No-limit hold’em games ain’t what they used to be. This is no secret to anyone reading this. Ten years ago, when no-limit first started seeing action in live card rooms, the games were ridiculous. People would stack off with middle pair or top pair no kicker at the drop of a hat. It wasn’t uncommon to win three or four stacks in an evening from players just paying off hopelessly.
Most games aren’t like that anymore. As I’ve said many times, the main error I see nowadays is people folding too much. This error is a big one, and it’s consistently exploitable for a nice winrate. But it isn’t winning $700 at a time from players all-but drawing dead. During the World Series of Poker, after sitting in a not-so-good $5-$10 no-limit hold’em game for two hours, I decided to look for greener pastures. I tried some of the different games that I don’t play very much, and I figured I’d report my experiences.
Big-O (5-card PLO8)
This game goes every year during the WSOP, and I rarely play it. I tried it out this time, and I’m glad I did. The game format was $1-$2 blinds, but it was $5 if you wanted to limp in. The buy-in was $200 to $1,000. Truthfully, in terms of stakes, the game played more like $5-$10 no-limit hold’em than $1-$2. Yet you had to post only $3 in blinds to have access to that action. Therefore, the game played almost like a freeroll.
I won’t beat around the bush. This game, at least the times I played it, was amazing. Several times an hour, we had 3- or 4-way pots all-in on the turn for $500 to $1,000 stacks. In these pots, typically one or two players was drawing nearly dead. The typical reason players were willing to get their money in nearly dead is they had a hand that was weak, but both ways. So on a J-8-4-7 board, they would have a hand like 8-8-5-3-T (yes, they played hands like this), so they had a set and a very weak low. In the all-in pot, they would inevitably be up against someone with T-9 and someone else with A-2, leaving them drawing to a board pair for a chop (or possibly, in some circumstances a nine also for a chop, though in other circumstances even a jack pair wouldn’t be good, since probably the third all-in player had J-4).
I know that in no-limit hold’em, I’m notorious for recommending that you always raise when you enter a pot preflop. In this game, however, I quickly found myself limping into many pots. Since players were so willing to get stacks in with weak values almost at the drop of a hat, there was little value to raising most hands preflop.
I certainly can’t claim to be a strategy expert at this game, but it appears to me that most of the playable hands in this game will have an ace-deuce in them. With five cards instead of four, you get that ace-deuce combo fairly frequently. The possible exception to this rule might be a hand like KcKsJsJdTc, where you are obviously looking for a high-only flop, but if one comes, you will likely be all over it.
The other exception would be if the game played much, much tighter, and blind stealing and defense became an important consideration. But in that case, I think this particular pasture could no longer be considered green.
Want more strategy for this Big-O? Here’s our guide: How To Play Big-O
So I lead off with my favorite game from WSOP-time, but I played a little PLO also, and it too was good. The main thing I kept seeing in this game was people overplaying low cards.
As far as I can tell, low cards are very bad in PLO, especially in big multiway pots like you often get in live PLO games.
In hold’em, low cards can be okay. If I have 6-5 suited and see the flop against three other players, it’s still likely that if I make a flush or straight that it will be good. And, more to the point, there are ample opportunities in no-limit hold’em games these days to blow everyone else out of the pot.
The PLO games I sat in played much looser than a normal hold’em game. Nearly every pot was multiway, and it was hard to shake your opponents except on particularly dry flops. Playing low cards in these games seems like a total non-starter.If you flop a wrap straight draw, when your cards are 7-6-4, you’re often drawing to the low end of the straight. If you make your straight, someone else is likely to make a higher one with you. And say your cards are suited (or even double-suited). If you make a flush, again, there’s an excellent chance someone else will make a higher one with you.
So while 6-5 suited is a fine hold’em hand to play aggressively on many boards (because you flopped equity), in PLO, getting aggressive when you flop a draw with 7-6-4-4 double-suited seems very likely to get all-in as a big underdog. Most of the PLO players I saw didn’t seem to understand what a big disadvantage low cards were in this game.
These games are popular in the mix games in Las Vegas these days. If you haven’t heard of them, here’s how they work. They are split pot games, where one half the pot goes to the best lowball hand and the other half goes to the best badugi hand. A badugi hand consists of four cards, and you want unpaired cards of all four suits. Lower cards are better, so A-2-3-4 of four different suits is the best badugi hand. If you don’t have four unpaired cards of different suits, your best three unpaired cards of different suits play, but your hand loses to any four-card hand.
I lumped these three games together, because they are somewhat similar. Badacey is a triple-draw game where you get dealt five cards, and the winning hands are the best A-to-5 lowball hand and the best A-to-4 badugi. Baduci is a triple-draw game similar to badacey, except the best 2-to-7 lowball hand and the best 2-to-5 badugi wins. And razzdugi is a stud game where the best razz hand and the best badugi hand win.
These games are fiendish attempts to part the unsuspecting from their money. The trick to these games—badacey and baduci in particular—is that there is often an apparent choice between trying to build the best badugi hand and trying to build the best lowball hand. Too often players seem to give up on half the pot in an attempt to draw to the other half.
If you are looking for a super fun game that mixes Badugi and Omaha, check out Doug’s article:
I make videos about no-limit hold’em, since my audience primarily plays no-limit hold’em. And since I make videos about no-limit hold’em, I primarily play no-limit hold’em. But some days, greener pastures are out there if you look. Looking is something I will do more from now on.