)

The danger of going on tilt is much higher in PLO. The swings can be devastating and you might be tempted to play hands that you shouldn't play. Set yourself a stop-loss limit to protect your bankroll.

Pot Limit Omaha vs. NL Hold'em

Only the nuts matter

In contrast to Hold'em, there are naturally more drawing hands in Omaha since you are dealt four instead of only two cards. However, another difference to Hold'em is that in Omaha you should usually only draw to the nuts. Otherwise, you might pay a high price for your draw. This rule is particularly important for Omaha newbies, as they should try to avoid any tough decisions on the turn and on the river.

Q-high and J-high flushes are often only bluff catchers. Idiot end straights are already very dangerous in Texas Hold'em, and in PLO they usually burn your money. That's why you should always just draw to the nuts. Be careful if you only have the 2nd or 3rd nuts. This is another aspect you should pay attention to.

PLO is a draw game

Made hands can be the underdog against draws, which means that a top set can be the underdog against a very strong draw and a made straight can be the underdog against a strong draw. We will take a closer look at this in the upcoming articles of this series.

PLO is a postflop game

Contrary to Hold'em, the focus in PLO is much more on the action on the flop and after the flop. In Texas Hold'em, almost nothing can go wrong on the flop if you have AA, in most cases you will be a big favourite to win against your opponents' ranges. In PLO, AA** is also favourite to win preflop, but loses all its value on most flops, since your opponent will often already have two-pair or very strong draws, against which you are behind.

To illustrate this, let's look at the probability of winning if you have AA** against a random hand:

Equity analysis
Player 1
Player 2

Even preflop you are only favourite to win in only 66% of cases (in Texas Hold'em you are favourite in over 80% of cases); on many flops you will often no longer have the best hand. With a pair and no obvious draws in the game, your opponent already has an equity of around 40% against your aces.


The variance and the possibility of losing money despite a good game is higher in PLO than it is in Texas Hold'em. On top of that, it is easier to lose money due to a bad game. Be prepared for variance. The following typical graph serves to illustrate this.

As the two lines show, the light-colored graph (representing the EV, expected value) and the dark graph (the actual result) differ. They very clearly show that the game was played profitably according to the maths, while the dealer didn't share this view in certain spots.

This is normal in PLO. You have to prepare yourself for this and get used to it if you plan to play PLO for some time. It makes sense to set a stop-loss limit here to prevent yourself from jeopardizing your bankroll. If the session isn't going well, end it. Despite the variance, there are also a number of good reasons to play PLO.

Why play PLO?


Pot Limit Omaha is a game full of action and fun, it is simply enjoyable to gamble every now and then. Hold'em games have become quite tough and many players are looking for an alternative. In PLO, weak players can win a lot more hands and money - without actually realising how bad their game is. As you virtually never draw dead in PLO, you still have a decent chance of winning even if you are the underdog, and can consequently talk yourself into believing that your mistakes can't have been that bad. On top of that, there are currently a lot more fish at PLO tables than at Texas Hold'em tables.

Expand your mindset

Additionally, it is much more difficult to analyse Omaha on theoretical grounds. For example, it is not possible to develop a simple starting hands chart or an easy winning strategy, which even someone without any experience could profitably play.

Dealing with PLO will definitely expand your mindset and improve your poker skill. One of the reasons for this is, for example, that you always have to make much more narrow postflop decisions. You also have to make sure to choose a suitable line to prevent yourself from being raised off a hand that you consider taking to the showdown.

Why not PLO?


The biggest threat in PLO is tilting. You will have to enter a very high number of narrow situations and coinflips during your sessions, and you might be the one to end up as the unlucky player at the table:

  • The swings/variance are very large
  • PLO is more challenging than Texas Hold'em
  • Multi-tabling is more difficult
  • There are fewer tables (many pages offer little to zero PLO action)

Basic concepts in PLO

Position is extremely important

Position is a very important advantage in PLO. Omaha is a draw game that is less about strong hands, but more about strong draws. It is much easier to play draws when you are in position. On top of that, when you are in position you can also represent strong hands that are in your range and make profitable bluffs. Your opponent out of position will usually not be able to bluff. In the long run, this is a great advantage for you. However, there is another reason as well.

Realise equity

What is meant by that? In PLO, you have a considerable amount of equity with nearly every hand. That's why you want to stay in the hand until the last card is dealt. When you are in position, you are much more in control of the pot and it is easier for you to get to the river and try to realise your equity.

You will often still have a gutshot or a flush draw on the turn: On average, you will frequently have an equity of around 30%. If you bet and get a raise, you will lose your opportunity of realising your equity because you will no longer be able to make a profitable call. The same is true if you are OOP. When you are IP, you get to see the last card at a cheap price if you check behind, and also see if your hand improves. In Texas Hold'em, this concept is usually not as important; you usually only have an equity of 15% against your opponent's range if you are behind and aren't as likely to improve your hand.


Even weak hands have a considerable amount of equity against you, which is why you always need to protect your strong hands and make big bets. It is for the same reason that you should not slowplay: Bet your strong hands for value and protection since you will get called by many hands anyway.

No slowplay! If you have a strong hand, always bet hard for value and protection.


What's a freeroll? A freeroll is a situation in which two players have the same made hand or the same draw, but one of the players also has outs to improve to a better hand; if two players flopped the same straight draw for example, but one player also has a flush draw in addition to that. He can't lose the hand, but win the entire pot if his flush arrives. You therefore don't want to be the player without the flush draw. Your expected value is negative since you can't win but very well lose.

