Starting Hands in Split-Pot Games

The WSOP offers a wide variety of games among its events, including several split-pot games.

Last night I was helping cover Day 2 of Event #47, the $1,500 Pot-Limit Omaha Hi-Low Split 8-or-Better event at the 2012 World Series of Poker. PLO/8 is a fast-moving game that sees lots of action. It also has a reputation as being a game in which only few players are truly expert. Thus did some note when the event attracted a whopping 978 players this year that there were likely many playing who weren't so knowledgeable about the game. Indeed, I remember overhearing a conversation between a couple of players late last night -- when they were down to just two tables -- in which one admitted he'd never even played PLO/8 before! Of course, even if a player doesn't have experience with PLO/8 specifically, having played pot-limit games, split pot games, and tournaments all helps prepare one for PLO/8. Other more general poker skills (reading opponents, understanding the importance of position, knowing pot odds, etc.) go a long way, too. If you find yourself in split pot "8-or-Better" games without having ever really studied how to play them, there are a couple of short cuts regarding starting hand selection that can not only help you get by, but even give you an edge over less skilled players or those whose experience is as slight as your own. The short cuts are easy to remember -- (1) avoid hands containing sevens, eights, or nines; (2) always start with at least an ace and preferably a deuce as well. There was an interesting moment yesterday when they had reached the absolute cash bubble. There were 118 players left, and the tournament paid 117. Hand-for-hand play had begun across all of the tables. Terrence Chan was in the big blind with just 2,000 chips, and he had to pay 800 of that for the BB. A player raised from under the gun, and it folded all of the way around to Chan. He checked his cards, then thought for a long while before folding. By way of explanation to the rest of the table for his fold, he showed a single card, the 9h. (Chan did make the money, by the way, his ninth cash at the WSOP this summer.) Experienced split-pot game players know nines are bad news. I've written about this before here in an article called "Sevens, Eights, and Nines in Omaha/8." There I explain further why these "middle" cards tend to kill most starting hands, mainly because they often help players make less-than-the-best high hands as well as mediocre low hands. Since your main goal in a split-pot game should be to scoop both the high and low halves of the pot, you don't want to be fighting with a hand that hurts your chances in both directions. I also saw players last night demonstrating time and again the power of the ace, almost never raising or risking their stacks with hands that didn't at least contain an ace, and often other low cards and suitedness, too. For example, there was one interesting hand that came up with about 60 players left between James "Flushy" Dempsey and Tony Kendall, a couple of English players who also happen to be friends. Both were below average stacks at the time, and meaning neither had much room for much betting after the flop. In this one, Dempsey raised from late position, then Kendall checked his cards and made a reraise from the blinds. The pair engaged in some humorous table talk while Dempsey decided what to do, and finally he called, making the total pot around 40,000. When Dempsey did, Kendall made a somewhat unusual play to bet the rest of his stack dark, pushing all 34,000 chips ahead before the community cards were even dealt. When they arrived 9h-10c-Jd, Dempsey and the rest of the table had to laugh, because they knew it seemed very likely that whatever hand Kendall had, that particular flop probably missed him by a wide margin. That's because most suspected Kendall would not reraise from out of position without an ace and probably a deuce in his hand. Now it is true that players will sometimes play four high cards in PLO/8 -- in fact, later in the event Kendall would finally bust on a hand in which he actually committed the last of his short stack preflop with Kd-Qd-Jc-10d. So it was possible that flop had hit his hand, but it didn't seem too likely. That 9h-10c-Jd was also probably unlikely to have hit Dempsey, and it must not have as he folded. When he did, Kendall saw me nearby and with a grin asked "Are you taking notes?" I nodded, and he showed two of his hole cards -- the 6s and 2c. While the table pondered aloud what his other two cards might be, Kendall continued to address me. "If you want the rest of the hand I can tell you," he said. "But not in front of the table." That got a laugh, plus a reminder to Kendall that they could always read my update. In fact, Kendall did talk to me sometime afterwards -- well after I'd posted about the hand -- and confided to me what his other two hole cards were. "Two black aces, of course," he said, and I nodded, not too surprised to hear his entire hand had been As-Ac-6s-2c (an especially strong PLO/8 hand). As I say, if you are new to games like PLO/8, Omaha/8, or Stud/8 and find yourself having to play a split-pot game -- say, in a rotation of games in which someone calls it -- you could do a lot worse than to follow these two rules for starting hands: (1) avoid hands with sevens, eights, or nines, and (2) stick with hands containing an ace and preferably a deuce, too. Join Betfair Poker Now.

If you find yourself in split pot “8-or-Better” games without having ever really studied how to play them, there are a couple of short cuts regarding starting hand selection that can not only help you get by, but even give you an edge over less skilled players or those whose experience is as slight as your own.

Short-Stacked Shamus,

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