PART II August 7th 2007
PART I August 3rd 2007
Lessons from Phil Ivey
Bluffing in Pot-Limit Omaha
January 9th 2008
Bluffing can be one of the most profitable plays in poker. However, its success is often blunted by the fact that it's also one of the most misunderstood and over-used plays in the game.
In Omaha, players may find even more reasons to bluff - and to get themselves into trouble - than they do in Hold 'em because four starting cards can lead to huge draws and present almost irresistible opportunities to try and steal pots from opponents. The key to bluffing successfully in this game comes from knowing when to make the play and who to make it against.
One of the best bluffing opportunities in Omaha comes on paired boards, but to pull this off, you have to know what kinds of paired boards to look for. Let's say you're involved in a hand with two other players. You're in late position and have called a pre-flop raise only to completely miss on a flop of K-K-8 rainbow. The flop is checked around to you, and you consider bluffing to see if you can steal the pot. My advice - don't do it.
If your opponents are experienced and knowledgeable players who generally play premium starting hands, one of them probably connected with the board and is likely slow-playing a monster. Bluffing here gives him a chance to come over the top or just flat call and let you keep throwing chips into his made hand.
Now, let's take the same scenario and change the flop to something like 3-3-7 rainbow. Bluffing on this board makes much more sense because it's likely that opponents who are playing strong starting hands failed to connect on this board. Experienced players may read your bet here as being credible because you could have very easily called a pre-flop raise with a small hand and hit the board hard.
If you happen to connect with trips or a full house on a board like 3-3-7, you should bet your monster in hope of getting called by someone with a worse hand or to induce a bluff re-steal into your made hand. Conversely, you should be wary about betting this kind of board if you have a mediocre hand like T-T-9-9, as your bet will give your opponent the chance to play perfectly against you; he'll call or raise when ahead, fold when behind, and occasionally bluff you with a worse hand. My advice is to check this type of hand and reassess on the turn.
As a rule of thumb in Omaha (and in Hold 'em, for that matter), I find that low and messy flops are easier to bluff at than bigger boards because most players are looking to play more premium hands that are more likely to connect with higher cards. Sure, you may get called by over-pairs or big draws on occasion, but you'll also win the hand often enough to make this play worthwhile.
While paired boards provide some of the best bluffing opportunities, flush boards can also offer some interesting opportunities. For example, let's say you're just holding the Ah and the flop comes with three other hearts. You can't make your heart flush to win the pot outright, but you can still steal it away from an opponent who has a lower flush since they'll be wary about betting or calling into the possible nuts.
This play takes some courage as you may have to bet each street in order to win the pot, but it can also be very profitable against solid opponents because it's unlikely that they'll call on the river if you've represented the Ace-high flush throughout the entire hand. Be careful about betting your naked Ace too often though as seasoned opponents will eventually read your bluffs and counter-play by calling more often. Of course, this also means that you'll likely get paid off when you make the same kind of bets and really are holding the nut flush.
Picking the right boards and situations is just one part of successfully bluffing in Omaha and in other games. Equally important is picking the right players to bluff against. If you're in a hand with a calling station who's unlikely to ever lay down a hand, your chances of bluffing them off a pot are pretty slim. On the other hand, if you're facing a solid opponent who may reasonably believe he's behind in a hand, your bluff is much more likely earn you some valuable chips.
Bluffing is an important part of any player's arsenal and keeping these thoughts in mind the next time you sit down for a game of PLO can help you out-gun the competition.