After Texas Hold’em, Omaha is the next most popular variant of poker in modern play. Omaha was once known as Omaha Hold’em, and shares a lot of similarities with Texas Hold’em, including the use of five board cards and four betting rounds. However, Omaha uses four hole cards instead of two, giving more opportunity for strategic play. While Texas Hold’em is often played no-limit, Omaha is usually played at pot limit (often referred to as PLO—pot limit Omaha).
Object of Omaha
The object of Omaha is to form the best five-card poker hand from a combination of two of the four cards in your hand and three of the five shared cards (called board cards), or to bet in such a way as to convince your opponents that you have the best hand.
Omaha uses a standard 52-card deck. As always, we recommend using plastic playing cards, specifically Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards.
Prior to game play, establish whether the game is limit or no-limit and the minimum bets. You should also agree on the amount of a buy-in, that is, how much each player’s initial stake will be, and whether you will allow players to deep stack (i.e. buy in for a greater amount).
All players either ante or post blinds, although Omaha is typically played with blinds. Shuffle and deal four cards to each player. These cards are called the player’s hole cards.
Players inspect their initial hand, and then the first betting round, known as the pre-flop betting round, occurs. The first player to act is the player to the left of the dealer, unless blinds have been posted, in which case the player to the left of the big blind (referred to as being under the gun) has first action. The betting follows the usual pattern of betting in poker. If, at any time, all players but one fold, the pot is awarded to the last remaining player, and the hand ends. No further cards are dealt to “see what would have happened”, and the winning player is not required to reveal their hand.
After the betting round has concluded, the dealer discards one burn card face down and deals three cards face up to the center of the table. (See “Dealing the flop, turn, and river” for more information on how this is performed). These three cards, called the flop, are the first three of the five board cards, and can form part of every player’s hand. After the flop, another betting round occurs, with first action going to the player to the left of the dealer (the player who posted the small blind).
When the flop’s betting round is resolved, the dealer burns one card and deals another card face up, called the turn. As before, another betting round is conducted, after which another card is burned and the fifth and final board card, the river, is dealt. One final betting round is conducted, and then each player reveals their hand.
The player who has the best five-card poker hand, using five of the seven cards available to them (three of the five board cards and two of their four hole cards), wins the pot. It must be emphasized that a player must use exactly three board cards and two hole cards. A player may not use all four hole cards, nor can they use one hole card and four board cards, nor can they “play the board” (use all five of the board cards as their hand).
Two of the most popular poker games today, Texas Hold’em and Omaha, both share a defining characteristic—five community cards, dealt face up in the middle of the table. Despite the apparent simplicity of the task—it’s just dealing five cards!—a lot of players do it wrong. Here, we’ll explain the right way to do it, and the most common pitfalls for amateur dealers.
The correct way
Dealing the flop
After the initial betting round has been resolved, the dealer taps the table with their hand. This is to attract the players’ attention and inform them that the flop (the first three board cards) is coming out, so that if betting action is still taking place, the players can speak up. After this, one burn card is dealt, face down. Most dealer procedures advise tucking the burn cards under the chips in the pot for safe keeping, although casinos may have variations on this rule (such as tucking a corner of each burn card under the face-up card it preceded). Three cards are dealt, face down, then the group is moved into position in the center of the table, flipped face up, and spread out all at once.
Dealing the turn and the river
The turn and the river are the cards dealt after the second and third betting rounds, respectively. The procedure for dealing both of these is the same—tuck one burn card under the pot, and turn one card face-up, placing it to the right of the previously dealt cards.
- Mixing the burn cards and the discards. The burn cards should be kept separate from the discards, in order to demonstrate that three cards were burned properly.
- Dealing or flipping up the flop cards one at a time. This may cause players to react to each individual card, which can give some players information about how each individual card affects each player. To prevent this, always deal the three cards face down, and expose them as a unit.
- Dealing the flop, turn, and river ahead of time and leaving them face down until it’s time to expose them. The purpose of burning a card before each segment of the board is dealt is to shield the backs of the board cards until just before they are exposed. This helps to limit the effect of cards deliberately marked by cheaters. Dealing the flop ahead of time defeats the purpose of the burn cards. It’s also possible that the board may be prematurely exposed by errant chips during betting.