There is one table in every casino that has a tendency of causing people to do a double take as they walk by. With only the odd exception, the players all have AARP cards slid next to their casino player club card in their wallet. the game looks different four hole cards, and they use different terminology like scoop, counterfeited, and emergency low. And sometimes there is a third blind in front of some random player sitting on top of a funny oversized button with the word KILL emblazoned across it.
You can tell by the look on their faces that the people passing want to stop and figure out what is going on, but like most poker players who fell in love with the game sometime after Chris Moneymaker’s 2003 World Series of Poker victory, they’re on their way to the $1/$2 or $2/$5 No Limit Holdem tables.
And that’s a shame as that mysterious table is probably the most profitable low limit game in the casino. I’m talking about Omaha 8 or better, usually spread at $2/$4 up to $8/$16, although these games tend to play much bigger than that, especially if they’re employing a kill button, which they almost always do.
For the most part, there are very few of these tables mixed within the sea of No Limit and Limit Holdem tables in modern poker rooms (The Orleans in Las Vegas is one exception), but make no mistake about, even with a preponderance of regulars, these games can be a goldmine.
The regs are somewhat loose, passive and a bit sticky
If you’re a somewhat tight, somewhat passive player (generally, I think this is the base style of play most people default to) you probably struggle mightily in No Limit Holdem games. However, if this is your baseline style of play, you’ll probably do ok in low-limit split pot games. This is why you’ll find a lot of the regulars in these games play a very vanilla style. They’re tight, passive, and don’t like to fold.
This style allows them to chew up the terrible players as they pass money between themselves. What they don’t realize is they are also handing over most, but not all of their winnings to the better players. They grind out a small win rate and are happy to do so without having to deal with the ultra aggressive No Limit players.
A common refrain from these players is, “This isn’t Holdem, you can’t come in here raising pre-flop.” The regs are right, you can’t treat Omaha 8 or Stud 8 like Holdem. But they’re also wrong in thinking pre-flop aggression is unnecessary, and this is why an Omaha 8 nit is much easier to exploit than a NLHE nit.
Playing against a table full of these passive regs is more than enough to make these games very beatable, but these games get real juicy on the weekends when a live one sits down.
The random Holdem convert
The interesting part of split pot games is how easily a single player can change the game dynamics. Just a single overly aggressive player can take the game from ok to great. That’s it. That’s all it takes. All you need is one player to raise when he shouldn’t even be calling, and you’ll have the chance to book a big win, and by big win I’m talking about buying in for one rack and cashing out with three plus.
In a No Limit Holdem game these players are usually isolated pre-flop and typically exhaust their supply of 100 dollar bills in short order. In a split game these players often back into half the pot and act more as a way station for the chips at the table – taking them from other poor players and the unlucky regulars and passing them on to the good players.
This single player usually results in the regs loosening up as they smell blood in the water, but they’ll never maximize their wins because of their unwillingness to play aggressively, especially pre-flop. Essentially, the regs simply start playing hands they shouldn’t.
The Kill button
There are two ways to look at a kill pot:
- Because there is more money in the pot you should be attacking the blinds with a looser range.
- Because you’re still only paying regular blinds to play in a game that is 1.5-2x higher stakes, you can tighten up even more.
The second point of view is the correct one. A kill pot is not a blind, it’s only paid by the lucky winner of a big pot.
The kill pot doesn’t change the amount of the blinds (only the player who won the pot is forced to play) so you should play even tighter since you get to play hands of $10/$20 while only posting blinds for a $5/$10 game – it’s a situation where you can wait for premium (or close to it) hands without fearing the blinds will eat away at your stack.
An extreme example of this is: what hands would you play in Texas Holdem if there were no blinds? The answer is simple, Pocket Aces. There is no reason to play any other hand.
Another benefit of kill pot games is the perception of big pots.
In a $4/$8 game each bet and raise on the turn and river requires four chips. This makes the pots seem much bigger than a $5/$10 game, since a three way capped pot on the turn will contain twice as many chips in a $4/$8 game versus a $5/$10 game. Generally you’ll see 60 chips in a pot at this point, and keep in mind there are only 100 in a full rack.
When you add the kill (even if it’s a 1/2 kill) you can quickly see why the pots in these games look massive – which encourages players to be even stickier than usual. an $8/$16 kill pot could quickly exceed a full rack of chips and get to two racks (try to visualize the size of that pot for a moment) at least a few times during a session.
If you understand how to play kill pots, you only need to scoop one of these pots every couple of sessions to be a huge winner in the game.