In high-low split, each player, using these rules, thus makes a separate five-card high hand and five-card ace-to-five low hand (eight-high or lower to qualify), and the pot is split between the high and low (which may be the same player). To qualify for low, a player must be able to play an 8-7-6-5-4 or lower (this is why it is called “eight-or-better”, or simply “Omaha/8”). A few casinos play with a 9-low qualifier instead, but this is rare. Each player can play any two of his four hole cards to make his high hand, and any two of his four hole cards to make his low hand.
The brief explanation above belies the complexity of the game, so a number of examples will be useful here to clarify it. The table below shows a five-card board of community cards at the end of play, and then lists for each player the initial private four-card hand dealt to him or her, and the best five-card high hand and low hand each player can play on showdown:
|Board: 2♠ 5♣ 10♥ 7♦ 8♣|
|Alan||A♠ 4♠ 5♥ K♣||5♥ 5♣ A♠ 10♥ 8♣||7♦ 5♣ 4♠ 2♠ A♠|
|Brenda||A♥ 3♥ 10♠ 10♣||10♠ 10♣ 10♥ 8♣ 7♦||7♦ 5♣ 3♥ 2♠ A♥|
|Chuck||7♣ 9♣ J♠ Q♠||J♠ 10♥ 9♣ 8♣ 7♦||Cannot qualify|
|Daniel||4♥ 6♥ K♠ K♦||8♣ 7♦ 6♥ 5♣ 4♥||7♦ 6♥ 5♣ 4♥ 2♠|
|Emily||A♦ 3♦ 6♦ 9♥||9♥ 8♣ 7♦ 6♦ 5♣||7♦ 5♣ 3♦ 2♠ A♦|
In the deal above, Chuck wins the high-hand half of the pot with his J-high straight, and Brenda and Emily split the low half (getting a quarter of the pot each) with 7-5-3-2-A.
Some specific things to notice about Omaha eight-or-better hands are:
- In order for anyone to qualify low, there must be at least three cards of differing ranks 8 or below on the board. For example, a board of K-8-J-7-5 makes low possible (the best low hand would be A-2, followed by A-3, 2-3, etc.) A board of K-8-J-8-5, however, cannot make any qualifying low (the best low hand possible would be J-8-5-2-A, which doesn’t qualify). Statistically, around 60% of the time a low hand is possible.
- Low hands often tie, and high straights occasionally tie as well. It is possible to win as little as a 14th of a pot (though this is extraordinarily rare). Winning a quarter of the pot is quite common, and is called “getting quartered”. One dangerous aspect of playing for the low pot is the concept of ‘counterfeiting’. To illustrate, if a player has, for example, 2-3 and two other cards in his hand and the flop is A-6-7, that player has flopped the ‘nut low’. However, if either a 2 or a 3 hit the board on the turn or the river, the hand is ‘counterfeited’ and the nut low hand is lost (the player still has a much weaker low hand however). This is why there is significant extra value in possessing the ‘protected’ nut low. To illustrate this, if the player has 2-3-4 in his hand his low is protected, i.e. if a 2 or 3 hits the board he still has the lowest possible hand. To lose the nut low in this case both a 2 and a 3 would have to hit the board on the turn and the river, an unlikely possibility. For similar reasons it is significantly better to possess the protected nut low draw over the low draw. For example, this could be having A-2-3 with a flop of 7-8-9-Q; any low card below 7 on the turn or river gives the player the best low.
- When four or five low cards appear on the board, it can become very difficult to read the low hands properly. For example with a board of 2♦ 6♥ A♣ 5♣ 8♠, the hand 2♥ 4♠ 5♠ K♦ is playing a 6-5-4-2-A (either his 2-4 with the board’s A-5-6, or his 4-5 with the board’s A-2-6–either way makes the same hand). In this situation he is often said to be playing his “live” 4, that is, his 4, plus some other low card that matches the board but still makes a low because the one on the board isn’t needed. A player with 3♠ 5♠ 10♥ J♦ is playing a “live” 3, for a low of 6-5-3-2-A, which makes a better low. However, a player with 3♣ 7♦ Q♦ Q♠ can only play 7-5-3-2-A low; even though he has a “live” 3, he must play two low cards from his hand, and so he must play his 7-3, and cannot make a 6-high low hand.
- Starting hands with three or four cards of one rank are very bad. In fact, the worst possible hand in the game is 2♠ 2♣ 2♥ 2♦! Since the only possible combination of two cards from this hand is 2-2, it is impossible to make low; since no deuce remains to appear on the board, it will be impossible to make three deuces or deuces full, and anyone with any matching card to the board will make a higher pair. Likewise, starting with four cards of one suit makes it less likely that you will be able to make a flush. Starting with four different suits yields no chance for a flush, and starting with four disconnected cards reduces straight possibilities. Computer analysis of the best starting hands has proven that the best starting hand for Omaha is A,A,K,K with both Ks suited to the As. For the Hi-Lo variation, the most valuable starting holding is A-2 (suited), A-3 (suited).
- Hands to avoid tend to contain mainly middle ranked cards, which are of little use for any low splits and which tend to generate lower pairs and sets, weaker flushes and lower straights and can be very expensive.
- Low hand ranks from best to worst: 5432A (‘the wheel’), 6432A, 6532A, 6542A, etc., 87654;