PLO SNG Strategy
One of the more popular games online, the humble Sit and Go (SNG) or Single Table Tournament (STT) is the first introduction to poker for many. Most players restrict themselves to the No Limit Hold ‘Em (NLHE) versions, but with a wealth of strategy information available online, a growing trend in the use of tracking software, Sharkscope and more players using independent chip modelling (ICM) to gain an edge, the games are getting a lot tougher. While this is good for the game, it’s not necessarily as good for your pocket but there is a solution – make the move into the world of Pot Limit Omaha SNG’s. If Texas Hold ‘Em is the Cadillac of poker then Pot Limit Omaha is the Shelby Mustang GT500 of the poker world with high octane, supercharged, fast and frantic action.
Solid Hand Selection
Solid starting hands form the backbone of a strong PLO game, especially when it comes to SNG’s. While some players think four cards means double the chances of connecting with the board, hitting the board hard is more important. For example, say you call a raise with a hand like A-2-6-7 rainbow (a poor starting hand) and the board comes 8h-9h-As. Even though you hold top pair and an open-ended straight draw you kickers are poor. Unimproved top pair is unlikely to be the best hand at showdown and you hold the bottom end of the straight so even if you hit, a player holding 10-J or even 7-10 has you drawing thin to dead especially if they have a flush draw or set to go with their straight draw.
The starting hands you should be looking for are those where all four cards work well together; double-suited run-down hands like A-K-Q-J down to J-10-9-8 all have the potential to make monsters, as do gapped run-down hands like Q-J-10-8. While some big pair hands make for good PLO starting hands it is important to remember that no hand is usually better than a 60% pre-flop favourite. PLO premium big pair hands should be double-suited and work well with the other cards you hold. Hands like A-A-10-10 up to A-A-K-K are particularly strong, giving you two possible nut flushes as well as sets and straight draws. Naked overpairs are unlikely to win at showdown so unsuited hands with no connecting cards working together like A-A-6-9, K-K-3-8 and Q-Q-2-7 are actually quite weak; the only thing going for them is some set mining potential in late position and they shouldn’t be played in early position. The same goes for suited A-K-X-X rag hands; take a flop in late position, just don’t call huge pre-flop raises and re-raises with them. Small double-pair hands have good set mining potential but be aware that sets and naked nut straights are vulnerable and can see you forced into committing chips to a pot where you are not favourite to win.
Tight is Right
As with all SNG’s, the value of your chips increases as the blinds and antes rise in the later stages so in the early stages chip preservation is more important than accumulation. Playing tight and waiting for solid starting hands should help you conserve chips for the middle levels but this doesn’t mean you should be playing passively; you should just not be committing large portions of your stack pre-flop when out of position.
Don’t be afraid to mix it up, if you only raise with Aces then your game becomes exploitable. Raise with a range of hands that include the double-suited high-card/pair combos and run-down hands. Play your big draws aggressively but hit the flop hard before committing a lot of chips during the first few levels. Conversely, don’t be afraid to call in position with speculative hands during the early levels; PLO is a post flop game so not only will you be seeing more flops, you will be playing down the streets. The key to success at PLO is in controlling the size of the pot; you should be playing small pots out of position and forcing opponents to play big pots and commit chips when they are out of position to induce mistakes.
The biggest difference between NLHE and PLO SNG’s is the betting structure; you can’t just pull the all-in trigger and a pot-sized raise often gives your opponent the correct odds to call. This changes the way the game plays out in a number of ways:
Most players are aware of the importance of position in poker, but in PLO where you get double the cards position becomes twice as important. Don’t be sucked into playing bad cards out of position and don’t be scared of getting in cheap in late position and outplaying looser more passive opposition.
Independent chip modelling (ICM) becomes less relevant and it becomes tougher to go all-in pre-flop (until the blinds get really big) so there is less ‘push/fold’ poker. You have to outplay opponents on later streets and think about a player’s hand range, the texture of the flop and whether they will fold to a bet.
Awareness of stack sizes and table dynamics is key – if you re-raise pre-flop will an opponent check to you? Don’t call a raise if you are going to be pot committed after the flop, re-raise all-in. Be more liberal with raises against a short-stack and pressure players trying to coast into the cash spots.
Back to the Drawing Board
As you should be playing to win rather than just to cash, one way to apply pressure is to play your big draws aggressively. In PLO a strong draw is often the favourite over a made hand and re-raising gives you two chances to win; your opponent folds or you make your draw.
For example, you have called a raise in position against one opponent while holding 7d-8d-10h-Jh and the flop comes 9h-6h-Qs. Even if your opponent has a hand like Ad-Ac-Qd-Qc or Qd-Qc-Kd-Jc, holding a big wrap (where at least three different cards completes your straight) with a flush draw with a makes you a 60/40 favourite over someone holding top set.
Why would you want to give bad players more chance and more cards to outdraw you I hear you ask? Simple, PLO is a game of odds and probabilities, more so even than Hold ‘Em. Many players are relatively inexperienced at PLO and make mediocre to poor players; they’ve heard it’s a drawing game and call too much chasing sub-standard draws. A bad player is bad because they chase their draws, call when they should raise, raise when they should fold and make mathematically incorrect calls. If you can master Omaha, not only can it help your NLHE game and improve your board reading abilities, it’s also full of action-packed fun. You’ll be playing more hands, making more monsters and hopefully pressuring the bad players into making bad decisions, so what’s the downside? More variance but if you are playing within your bankroll (50 buy-ins and upwards at your chosen level) then you are reducing your chances of going broke and you can make some good money mastering a game that gives bad players a chance to make more mistakes.