Sam epitomizes everything that we have come to hate about professional poker players. He is young, cocky, doesn’t give a damn about the value of his money, and sports longish curly hair and a ruthless beard that is somewhere between the hipster generation and the I-don’t-give-a-fuck generation.
While I don’t think I’ve ever seen him drunk at the table, he always seems to have a beer at the ready during his occasional 24-plus hour-long sessions at the PLO table. He is constantly arguing with the fish at the table, defending his seemingly random holdings that always seem to include a seven and a deuce, yet magically make the nuts or near effective nuts at least twice an hour in a game that only deals about 15 hands every 60 minutes.
Learning from Sam
Though he was playing about 75% of his starting hands, he never 3-bet any hand that didn’t include two aces, yet was always getting action by the guys who couldn’t wait to run him down with the same caliber of garbage that he was playing. At the time, I wouldn’t have classified myself as a good player at the competitive level, but I was still trying to emulate the strategy outlined by the likes of Jeff Hwang in his excellent — though perhaps somewhat outdated — entry book on PLO. While I was scrambling to find four cards that coordinated well together and playing about 30% of the total hands in this loose passive setting, Sam was consistently pulling down three and four-figure pots to the tune of about $800-$1,000 a day in our $2/$2 and $5/$5 game.
To soothe my ego, it was easy to sit back and be happy with the $300-$400 per session that I was making at the time, knowing that when the time came to move up or take my game online, Sam would get dump-trucked by the superior competition and I would slowly edge my way up to high stakes. Hell, everyone privately acknowledged that I was the best player in the game, or if not, they at least admired my discipline. Other than the one time that I lost $600 with aces full to quad fours, I always got the money in good AND managed to pull off sick bluffs and showing nearly every one of them in order to keep getting the action I needed to make money in this game.
That being said, while I do hold my own share of the narcissistic pie, I’m only fully delusional about once a year during a short-lived bipolar manic bender. I may have been the best player at the table, but Sam was clearly the best player in THIS GAME. Even worse, he never missed the opportunity to call me a nit whenever I sat down. Sam and I were frenemies, so to speak. I recognized his brashness from the days of my poker youth when I was just getting started in hold’em and he recognized the fact that I was a good veteran player.
It may have just been friendly teasing, but he still managed to get under my skin. I honestly wouldn’t have cared if he wasn’t crushing the game so damn hard and I’m not afraid to admit that I was envious of his success. Rather than continue to hope that his four random cards would crash and burn under the weight of my premiums, or at the very least, he would get rolled for $4,000 by the thug life lurking in the parking lot at what has since become derogatorily known as MGM Detroit, one day I just decided to do the unthinkable…I asked him how he did it.
Sam was outside in the smoker’s area one day this year when I decided to join him for our shared love of nicotine. Sure enough, he smiled when he saw me and went, “there’s the table nit!” After a brief exchange of cordial “fuck you’s,” I asked him how exactly I could or should loosen up. After all, I pointed out, he was playing nearly every hand. I wasn’t sure his answer would have any value, but I also knew that since he was also at least a somewhat winning hold’em player with reasonable poker knowledge for someone his age that he did put some stock into playing Omaha hands that could develop into big pots.
“I just play any two straight cards and screw the other two!”
I was both awed and appalled. This advice was both shockingly simple and absurdly stupid. But yet…it made sense. Let’s digress from Sam’s degenerate biography and start to break down his pot limit Omaha words of wisdom. First off, soft live PLO games aren’t theoretically different from hold’em. While you need a much stronger hand to bet or take down the pot, you AREN’T witnessing the game as described by Jeff Hwang. In his words, an eight out nut straight draw is a sucker draw, as 13 out straight draws are the norm. Further to the point, it is common wisdom that any non-nut flush draw is suicide because not only will king high or less flushes get clobbered, it’s because you can’t expect to get any value from them either.
This simple analysis of the game is incorrect in the average PLO setting. When I say the game plays like hold’em, well…it’s because the game plays exactly like hold’em, minus the distinct feature that few players will ever 3-bet anything less than aces or even good four card kings. After the flop, even decent hold’em players will felt with their aces in heads up or three-way pots, but that’s not their biggest downfall, as this can’t be expected to happen very often, even in a version of hold’em played with four cards. Their biggest problem is that few of them can distinguish the difference between how weak sets, top two pair, or non-nut straights play between the two games.
A fresh look at PLO
Let’s take this a step further and see how this translates to how players value their starting cards. The biggest fish in PLO are fish in every other game, including hold’em. And what does the average fish in hold’em love to do? That’s right; they play pocket pairs or suited aces from any position and usually for a raise. This means that you will often see guys go crazy with K822 on a multiway JT2 two-tone flop. While I disagree with Hwang that a hand like KQ88 double suited with a lone straight draw is necessarily a sucker hand, pumping tons of money into bottom set on a board like this is the fastest route to the homeless shelter.
That being said, even in Omaha, set over set confrontations are not all that common. PLO is said to be a game of straights, and that is where Sam’s advice truly begins to start making sense. In soft PLO games, you can expect to get paid with a straight far more often than you can in hold’em. We all know that in hold’em, binking a straight is often better for pay off potential than hitting a set, as cards that cluster around a straight tend to make good second best payoff hands like two pair. Should you be concerned about getting freerolled when making a straight with crappy side cards, you need not worry, as your average PLO twat is playing looser than Sam preflop. To boot, in PLO, if you make a straight, there will frequently be second best straights and two pair combos that will be shipping you the pot.
Let’s modify Sam’s simple advice a little bit. I would start by buying in for the minimum. In our local game at MGM Springfield, that would be 100 big blinds. Play a fully coordinated Jeff Hwang style up front and tend to limp with everything, including aces. If you do have aces, just limp and ship for the maximum vs. a raise and then ship the flop if there is anything left behind. Otherwise, just check them down if you don’t hit. Soft PLO players tend to check down everything less than two pair and only bet with super draws.
In middle position after a few limpers, start to head towards Samville and play any suited ace or three coordinated cards nine and up and disregard any dangler, as your starting hand combined with added skills should be more than enough to crush your opponents and their nearly random holdings. In late position after several limpers, go full tilt Sam and play any reasonable suited king, any pocket pair nine or higher, or any two straight cards eight and up. Then just draw to the nuts and crush or passively try to hit your flush or play my nitty bluff and show strategy to grab those orphan pots.
In sum, these easy PLO games shouldn’t really be thought of as PLO. While Sam may be a total douche at the table and in life in general, he really did crack the code when he started viewing the game as “Crazier Pineapple”. In case you don’t know, Crazy Pineapple is really just a lame version of hold’em that no one plays where they deal you three cards and you discard one.
According to Sam, in PLO they are dealing you four cards, and rather than viewing them as six unique combos of hold’em hands, you are just discarding two of them. Thank you Sam for making this such an easy game!