Our resident split pot expert Greg Vail is on the podcast this week, dispelling all the expensive myths held by unstudied O8 and Big O players. Becoming familiar with these leaks will help you plug your own and exploit weaknesses in others. Vail has long been an advocate for the profitability of split pot games in the face of so much player error, and he shares his secrets in this episode.

Featuring: Zac Shaw and Greg Vail

Zac: Greg Vail , welcome back to the Red Chip Poker Podcast. Glad to have you back.

Greg: Thanks, man.

Zac: So, let’s get into some specific strategies for Hi/Lo games. On the previous podcast, we gave everyone an introduction. Today, let’s dig into Big O, and let’s dig into PLO8, and let’s dig into some specific strategies and tips that you would have for players who are starting to play those games and wanting to build an edge. And I guess, starting with PLO8, and let’s just start with opening hands, because that’s where we always start. What kind of opening hands are we looking to play on an ABC kind of just getting started strategy?

Greg: Well, in four-card Omaha Hi/Lo, you are looking to play hands that play for the entire pot. That means playing for the low as well. You’re premium hands in Omaha 8 look like your Ace-2-3-4s, your hands that contain an Ace-Deuce and another wheel card and then a Broadway card, something like that.

So the general rule of thumb is three wheel, three Broadway. That’s the rule that you want to stick to as long as that includes an Ace. Now, Hi/Lo, Omaha Hi/Lo and Big O is a game of aces. You have to have an ace played in your hand to make the nut hand, especially the low.

So, it’s much easier to start with an ace than it is to try and find one on the board. Generally we want to stick to hands that contain aces and contain Broadway cards and wheel cards.
You wanna really avoid the cards that are six through jack.

Zac: Okay. And in terms of some great short hand, in terms of the equivalent of aces, what are the best starting bands in these Hi/Lo games. Specifically, I guess we’ll start with the four card and go to the five card.

Greg: Sure. In four card, you’re widely accepted best starting hand is ace, ace-deuce, three double suited on both of the aces. That’s widely accepted as the best starting hand. I’m not gonna argue the contrary.

In five card, it’s gonna be the same with any Broadway card. Now there is an argument out there that ace, ace-deuce, three, four, is a better starting hand than ace, ace-deuce, three, queen. I can make an argument both ways. But, you’re getting in to pretty subjective territory.

So, you’re really looking for two aces, a deuce, a three, and then another card that supplements the other four. So that would be another wheel card or another Broadway card.

Zac: Gotcha. And of course, after you use two cards in your hand. So how important is that second low after the ace?

Greg: It’s very important because you can’t make a low without another one. If you have ace, ace, nine, nine, ten you can’t make a low. So, you have to have your aces, your wheel cards, and you want to have each card supplement the other.

You’re not looking for ace, ace, deuce, nine. I mean, you’re still gonna play that hand. But the nine doesn’t help any of the other cards. Let’s say you have ace, ace, two, three, seven. That seven is essentially a hanger card. So, it’s not gonna really play with your other cards.

Where if you have, ace, ace, two, three, six, that six might make the difference if you happen to find a three, four, or five on the board. You’d be playing a six high straight rather than just a five high wheel.

So the important part about starting hands is picking hands that play completely together. You don’t wanna have an ace, four, nine, king. That doesn’t help. The nine doesn’t play with the four. The king doesn’t play with the four. So you wanna have complete, full starting hands that compliment each other.

Zac: And in terms of opening frequency compared to hold ’em, which a lot of players are coming from. Is it going to be about the same, are we gonna be opening about the same percentage? Or does that go in flux with a different game?

Greg: That’s gonna depend on your level of skill. When I first start my students out, their gonna be opening premium hands only, and, since there are more combinations of cards, you’re going to actually be making less premium starting hands as you would in hold ’em. You have other things to consider in Omaha, like opening under the gun? Is not something you wanna do very often in every kind of game. You’re not always opening on the button. You’re not always opening in middle position or based on your hands. So when you’re first starting out, you’re gonna be opening in, and picking numbers that are guaranteed to get action. You’re not gonna open for the maximum amount because I wanna get called for the maximum amount. You’re opening for whatever number the other players are likely to call with any range of hands, but you’re pretty much gonna be sticking to your premium hands like your ace two threes, your ace ace deuce ex’s, and hands like that you’re gonna be pretty much sticking to. You’re complete full hands, and when you get them you’ll be opening with them.

