PLO vs NLHE

Many players who try to transition from NLHE to PLO have difficulty because there are some key differences in strategy between the two games. Luckily, many of the skills you have learned playing NLHE can translate to PLO. In this article, we are going to go over some of the main differences and similarities between NLHE strategy and PLO strategy, in order to make your transition from NLHE to PLO more successful. We don't need to go into too much detail about why you should learn how to play PLO but suffice it to say that the games are a lot softer and more action-packed. Plus, as a professional, you want to expand the number of profitable opportunities that are available to you.


> RFI standards by Position

Just like in NLHE, raise first in (RFI) standards vary by position. What this means is that if it is folded to you in a given position, you can profitably raise a certain number of hands. Something like this :

UTG 18%

MP 25%

CO 30%

BU 45%

SB 30%

If you are familiar with NLHE opening hand selection principles, you should recognize this as pretty similar. Please note that these percentages are not set in stone. You can easily play a few percentages tighter or looser and you will still be in line. It is important that you are playing the right percentages of course.


Draws Have More Power

NLHE doesn't really have much in the way for draws. You've got gutshots, open enders, flush draws, and some combination thereof. But in PLO you have all of these, plus inside wraps, wraps, five rank wraps, and six rank wraps, as well as the option to have two flush draws at the same time. Because of this, weaker-made hands like two pairs need to be played a lot more cautiously, especially in high SPR situations. Let's take a closer look at some of the draws in PLO.

Gutshot: One rank to make a straight. Pretty much worthless, except in conjunction with a powerful made hand-like top set or a strong draw like the nut flush draw. There is a big difference also between a gutshot to the nuts and a gutshot that is not to the nuts. For example AKJT on 873 vs 8745 on JT3. In PLO drawing to the nuts is very important because if your draw is nonnut then it is easy to hit but end up losing more money.

OE straight draw or double gutshot: Two ranks to make a straight. For example, AA78 on 256 flop. We can improve with a four or a nine. It is important to take into consideration if there is a flush draw on the flop or if it is rainbow, as the flush draw's presence significantly devalues the open-ended straight draw. One problem in PLO that doesn't really exist that much in NLHE is running into equal or superior draws. So on our AA78 on 256 example, what happens if we run into 34 and 789T. Now, even if we hit our hand on the turn, we are only chopping and we are getting freerolled. If the turn card puts up the 9 of diamonds, we might get freerolled by a higher straight redraw and a higher flush redraw. This is an important consideration in multiway pots, where your pot odds may appear better than they actually are because you are drawing to chop. In general an open-ended draw on its own is to be regarded with some suspicion, especially multiway.

Inside wrap: Board is T62 we have A987. This is only actually one out better than an open ender, bu we are beginning to get into premium wrap territory. These sort of hands can possess high equity, and retain it pretty well even when they run into strong made hands. We can also put OE + gutshot into this category, for example, J834 and we have T926.

Vanilla Four Card Wrap: Board is 872 and we have QJT9. This is a top-end wrap in that every out is going to be the nuts, but is weakened somewhat by the fact that we don't have a pair, just in case we get it in against another draw.

Premium Five Card Wrap: Board is T 8 4 and we have QJ97. We can hit 6, 7, 9, J, Q. And all of our outs are to the nuts in this example. Having 17 outs twice is extremely powerful, although we are still ever so slight an underdog to top set.

Nuclear Six Card Wrap. Board is T92 and we have QJ87. We can hit 6, 7, 8, J, Q, K. 20 outs twice.


And of course, we can have any combination of these straight draws with one (on the flop) or up to two flush draws on the turn. There are really a ton of different options. Massive draws make for very nice semi-bluffing opportunities, because if you make a big bet on the turn, then even if you are called half the time you will make the best hand on the river, and now be in a position to make a punishing value bet. Or, if you think your opponent missed, you can try to steal the pot with a bluff yourself.

Precisely how to play your draw can be very situational. With premium nutty draws, you might want to just call a bet in the hopes of luring dominated draws into the pot behind you. Or you might bet these draws as a sort of value bet, hoping to get called by as many players as possible while building a pot as a big favourite. The nut flush draw makes a very nice addition to any draw, as you will usually be dominating other draws and taking away a lot of their equity. Conversely, you must be careful about stacking off multiway with potentially dominated draws. The naked nut flush draw however must be played in a much more cautious manner, as it can be easily dominated by sets and you will often be hard-pressed to continue with it against a raise.

