Haney's handle: Best places to play Omaha poker in Las Vegas

Mar 1, 2012 |
Haney's handle: Best places to play Omaha poker in Las Vegas
Omaha is a game for people who like to gamble against people who like to gamble too much.
Omaha is a game for people who like to gamble against people who like to gamble too much.
In a 2007 book titled “The Full Tilt Poker Strategy Guide,” Chris Ferguson offered an apt characterization of the form of poker known as pot-limit Omaha:

“If you like to gamble, you will probably enjoy pot-limit Omaha. And if you like to gamble against people who like to gamble too much, pot-limit Omaha might be the game for you.”

I’ve found that description to be accurate time and again, most recently during a hand I played the other night. Holding two aces, a 3 suited with one of the aces and an offsuit 10, I raised a straddler and found myself in a pre-flop altercation with the straddler and one other player who had come along for the ride.

There are several legitimate ways to play aces in pot-limit Omaha (PLO) based on the stack sizes (how much money each player has on the table), among other factors.

In this instance I had both opponents covered and figured I could get them to commit their stacks, so the three of us ended up getting it all-in before the flop.

I had correctly tabbed my hand as the favorite, but when I later ran the particulars through an odds calculator I learned I was in even better shape than I thought.

It turned out I was about 42 percent to win compared with 31 percent for the original straddler (ace, queen and two suited low cards) and 27 percent for the other opponent (two kings, a jack and a rag).

Contributing less than a third of the money to a pot while enjoying  a 42 percent chance of winning it all is pretty much the Spalding Guide definition of an overlay (if A.G. Spalding had been a degenerate gambler rather than a baseball pioneer). Indeed, I do like gambling against people who like to gamble too much.

So how did the hand turn out? Well, let’s recap the outcome later.

The point is that good PLO action is taking place on the Las Vegas Strip these days, and has been for the past year or so.

The best places to find the games are at the poker rooms in the Aria and the Venetian. The Aria typically offers PLO with blinds of $1 and $3 with a $500 maximum buy-in and/or a PLO game with blinds of $2 and $5 with a $1,500 maximum buy-in. The structure at the Venetian features blinds of $1 and $2 with a $5 bring-in and a maximum buy-in of $1,000. Both rooms are well-run by highly professional staff members. (I have no affiliation with either joint.)

These games offer poker players in Las Vegas an excellent opportunity to experience PLO at an ideal level: a bit higher than the micro-stakes you might play in a social home game, but much lower than the big PLO games portrayed by Lyle Berman in “Super System 2,” which have blinds ranging from $50-$100 to $1,000-$2,000.

It’s commonplace for PLO games to spring up around major events such as the World Series of Poker, but it’s an encouraging sign for PLO fans that these games have been running regularly even without a big tournament in town.

Besides Ferguson’s accurate assessment of PLO as a game that presents a good gamble regardless of your personal style as a poker player, I find it a refreshing antidote to the same-old, same-old of the no-limit Texas hold ’em grind.

Perhaps thanks to the action-oriented nature of PLO, even the table talk typically tends to be more colorful and animated compared with a hold ‘em table.

Recently, for example, I witnessed a sublime example of “needling,” or getting under the opponent’s skin. Two players were battling for a pot after everyone else had folded, and one player announced that if he won the hand he would temporarily quit the game to go and buy a new pair of headphones — using the money formerly owned by his opponent. He did win, left, lit out for the Apple Retail Store and returned later in the day proudly wearing his new $299.95 headphones. The loser of the pot, who had “paid” for them, took the ribbing in good nature, to his credit.

In another recent PLO game, I listened to a devastating, heartfelt critique of American foreign policy from an Iraqi gentleman at the table which, due to its personal nature, was far more powerful than any cable news commentary or Michael Moore film.

Back to the hand in question: We agreed to run the board twice (players often have the option but not a mandate to do so in PLO), and the guy with two kings ended up scooping the entire pot. He was just 27 percent, the underdog in the three-player race, before the flop.

Alluding to Ferguson’s description once more, I mentally relegated this particular opponent to the category “likes to gamble too much.”


Based in Sin City, Jeff Haney maintains an archive of previously published work at sophisticatedmaniac.com.

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