Zac: So, position kinda takes a little bit more of a backseat to your actual holding then?

Greg: When you first start, yes. When you first start position is less important than your starting cards when you first start. As you progress, and as you advance in skill that will not be the case, but getting the proper value out of your starting hand as a beginner is much more important than position.

Zac: So, in your typical game, I’m kinda curious what the dynamic is pre-flop. Are we looking at a lot of opens, and then a lot of calls? Is there a reason to limp? What are we doing pre-flop that’s different than hold ’em?

Greg: That also depends on your skill level. I get laughed at quite a bit because I don’t have a limping range when I play. So the better you get the less often you limp, but as the majority of our listeners are going to discover when they play four card and especially Big O, you will see routinely you will see seven limps pre-flop. Routinely. So you’re gonna see a lot of people trying to see a cheap flop, a lot of times. So most of the time when you first start out, you can see a lot of cheap flops with a lot of hands, and then try to get yourself into an equitable position, but as you progress in skill, you learn how exploitable that is because a lot of times if somebody’s limping, say you’re playing two five, if somebody is limping for five they’re probably not folding for fifteen. So, when you take a premium hand, and open to fifteen, every single one of those players call, and not every single one of them is gonna hit the flop obviously it’s just the same as in hold ’em.

So, you get a lot more value out of your premium hands in Omaha and Big O than you would in hold ’em because of that.

Zac: Okay, that feels like a familiar dynamic I can wrap my head around.

Greg: Yeah, it’s the same when you see a lot of hold ’em players, that are brand new to the game? A lot of them limp in If you’re playing one two, and everybody’s a novice, you’re gonna see five, six, seven players limping in for two dollars all the time, and it’s just so much more common in Big O, and four card too.

Zac: So, assuming we made it through pre-flop, let’s talk about the flop, and this seems to be where everything just explodes in complexity because people have so many cards in their hands. So talk about flop dynamics, talk about the main things we gotta be looking out for that are different from where we’re coming from in hold ’em.

Greg: Okay, as in hold ’em, a majority of your money is made of post-flop mistakes. A lot of hold ’em players focus on pre-flop because they don’t really progress further than that understanding if the game. Where in Big O? Pre-flop doesn’t really mean a whole lot. You can’t really quantify your edge over another hand because of all the possibilities, but all the mistakes, and all of your money is made post-flop. So your goal as a beginning, intermediate, and advanced Big O player, and four card as well, is to maximize that advantage post-flop. So, a good hold ’em analogy would be: If I am playing in a hand and I flop top set, I need to make sure I extract value out of middle pair, in the best way that I can. Now, that analogy with that level of hand power? Happens every single hand in Big O. That’s the advantage that you have every hand that you play properly in Big O, against your weaker opponents, and how you maximize that is you get people drawing at half the pot only when you can’t lose that half of the pot.

For instance, you get somebody drawing at a high hand when you have the low locked up. So that if they hit, if they hit their flush or whatever it is their looking for, they’re only gonna get half the pot, but if they miss, you get the entire pot. So that advantage is the core of you’re mathematical advantage in Big O, and all split pot games rather, but your objective is to get people to put the money in as bad as possible, and they’ll freely do that, not like in hold ’em where it’s kind of hard to get somebody to put their whole stack in with bottom pair. That happens all the time in Big O. Where somebody has a couple of pairs, a bad flush draw, two gut shots in the second nut low, and all of it’s dead, but they don’t know that, but they just see all these combinations, they just get all the money in, and there’s no possible way for them to win.

Zac: That’s a beautiful vision

Greg: It is a beautiful thing! It really is!

Zac: I know a lot of our founders love these games for that very reason, and I’m starting to love it even more talking to you. So, talking about the flop. One thing, when I play these games, let’s say we’ve got that ace deuce XX, and we flop two to a low, one to a low or we flop the low right on the flop. What are the mathematical differences between those scenarios? I imagine if we flop the low we’re very happy to get money in, but it gets a little trickier when it’s one or two to a low.

Greg: Yeah, it does. So any ace deuce is gonna wind up being the nut hand eighteen percent of the time, but you have more things to consider than just the low. You don’t want to get too involved in drawing to just the low, cause that’s only half the pot, and a lot of times you’re gonna run into someone who has also the same low, and a better high hand, and then you’re just gonna be giving away money. Counting outs is the same in every form of poker. Doesn’t matter if it’s hold ’em. Doesn’t matter if it’s Baduci. Doesn’t matter if it’s Seven Card Stud or Omaha Eight or Big O.