In order to calculate the chance of your draw hitting on the next street, simply subtract the number of known cards from the total cards, and then compare your ratio of outs to non-outs. So on the flop you know will seven cards. There are 45 remaining. If you have 10 outs then you are a 3.5:1 dog to improve on the next street. You can then contrast your pot odds with your chances to improve quite easily. When deciding to call on a draw, you also want to consider if there are players left to act behind you. If there are, then this devalues your draw, because they might raise after you call, causing you to forfeit your call. Part of the reason why PLO is such an action game is you can have draws that are strong enough to call any pot-sized bet. Combine that with more frequent instances of strong made hands, and you get some very tense, very exciting all in confrontations on the turn and river.


You've got more cards

In Omaha, you have more cards than in NLHE. No duh, right? But what this means is that often you will have useless side cards that can actually determine the play of your hand. For example, let's say the flop comes J93 rainbow. You have AJTT. Here, the TT isn't really doing anything. You are playing the AJ. You have top pair top kicker. However, the TT is actually quite useful in that it removes a significant portion of your opponent's continuing range, both in terms of their calls and their raises. And with just top pair top kicker if we bet we mostly just want to take down the pot. QT8 and KQT are both very big hands on this board and to a lesser degree T87 (all of these are wraps but T87 has less value because it can be dominated more easily by the superior draws or hands that have a draw component like JJKQ. But with TT in our hand, the chance that our opponent has one of these hands is significantly less likely. Losing a quarter of your outs is a big deal with a draw. Another common example is when you have an off-suit ace that matches a flush draw on the board. This is known as the dry ace. Again, not really useful in terms of making a strong hand, but can be useful when you are bluffing or betting a marginal hand hoping to take down the pot.

Equities Run Closer Together

Pretty much everyone knows that equities run closer together in PLO. That's why fish can stack off with four random cards and end up as only a slight dog against your marginal aces. But the implications of this principle go far beyond peeling three bets 80% of the time (note, you should play much tighter against a squeeze especially if there are multiple callers involved before the re-raise). One strategic consequence of this fact is that if you end up heads up out of position on the flop you have to check, a lot. Without a substantial equity advantage (and generally, you will not have a substantial equity advantage), the proper strategy from OOP is to play quite cagey, and to do a fair amount of check calling, check folding, and check raising. In turn, your opponent must also play a fairly cagey mixed style and do a fairly even mix of betting and checking. This is a highly sophisticated dance, and you ignore the proper steps at your own peril. You don't want to blow up the pot out of position without an equity or polar advantage by betting too frequently with too wide a range, and you dare not leave your checking range unprotected by putting all your strong hands into bet. So instead you take a balanced approach and check everything. Now if your opponent tries to exploit you with an overly aggressive approach they will be sorely disappointed at the frequency they get trapped or check raised.


Because equities run closer together, you can call three bets much more frequently in PLO than in NLHE, especially if you have position. Let's say we open in MP, and get three bet by the SB. We will only fold here 10% of the time. 90% of the time we will continue by calling, or raising. If we were three bet by the button we would have to play a bit tighter, on account of our positional disadvantage, but we could still continue about 70% of the time. Now if it goes we open in MP, get called by the button, and the SB squeezes, we have to fold much more frequently. This is a much more dangerous situation, as we are not closing the action preflop, and often we will be squeezed on the flop, facing a c-bet from the SB without knowing whether the player in position on us connected with the flop.


Nuke The Whales

One thing that will be a lot different, especially for people who play online, is just how loose PLO can get even online. The term "whale" in the context of online poker refers to a player with a VPIP of > 75%. PLO, especially at the micro stakes, has tons of whales. This leads to an extremely different dynamic than the reg battles of six-man NLHE. Whereas from a GTO perspective six max PLO still has a lot of the raise or fold feel of NLHE, once you have one or more whales driving the action in PLO much of the strategy revolves around keeping the whales in the pot preflop and raising to force out the regs. There is very little incentive to three bet a tight reg and force the remaining whales left to act out of the pot. You want them in there on their K972 rainbow hands that are going to miss the flop or hit second best. And you want them calling post-flop on their dubious holdings. Massive amounts of value can be printed against whales who call drawing almost dead post-flop. And then you have the maniacs, with their 60% preflop three-bet percentages who are stacking off with any four cards pre when they are on tilt. PLO attracts big shooters who have a much better chance in PLO than in NLHE where they are quickly flayed alive by the nit regs. It's not uncommon for a whale to run like god and amass 10 or 20 buyin stacks in PLO. And to lose them just as quickly. In capped games, stack management becomes a factor, as getting deep against a whale can be extremely lucrative.


