By: Paul Hewson
Like any other sport, poker is all about making adjustments. Sharp players change their strategies to get the most value out of their opponents. The games themselves change, too. Poker used to be played with 20 cards; now it’s 52. Draw and stud poker used to be the norm; now it’s Texas Hold’em, which first popped up in the 1920s.
Texas Hold’em’s popularity will change, too. As people (and computers) get better and better at Hold’em, the need for more difficult games to play increases. That’s where Omaha comes in. It’s got the same rules and structure as Hold’em, but everyone gets dealt four hole cards instead of two. That’s like being dealt six starting hands in Hold’em, card removal notwithstanding. It’s going to be a while before anyone, human or machine, “solves” this particular game.
Do the Evolution
That goes double for Omaha Hi/Lo. This is a “split-pot” game where the lowest qualifying hand (five unpaired cards Eight or worse), if there is one, gets half the money. It already takes an extra layer of thinking to play Omaha; unless you’re a savant, you have to bundle starting hands into categories, rather than memorize exactly which two cards to open from every position. In Omaha Hi/Lo, conceptual thinking is even more important than rote play.
That’s exactly why Omaha and Omaha Hi/Lo are not only the games of the future, but of the present. As I write this, four professional players (Jimmy Chou, Dong Kim, Jason Les and Daniel McAulay) are getting thumped by Libratus, the latest in poker artificial intelligence. It’s only been a few days, so the sample size isn’t significant yet, but the players are doing a lot worse so far than they did against Claudico less than two years ago.
There’s been some hand-wringing over this competition and the effects it will have on poker – especially online poker – but we’ve been here before. Every poker game gets “cracked” at some point, then a more difficult variant comes along. It’s the early adopters who do best at the new games. Omaha and Omaha Hi/Lo are still relatively new; the sooner you jump in, the more of an edge you’ll have over your late-arriving opponents.