Review: Omaha Poker

3 Star, Book Reviews

March 18, 2008

Author: Bob Ciaffone

Publisher: Self Published

There’s something very weird about Omaha players, and especially authors of Omaha books. They seem to be unable to view their game in the context of what’s really going on in the poker world. I have yet to read an Omaha book that doesn’t claim Omaha is “The Game Of The Future!” and “The Action Game!” or some very similar nonsense. I’m beginning to suspect the guys who write Omaha books just copy eachother’s introductions.

The reality is somewhat different. You’ll find 50 mid-stakes holdem games in Vegas for every one Omaha game. Omaha is the game of the future in the same way flying cars are the commuter vehicle of the future. At the time this book was published, Omaha did seem to have a slightly brighter future, but the intervening years have not been kind to holdem’s four card little brother. That said, there are still some excellent reasons to learn Omaha. First off, Omaha 8 is an excellent game for a professional player. It offers a high win rate for the stakes, and low variance. That combination is about as far from an action game as you can get, but it ought to make anyone who needs to grind out the rent every month very happy. Second, Omaha 8 appears in a lot of mixed game formats. These games can be very profitable since your opponents are on average less skilled at any one game. With the growing popularity of HORSE, it seems likely that there will be more Omaha 8 games spread in mixed formats than as standalone games. Third, pot limit Omaha hi has become popular online and in a few live cardrooms as a high stakes game. There’s no feeder structure of smaller live games like there is with holdem (I’ve heard of ONE mid-limit casino PLO game in Tunica) but if you do eventaully make it to playing high stakes PLO becomes an option. PLO really is an action game, with very small edges and huge swings.

So with that in mind, Ciaffone’s book is certainly worth looking at. This books has long been recommended as the canonical book for learning Omaha. The first thing you’ll notice about it is that it’s a VERY small book – about 120 pages in the revised edition. The next thing you’ll notice is that it covers 4 games – limit Omaha hi, limit Omaha 8, pot limit Omaha hi, and pot limit Omaha 8. Quite a few pages are devoted to the rules of Omaha, discussion of game structures, Omaha evangelism, and other assorted topics. When you do the math, that’s leaves about 25 pages per game. PLO8 gets only a short treatment, so the others get slightly more. Still, that’s almost a pamphlet-level treatment of each game. Don’t expect excessive depth here. In my opinion it’s unfortunate that the game which gets the most coverage, limit Omaha hi, is one that is almost never spread in the US, or online for that matter. I’m pretty sure they don’t spread it in Europe either – it’s in essence a dead game. I can understand if Ciaffone included it as background for Omaha 8 and PLO, but in my opinion the emphasis of the book is wrong.

The discussion for each game consists of several pages of exposition by Ciaffone on correct strategy, followed by a long quiz. Ciaffone structures his material somewhat strangely, in that he often introduces new concepts in the quiz questions. Much like Ciaffone’s other books, the material is in general accurate and well thought out, which accounts for the prety decent rating I gave. Some of it is very insightful. But there’s a real lack of quantity – I came away feeling like Ciaffone hadn’t really covered the material completely. The material also suffers from the fact that Omaha game structures have changed somewhat since Ciaffone wrote Omaha Poker. In particular, the blind, antee, and bring-in structures of Omaha games are now far more standardized than they were even in 2000 when this book was last revised. Unfortunately, Ciaffone’s preferred structures that he devotes the most time to are not the ones that have become standard. It’s also notable that Ciaffone is in essence advocating a medium to shortstack strategy for PLO by modern standards – he suggests buying in for “at least 40 bring-ins” which works out to about 80 big blinds in his favorite structure. That’s not very deep – a lot of online sites have a standard 250 BB buyin.

Another thing potential buyers need to know about Omaha Poker is that it assumes a fairly solid poker background, preferably in both limit and big bet games. Since most American players start out with holdem, this shouldn’t be a problem. But if you’re a European learning PLO as a first game, this book will be frustrating.

When you put all this together, Ciaffone’s book is interesting but not excellent. It’s in desperate need of revision and expansion to focus on the right games and modern structures. It’s still a good way to start thinking about the game, and most of his advice is correct, but it’s really only an introduction.

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