At high four card Omaha, raising before the flop strategy is much more complicated than at holdem. There are a number of good hand situations where it is better not to raise. And there are a number of medium good hand situations where raising before the flop is highly recommended. Generally, raising before the flop tends to tighten up initial calling and loosen up the rest of the game.
Perhaps the simplest approach is for the prospective raiser to become more aware of his specific objectives. Most specific objectives are highly dependent on position. A raise before the flop in an early seat tends to cut down on attendance. This is clearly desireable if your hand features a high pair, for example, two aces and not much else.
If your raise or reraise cuts attendance to only a few callers, your aces might even hold up and win the pot. However if you raise with aces in a late position, the bigger pot will usually attract more callers after the flop who often outdraw you and also make the pot harder to steal – both factors reducing your overall chances of winning. Thus, with “bad aces”, it is better not to raise before the flop in a late position. Save the money and perhaps bet a weak flop.
A raise in late position is unlikely to fold previous callers, and is best made with good drawing hands which like company after the flop, such as two high flush couples (”couple” is my new term for a two card holding) or a super wrap (four in a row). More money in the pot attracts more callers after the flop and improves the money odds of your draw. Note that if you happen to find yourself in a game where there are always a lot of callers after the flop (”fishing in”), it is probably right to never raise before the flop. In Omaha even the best starting hands get a good flop well under half of the time, so why invest early money if it is unnecessary.
At most normal Omaha games, a single raise before the flop is best to accomplish your objectives. The pot is large enough to attract flies, yet small enough to get away from. Many players seem to play Omaha with holdem mentality and reraise before the flop too often. It is my opinion that a skillful player should want to reraise before the flop only when a substantial reduction in attendance is likely. The extra plus that you get with a great starting hand is often more than offset by the many post flop skill advantages that you lose when the pots get too large.
The four general skill areas in Omaha, where a skillful player gets most of his edge, are, actions after the flop, actions before the flop, and making good “poker” judgments before and after the last card. Reraising invites capping, and when pots are large or capped out before the flop (ie. all three raises) the skill involved in the three post-flop areas is greatly reduced. You have fewer options, your good
but not lock hands are subject to the mercies of other player’s dangerous whims, and these hands frequently regress to showdown. Once a pot has been capped out before the flop, there is not much difference between skillful players and lesser players.
One of your advantages in Omaha is that most opponents make less than optimum decisions after the flop – most often calling too loosely on smaller pots. When the pots get very large before the flop, most long shots are justified, thus these loose players are now calling correctly.
Holdem players may better appreciate the above if they are aware that the best starting hands in four card Omaha hold up to win the pot somewhat less than the best (reraise) starting hands at holdem. For example, using Mike Caro’s Poker Probe, if you play two aces at holdem against five opponents who never fold, the two aces hold up just under half the time; two kings win around 43% of the time. The best high Omaha hand, AAKK double suited, against five non-folding opponents, wins only around 35% of the time, and you will hold this hand less than once in 45,000. A more typical fine Omaha hand rates to hold up a good deal less frequently (eg. AA75 double suited wins around 28%). Otherwise put, if you really want good odds, wait for the flop.
The best high-low split Omaha hand, AA23 double suited, wins a whopping 40% of the time (versus five non-folding opponents), and don’t say that it never comes up! Ernie Martinez of Maryland picked up that hand at the final table of the recent Four Queens Omaha High-Low Championship. In five way action he reraised before the flop, locked up low on the turn, and caught a third heart on the river to scoop a hugh pot, propelling him into third place overall.