The first thing new PLO (Pot Limit Omaha) players notice is that they need to adjust to being dealt 4 cards instead of 2

At first, this difference might sound small. But it doesn’t take long to realise that preflop decisions are more complicated in PLO than in Hold’em.

Have no fear! 

Use the following start hand tips to get up to speed as quickly as possible with a decent preflop game in Pot Limit Omaha.

We’ll think about the following - 

What Makes a Good Starting Hand in PLO?

It should go without saying that hand strength in PLO is not the same as in Hold’em. We can’t assume that our hand is strong just because we hold an Ace and a King. 

  • After all, our opponents are also dealt four cards. 
  • So, our two-card hand is not going to cut it. 

The best PLO starting hands involve four cards that work together. 

Sometimes hands with three cards or two cards that work together can be playable depending on our position. But those hands are not truly strong unless they have that four-card coordination.  

We should also think about the following -

  • High Cards - The more high cards we have (9 or above), the stronger our hand is. AQJ9 will nearly always be stronger than something like J986. It can sometimes feel like there is a lot to focus on when first starting out.

    So, if we only manage to focus on one thing, it should be how many high cards we are dealt. As a general rule, 4-cards nine and higher is nearly always playable.
     
  • Suitedness - In Hold’em, a starting hand is either suited or unsuited. In Omaha, a hand can be double-suited, single-suited or rainbow. Double-suited hands are stronger than single-suited hands, which are stronger than rainbow hands. 

    Here is an example of each:

    We always prefer it when our highest card is suited since this makes stronger flushes possible. Our single-suited hand would be much stronger if we held the 9♠ rather than the 9♣, meaning we were singled-suited to the Ace.
     
    • Double-suited: A♠J♠T♣9♣
    • Single-suited: A♠J♥T♣9♣
    • Rainbow: A♠J♣T♥9♦
       
  • Connectedness - The more connected our cards are, the better our chances of making straights or huge straight draws (known as wraps) in PLO.  

    Here are some examples:

    The fewer the gaps and the more connected the cards, the more likely it is that we’ll make nut-straights as opposed to non-nut straights.
     
    • Very connected: Q♠J♦T♠9♦
    • Somewhat connected: Q♠9♦8♠6♦
    • Somewhat disconnected: Qs8s6♣4♣
    • Very disconnected: K♠8♠6♣2♣
  • Pairedness - Pairs are generally good in PLO. They improve our chances of making a set, full house, or quads.
     
    • Higher pairs are better than lower pairs.
    • Low pairs in PLO can sometimes be problem hands.
    • Set over set happens much more often in Hold’em than it does in PLO.
       
    We should be cautious with pocket-pairs below 99xx for this reason. We don’t want to set-mine with 22xx and bad side-cards, in most cases.

What Are the Top Starting Hands in PLO?

What Are the Top Starting Hands in PLO?What Are the Top Starting Hands in PLO?

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the best starting hands in PLO involve 4-cards, Ten and higher. 

This range includes high-pairs and double-paired hands. 

Here are some examples:

  • A♠A♦K♠K♦ - This hand is the best possible double-paired starting hand. Note that this is also a double-suited hand which is a nice bonus. Even without the double-suit, AAKK rainbow would still be a very strong starting hand.
     
  • A♠A♦J♠T♦ - This hand has a high pair in the hole with double-suitedness. The 4 high cards provide some straight/wrap possibility since all cards are connected.
  • K♠Q♦J♠T♦ - This hand has double-suitedness, 4-high cards and excellent straight/wrap possibility since all 4 cards are in consecutive rank order. 
     
  • J♠T♦9♠8♦ - This hand doesn’t have 4-high cards. But it’s still one of the best starting hands because of its excellent straight/wrap potential. Jack-high and other rundowns next.

What are Rundowns in PLO?

A rundown is the equivalent of a connector in Hold’em. 

The crucial difference is that rundowns use three or four cards. In contrast, traditional connectors in Hold’em only use two (for example, 78s). 

  • In terms of straight potential, Jack-high rundowns are the strongest since they make the maximum number of possible straights. 

Lower rundowns (e.g., 6543) run into potential domination issues since they are more likely to make non-nut straights. 

Rundowns are described by the rank of their highest card:

  • J♠T♠9♣8♣ - Jack-high double-suited rundown
  • T♥9♣8♣7♠ - Ten-high single-suited rundown
  • 7♣6♠5♦4♥ - Seven-high rainbow rundown

Rundowns can also have gaps which are described by their location in the rundown structure:

  • J♠9♠8♣7♣ -  Jack-high double-suited rundown, top gap
  • J♠T♠8♣7♣ -  Jack-high double-suited rundown, middle gap.
  • J♠T♠9♣7♣ -  Jack-high double-suited rundown, bottom gap.
  • J♠9♠7♣6♣ -  Jack-high double-suited double-gapped rundown.   