Playing against extremely loose ranges can take some getting used to. When your opponent's continuing ranges on the flop include gutshots and bottom pair, you can fire second barrels on the turn much more liberally. Some players take an extremely passive approach, which aside from being a very weak strategy, requires significant strategic adaption on your part. While we might prefer a polarized, balanced strategy against a regular opponent, we can employ an unbalanced linear approach against a loose passive opponent. A polarized approach is betting say nuts and air. Our strongest hands and our weakest ones. Whereas a linear approach is just betting the top say 20% (or whatever) of hands we have. Medium strength hands, strong hands, and nuts. Because loose-passive players are willing to call with such a wide range of weak hands, we can value bet them liberally, and fold all but our strongest hands if they do ever raise us. We don't want to bet our weakest hands (bluff) because that would fall into their trap since they are calling so frequently. But we can make strong and medium strength semi bluffs, since we will not be punished for our aggression very often. We can also bet marginal made hands with impunity, but not too weak because again our opponent is going to call at a high frequency.


It's All About the Nuts


Especially in loose, full ring, live games, PLO is a game of the nuts. That means your starting hands have to be evaluated for their nut potential. This isn't the case as much in six max, especially in somewhat tighter games, where you can get away with some marginal double suited hands. But when every pot is mass multiway, you have to be very careful with your starting hand selection. You need to play hands that can make the nuts, and continue after the flop once you do or if you have a very strong nutted draw. Having a nut suit is an important element of playability, but you also need to have strong secondary characteristics. A hand like AKQT double suited is or KK or QQ with a nut suit are classic examples of hands that are playable in loose live plo games. Hands that will do the dominating, not hands that will be dominated. Once you have four or five players going to the flop every hand then you are going to need to flop the nuts or a very strong hand to be competitive. By contrast, in online play, especially at higher stakes and in tighter games, the game becomes more about taking down pots postflop with well-timed aggression and finding the right spots to bluff on later streets. In these games, stealing the blinds becomes a real factor, and there is more emphasis on hands which might not be nutted but have playability. A hand like Kd5dQc3c has significant value heads up, or as a blind steal, but becomes almost worthless in a very loose full ring setting where you are going to go mass multiway to the flop and almost always be dominated in multiple ways.


Three Betting Strategy

In PLO you don't really do any bluff three betting, but you do want to have a balanced three betting range. We start off with three betting most of our AA combos. These are great hands to three bet because we're happy to stack off pre, being a favourite against any other hand. Because we are a favourite, we are going to retain our equity against our opponents hand on most flops. But we can't three bet just AA, because this will make our opponent's life too easy. So we mix in double suited perfect rundowns, like 789T, and some double suited one gappers as well like J987. We just three bet the double suited versions of these hands, to keep the frequencies in check. And we three bet a lot of double suited hands with an ace in them. Having the ace substantially reduces your chance of getting four bet. The nice thing about three betting a hand like 789T is that the flop can come 654 and then we can check and let our opponent blast off his air trying to make us fold our obvious aces. And we can put in some other unexpected check calls and check raises. In poker, you never want to have too high a check give up rate when you can avoid it, and having a mixed three betting strategy allows you to continue much more often on bad boards.


You should also adjust your three betting strategy to your opponent. If your opponent is opening tighter than is optimal, you don't want to three bet them as much, or you want to three bet them with a different quality of hands. Against a very tight opener, a hand like bad aces becomes more valuable, because they are more likely to have a hand like KK that is more dominated than a rundown, and you will know which boards are more dangerous (broadway boards). When it comes to flat calling raises, we usually want to call hands which are almost strong enough to three bet. So if we are three betting JT98 ds, we would flat with JT98 single suited. We usually don't have too much large a flatting range, although it depends on our position. We flat the widest on the button, and seldom flat from the SB. This is in theory or in GTO, but as we stated earlier there are considerations that can change that also.


Conclusion

Hopefully, that will give you a little taste of the differences between PLO and NLHE. PLO is a wild game, and definitely worth getting into if you have a background in NLHE or simply like poker in general. And since you are here, why not consider taking advantage of our PLO Coaching, or purchasing some black market PLO content at a massive discount.