Here's an example to illustrate this:

Board: Kd9d7c


Although you have a very strong hand (not considering the different suits, it is the same hand your opponent has), you only have an equity of 32% in this spot. These are situations which you should do your best to avoid. Freerolling is a very important concept in PLO: you will lose a lot of money if you always play hands that might be freerolled. A good starting hand selection will usually prevent you from being freerolled.

Typical beginner mistakes

Misplaying AAxx

One of the biggest mistakes players do that have switched from Hold'em to PLO is to overestimate high pockets. Even AA are sometimes hard to play, KK and QQ should usually be played rather passively. Many players also misplay their hands by only 3-betting with AA. Any PLO player with a little bit of experience will recklessly exploit this, call any 3-bet and involve you in extremely tough spots. He can do this because he will exactly know your hand and therefore ideally play his hand, which is unknown to you. It's almost as if you were showing your cards to him.

AAxx preflop:

  • vs. random hand: 65.51%
  • vs. good rundown: Tdiamond9diamond87 55.97%
Being too loose in the blinds

When you are in the blinds, you should only play very few hands. As position is even more important in PLO, you should play very few and only the strongest hands when you are in the blinds and therefore out of position. Your weaker hands will be dominated too often or you won't get any value since it is difficult to profitably play draws OOP. Such hands are also known as eye candy hands as they do look nice, such as double suited hands or small pockets. However, you will very often get yourself in trouble especially if you are OOP, since you will often be dominated or get freerolled.

Not considering the upcoming streets

As very many turn and river cards might kill the action or make your hand worthless (for example if all straights and flushes complete), you should always think of the upcoming streets and consider how you could react in the possible scenarios.

You are freerolled

Another typical beginner mistake is not to draw to the nuts, but instead to the 3rd nuts or even to idiot end straights or small flushes. The danger here is that you might already be about to be drawing dead. With the 2nd nuts, you will often burn a lot of money. Keep in mind: Always draw to the nuts and be the one to freeroll the others.


Due to the much smaller differences in the equities, you always even have to protect a top set. Slowplaying might be an option at best when you have absolute stone cold nuts. But even then you want to get as much money as possible in the middle and should generally not slowplay. You will only get money anyway if your opponent also has a strong hand.


This article gave you several reasons why you should try Pot Limit Omaha. It also showed you how playing Pot Limit Omaha can benefit your playing skill in other poker variants. If you go on tilt easily, you should define clear stop-loss limits and switch to "smaller" stakes.

On top of that, you were introduced to some basic rules and concepts of Pot Limit Omaha, such as freerolling and the importance of a solid starting hands selection. With this knowledge, you should now have the right mindset for your first steps at PLO.


Comments (11)

#1 smurfcro, 29 Aug 10 21:30

In this article it says "Potsize raise = size of the pot + 2*(amount to call)" and here it is 3x amount to call, where is error?

#2 smurfcro, 29 Aug 10 21:32

In this article ->

sry for not pasteing above.

#3 David, 31 Aug 10 09:48

@1+2: Hi smurfcro, to make a pot size raise, raise to: 3 * size of opponent's bet/raise + size of pot BEFORE your opponent's bet/raise was made. In the another article we say "Potsize raise = size of the pot + 2*(amount to call)" so we talk about the size of the pot AFTER your opponents bet/raise. Thus both definitions are correct.

#4 Reanimater, 02 Sep 10 01:45

@ David,

in both examples it is about calling.

here it says "if there are $25 in the pot and your opponent bets $25, you can raise to a maximum pot size of 25 + 3x25 (75) = $100."

it is confusing as it seems that both definitions talk about a raise and pot size re-raise.

please fix it as some of us are not native speakers and your explanations will not help us anyways :D

#5 David, 02 Sep 10 09:39

Example 1 (this article):

Potsize raise = 3 * size of opponent's bet/raise + size of pot BEFORE your opponent's bet/raise was made.

(3 * $25) + 25$ = 100$

Example 2 (the another article):

Potsize raise = size of the pot AFTER the bet + 2*(amount to call)

$50 + (2 * $25) = 100$

#6 grimo64, 25 Sep 11 13:43

I am extremely new to this game but have noticed there seem to be much larger pots involved. I usually only play at six handed games but have read that small pairs pre-flop are often not worth playing as larger sets and full houses will obviously beat them. As full houses beat straights and flushes I am wondering if this rule of thumb (ie: not playing small pairs) is applicable to six handed games as it seems to me any fullhouse is usually a winner? One statistic I would be extremely pleased to know is the percentage of times the board pairs up allowing for a fullhouse?

#7 Pascal, 26 Sep 11 14:33

Hi grimo64,

the thing is: there won't be always a paired board but when the board pairs you usually don't get much action from straights and flushes anymore, so the only action you'll get is from better fullhouses.
And on unpaired boards your set looses anyway to straights, flushes and better sets.
As a rule of thumb (especially in multiway pots) you should try to draw to the nuts and with lowpairs there is not much nuts potential besides quads

#8 Huckebein, 26 Sep 11 15:25

@6: Thanks for your important question! The most important thing to realise about PLO: it is built around draws (1. straight 2. flush)

As Pascal already pointed out, you should focus more on draws, since they are overall stronger than pocket pairs and especially small pocket pairs.

If you want to know more about some probabilities here is our article regarding Holdem probabilities:

It might make sense doing a similar one for PLO too, what do you think?

#9 1984ioc, 10 Jan 12 03:30

Just started playing it but am basically addicted.Sick game and just alot more fun then NL.Find it hard to go back to grinding NL where my bread and butter is due to this which is a problem.Great intro summary though

#10 joeldowey123, 14 May 13 23:38

read and enjoyed! looking forward to starting this game!

#11 mamorys9, 29 Sep 13 05:07