Gaps towards the bottom of the structure are generally better than gaps towards the top. 

Gaps at the top of the rundown increase the chances of making a dominated straight, which can be a big problem in PLO. 

How Does Position Affect Starting Hands in PLO?

The strength of our starting hand will change depending on our position at the table. If we are already familiar with preflop strategy in Hold’em, many of the same ideas will apply.

  • For example, we can open-raise very wide from the button, perhaps 50% or more of our hands depending on the types of opponents in the blinds. 
  • We might get away with playing holdings that have only two-card or very loose three-card coordination.

Another example would be defending out of the big blind when facing an open-raise. We can defend a lot wider here. We are closing the preflop action and have already invested 1bb into the pot. 

At the other end of the spectrum, we need a very strong hand to open-raise from early position

We’ll often wait for strong four-card coordination before entering into the pot from this position. 

Position and Starting Hands in PLOPosition and Starting Hands in PLO

Why Think About Multiway vs Heads Up in PLO?

To put it simply, some hands play very well in multiway pots but not so well in heads-up pots (and vice versa). 

For example, think about the following starting hand in PLO:

A♠9♠7♣4♥

This starting hand is not great in PLO. It has relatively little coordination between the four cards. But it does have one thing going for it - it can make the nut flush with the suited Ace

  • This fact might not be beneficial in a heads-up pot. We are simply going to miss the flop the vast majority of the time. 

Even when we make our flush, there is a good chance that our opponent won’t have a hand to pay us off.

In a multiway pot, it’s a different story. We get a much better price to enter the pot preflop. There is a much higher chance that one of our opponents makes a dominated flush and pays us off when we hit. 

Sometimes these types of hands are referred to as one-way, single-direction, or polarized starting hands. They miss most of the time but occasionally flop really well. 

At the other end of the spectrum, think about the following starting hand in PLO.

J♣9♣7♠5♠

This hand is significantly more likely to connect with the flop than the previous hand. PLO players use the term smooth to describe a hand that can connect with the flop in a variety of different ways. 

This hand does relatively well in a heads-up pot because it very often catches a piece of the flop. 

  • It doesn’t play so well multiway because it lacks nutted potential

It usually ends up making a dominated straight or flush. This outcome can end up being a big problem in multiway pots. In those scenarios, there is a good chance that one of our opponents makes the higher straight or flush. 

When making preflop decisions, we should consider whether our hand type matches well with the number of players we expect on the flop. 

We won’t always know the answer to this question. But being in a late position allows us to play a wider range of hands. 

We can predict more accurately whether the pot will be heads-up or multiway. 

What Are the Problem Hands in PLO?

PLO hands have a unique problem compared to Hold’em - they can block their own outs. This fact is due to having to use exactly two of our hole-cards when constructing a hand (never more, never less).

Take a look at the following hand, which is often said to be the worst possible hand in PLO

2♠2♣2♦2♥

To a new player, it might look like we have just been dealt four-of-a-kind. But this is not the case. Remember, we can only use two of our hole cards.

So, we have only a pair of twos.

  • Pairs are not always bad in Omaha because there is the possibility that we can catch a set on the flop. 
  • In this case, we know that there is a 0% chance of us making a set: we block our own outs
  • A Two can never hit the flop because we already hold both of the remaining Twos in our hand.

A less extreme example of this type of problem occurs when we hold more than two cards of a single suit:

A♠K♠Q♠J♠

Now, this is still a very playable starting hand since we have 4-high cards and some nut straight/wrap potential. 

But having four spades weakens the hand rather than strengthens it. 

It’s now less likely we are going to make the flush since we are blocking two of our own flush outs

We also know that it is now completely impossible to ever make the royal flush with this starting hand. 

Summary of PLO Starting Hands

It takes time to master starting hands in Pot Limit Omaha

It takes time to master starting hands in Hold’em, and yet there are only 1,326 possible starting hands in Hold’em. 

  • In PLO, there are a massive 270,725 possible starting hands. 

So, following a PLO starting hands chart can be complicated, and most players choose not to do this. 

But we don’t need a starting hands chart. By following the tips given above, we can ensure our PLO preflop game will do well in almost any line-up.

About the Author
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After making a name for herself in the summer of 2017, Brazil’s Vivian “Vivi” Saliba was welcomed to the 888poker team. That year, the 24-year-old became the youngest female to enter the World Series of Poker Main Event.
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