Pot Limit Omaha Strategy: When To Bluff Strong Hands

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British poker pro David "lildavefish"Nicholson is a superb cash game player and a coach with the poker training site known as The Firm. In this article "Lil Dave" talks about when to bluff with strong hands in Pot Limit Omaha.

One of the main differences between NLHE and Pot Limit Omaha, apart from the extra two cards of course, is the many extra combinations of hands that are possible in PLO. Because of this, equities (as in one hand vs another hand) and ranges (the range of hands your opponent thinks you have and the range of hands you think your opponent has) run much closer together. As a result of this, often there are situations where making your opponent fold, even when you have a strong hand, is the most profitable outcome. Here are 3 “Tips From The Firm” on when we should use our strong hands to try to make our opponents fold.

Semi-Bluffs

A Semi-Bluff is a move where we raise a hand with very poor immediate strength, but that has a lot of equity (flush draws, wraps, combination draws etc). For example, a hand like AKT6 with A high diamonds on a 8d 9d 4c board, is unlikely to be the winning hand as things stand. This might be a good spot to semi-bluff because we have a draw to a nut hand and a draw to the second nut straight so we will be in good shape vs nearly all of our opponent’s calling range.

When we are deciding whether to semi-bluff with hands such as these, there are several things we need to consider. First we need to look at our Fold Equity. Fold equity is the value of our hand when we make our opponent fold a better hand. (likelihood that our opponent will fold * amount we gain in equity when our opponent does fold). How likely do we think he is to fold? If our opponent was the pre-flop raiser and is continuation betting, this might be a spot where he will fold very often - making it very profitable to semi-bluff. Is our opponent very tight? Will he fold hands like A9xx and 84xx here? Do we have enough chips left behind after our semi-bluff raise to make another big bet on the turn and make him fold some of the hands he might call with? We want to be able to win the pot here with A high, and not need to make a straight or flush to have to win the hand.

Sometimes we end up having to go all in on the flop vs the very best hands in his range (99xx, 88xx, 98xx). in this event (using the example above) we will find ourselves at neutral or very small equity disadvantage. Using the equity calculator at PokerProTools we can see:

 HandEquityWinsTies
 AdKdT639.23%234,6001,612
 99**, 88**, 98**, 44**60.77%363,7881,612

With $100 stacks, if we have check-raised a $6 bet to $27 and he has moved all in, we are calling $73 to win ~$200, requiring 36% equity to call profitably (73/200 = 36) Although this specific scenario doesn't show much profit and in fact will sometimes be slightly -EV, this is easy negated by the profit we show in winning the pot without showdown when he folds.

When Check Raising is Better than Check Calling

Many times in PLO we flop decent draws with small pieces of immediate value. Let’s say for example, we are out of position with 693A with Ace high clubs on a 3d 8c 5s flop. Here we have a pair, the backdoor nut flush draw and a nut gutshot draw. Our hand has decent equity against the weaker parts of our opponents range (Over pairs, 8xxx hands with gutshots, and naked 67xx hands). These spots are great examples of where check raising a hand with value as a bluff is often a far superior play to check calling. If we can win the pot right here with a pair of threes by check-raising, we show a large profit. When our opponent calls our raise, we have many turn cards that will be great for us to continue betting as a semi-bluff (6's, 8's, 5's, and any club). We could often also make the best hand on the turn (Ace, 3, 7.)

If our opponent re-raises us on the flop we know our hand does very poorly vs any range that wants to get all the money in and so we can comfortably fold. When we check call in this spot however, we often fail to realise our flop equity by check folding the turn, or, when we pick up more outs on the turn by check calling again, only to check fold the river. Check raising here gives us far more opportunities to make our hand, prevents us from folding to a hand that we often have good equity against and gives us the opportunity to make better hands fold.

Turning Made Hands into Bluffs

Because ranges run so close together in Pot Limit Omaha, we often find spots where the value of our range is very similar to that of our opponent. In this example, we are in position and have 89JK on a 9TA flop. Our opponent checks to us, we bet and get called. The turn is a 4 and again, our opponent check calls our bet. The river is a J. and our opponent checks. Now we have two pair and a hand with really legitimate showdown value, so it's very tempting to check it and show down our two pair.

However, if we think about our opponent's range, he will have a lot of hands very similar to ours, e.g. A9xx, JT8x, 89TK, AJQx, AKxx. Our hand is far too weak to bet for value because very few opponents will ever check call this river with an inferior hand. Since our opponent’s range of hands includes so many hands similar to ours, if we can make him fold most of the hands from this range, even if most of these hands are worse than ours, we can show an immediate and healthy profit. Let’s say as an example we can win the pot by showing it down 60% of the time, but our opponent only has a hand that he can call a bet with 10% of the time. Here betting to fold out that 90% of his range gains us significant equity.

In spots such as this one, when we are considering turning a hand with value into a bluff, we need to be representing strength by taking a believable line. In order to do this, we need to think about how we would have played hands from the top of our range on this river. For example would we have taken this line and be betting for value with hands like 78/Q8/KQ or possibly AA)? If the answer is yes, we can now represent a much bigger hand than we have. We are effectively “merging” our range - that is, combining hands from our value range with hands from our bluffing range.

These are great examples of situations where we can win pots uncontested by taking aggressive lines, rather than playing our hand for its actual value.

David Nicholson keeps a very entertaining blog where he pulls no punches and tells it as it is. If you want to read more of Lil Dave and his exploits around the world pay a visit to his excellent blog, which can be found here.

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