It doesn’t matter it’s all the same. So say you have an ace and a deuce, and you flop a three, four, and a ten. You’re drawing at the fives for a wheel, it’s four cards to the wheel. You’re drawing at four sixes, four sevens, four eights. The math doesn’t change because it’s just a different game. You still count those exact outs, but you also have to figure what you’re drawing at the high.

Let’s figure the board is three, four, ten, and let’s just say for the sake of argument that you know your opponent has a set of tens, and then a bunch of high cards and he can’t make a low. If you have ace, deuce, nine, nine. So we’ll say your high hand is totally dead, you can’t win the high hand, the only way you can win is with a five, you’re drawing at four cards to beat his high hand, the four fives, you’re drawing at four sixes, four sevens, and four eights to chop him.

So, those are the things you’re gonna be figuring out. It’s just the same as any other hand except it gets really complicated when you add in a couple of flush draws, make a really complex board like three four eight, and now ace deuce five six, and a pair of eights into your hand, and then your opponent has a bunch of combo draws. Counting outs can be very, very difficult, but the first example I gave you is about as simple as we can make it, but the amount of low cards in your hand to make the low is still the low cards, the deck of cards doesn’t change from one game to another.

Zac: So a real kind of basic question I have would be; we’re all very familiar with hand rankings and hold ’em, and the relative frequencies with which we are gonna make those hands, and our opponents are gonna make those hands. It’s gotta be completely different for these games. So how do we adjust to that?

Greg: I’m glad you asked that actually, we haven’t talked about this before, and it is a central core concept of ABC high low. You only play, and draw for the nut hand. Nothing else matters. So when we are thinking about our flush draw, or we are thinking about our straight draws, we only consider the nut hand. If I have a bunch of low cards, and I have a nut diamond draw? I can factor in the nut diamond draw as outs to win the high pot. If I have cards six through jack, and jack is my highest suit, I can’t factor in my jack high flush draw because it’s not the nuts.

Now keep in mind, when you’re playing Big O, let’s say you’re playing eight handed Big O, the entire deck is dealt out except for four cards. So, if there is a better hand to be made it has probably been dealt out. So by that logic, you cannot factor in less than perfect hands because it’s probably out there. If you’re playing nine handed Big O, which happens from time to time, there’s only one burn card, and one card left in the stub. Now, if you have the king high flush draw, the second nut flush, and if you wanna gamble that the last card in that stub, that one card left on top of the dealers cut card is the ace? Then by all means go for it, but chances are that it’s been dealt. So you have to consider only the nut hands.

Let’s say you have three or four different straight draws. If three of those draws are to the second nut straight you can’t figure that in. You can’t calculate that in, you have to only consider the straight draw to the nut straight.

Zac: Wow, that really just crystallized a lot of things for me, and that applies both to the high and the low? That kind of nut-centric approach?

Greg: Yeah, you don’t want to really delve into investing too much money into non nut low hands. In four card, and in five card it is a cardinal sin to do so. Because keep in mind there are four ways to make a nut low. There are four ways to make a nut straight. It’s very easy to share a nut low. It’s very easy to share a nut straight. There’s only one way to make a nut flush. There’s only one way to make quads. There’s only two ways to make the nut full house. So, you strive to make hands that cannot be split. So, one of the biggest mistakes I see a lot of my students make is over valuing a nut low and a nut straight. Their like “Well I had nut nut”. Well there’s four ways to make the nut low, and there’s four ways to make the nut straight. So there’s a pretty good chance that you’re gonna be giving money away to the guy that has the nut low and the flush draw. Because there’s only one way to make that hand.

Zac: And a lot of these hands go multi-way right? Where in hold ’em we’re used to being heads up a lot, but in these games multi-way all day right?

Greg: Yes, it’s very rare that you get a heads up pot in Big O. Very rare. You will see that a lot when you’re playing with better players. You’ll see a lot of heads up pots, but as you’re first starting out if you’re gonna play a one two Big O, or a one two five Big O? You’re gonna have to get used to playing three four, and five way pots all the way to showdown. It’s not uncommon to see seven players take a flop.
Zac: Wow, and I imagine that, with all those cards out there, paying attention to board texture is absolutely critical. When the turn of river comes, we have to see every possible hand that’s out there. How do you develop intuition, so that you can make the right decisions in short time frames?

Greg: Well it’s just like you said; board texture is paramount, and you have to also keep in mind like I said earlier that if there’s a better hand to be made? It’s probably been dealt. It may not get played, but it’s definitely out there somewhere. So you factor your hand against the entire run out. You’re not necessarily focusing on “what is my opponents range of hands that he’s gonna be throwing back at me” like you do in hold ’em. If I know that my opponent will only raise the flop with an over hand in hold ’em, I have a pretty polarized range and idea of what he’s gonna be doing. In Big O, you don’t know. Somebody could call the bet on a flop with a naked ace deuce and a bunch of Broadway cards, and can very easily back into a nut Broadway, or very easily back into other made hands.

In hold ’em you don’t factor in whether or not your opponent back doored something very often. You do once in awhile, but it’s not as prominent as it is in Big O, because it happens all the time. It’s very, very easy to back into hands in Big O because those hands are simply getting played, and because there’s so many combinations, back door draws happen all the time.

Zac: So this kinda makes me think about pot odds, and the idea that, one of the important things that I learned from Ed Miller was “Don’t pay people off”. That was a fundamental thing for hold ’em. Stop paying people off they’re rarely bluffing at the low stakes games. Now I imagine there’s gonna be situations in the split pot games where your pot odds are favorable, but, based on the board run out and the action in front of you, you may want to fold?

Greg: Yes, it’s actually better advice for Big O than it is for hold ’em. It makes perfect sense in hold ’em, and I have told some of my hold ’em students that before “Stop paying people off!”. In Big O almost nobody has the capability of bluffing. It’s so rare! So it’s like, there are a few players out there that will bluff a back door draw they got there, but it’s so rare! If you think it’s rare in hold ’em? It’s ten times more rare and more infrequent in Big O. People just don’t do it. People bet for value ninety nine point nine percent of the time. So if you play your hand, and say you back into a seven high flush draw that you weren’t planning on. You flopped a low oriented board and then it comes ten of diamonds, king of diamonds, and a back doors a diamond of flush, and you check and you get piled into, a person’s almost never doing that with a bluff.

It’s just next to impossible for most players. So the idea of stop paying people off in hold ’em is so much more prevalent in Big O, and I try to get my students to stop paying for information that they already know, because in Big O the hands are staring them right in the face. There’s not a lot of question marks. “I wonder if he really did back door a flush draw?”. In Omaha, and in Big O, if it came running diamonds or whatever and they bet into you they probably have it. Stop paying people off is wonderful advice for Big O, because almost nobody bluffs in Big O, because they just don’t have the ability to.

Zac: Excellent, well I feel like we just saved a lot of people a lot of money right there with those few minutes.

Greg: Yeah probably!

Zac: It really feels like we just scratched the surface, but luckily, you’re working on a new project all about Big O. Tell our listeners about it. I’m really excited to hear about this.

Greg: So, my book on Big O is actually what got Red Chip’s attention. I presented it to a group in Las Vegas that Doug Hull was sitting in, and my book is called Scoop. The subtitle of the book is: Winning Big O and PLO8 strategies for hold ’em players, and my book addresses the core mental blocks and the core fundamental mistakes that hold ’em players bring to an Omaha table, and once we address those things like we discussed in an earlier pod cast of the best hand, and we addressed playing for the nuts only, and all of those things that hold ’em players simply aren’t accustomed to doing. Once we get passed those blocks, then they are able to become winning Omaha players, and they are able to get their mindset in the proper way to make them successful. So the book is currently in the post production phase. It should be available, sometime in the end of November or beginning of December.

Zac: Excellent, and I’ll put a link in our show notes there so that people can check out more information on the book, and if they wanna get in touch with you are you on Twitter, E-mail? What’s the best way for people to reach out to you?

Greg: I’m on both. People can follow me on Twitter at GregVail85, and they can also email me directly at Gregvailpoker@gmail.com. That is how my students get ahold of me, and that’s how I find some of my new students. Or, you can see my file on RedChipPoker.com, or get ahold of any of them, they’ll put you in touch with me.

Zac: Excellent! Well, Greg, thanks for stopping by once again, and maybe we’ll have you back in the future for another super deep dive, because it sounds like there is plenty to talk about here.

Greg: There is a lot to talk about.

Zac: Alright, well good luck, and we’ll catch you later!