Will Omaha Poker Lose its Popularity in 2014?

TAGs: Lee Davy, Matt Ashton, pot limit Omaha

Short-Stacked Shamus wrote a nice piece back in May 2008 entitled: “Is PLO the Game of the Future?”

It was inspired by an episode of the once mighty PokerRoad Cash Play Podcast where the host Bart Hansen was interviewing Brian Townsend about the Ferrari of Poker.


Hansen posed the same question, but Townsend never gave him a direct answer. Perhaps it’s because poker players are so used to saying ‘it depends?”

Six years later and we are now in that proposed future. As it turned out Omaha poker didn’t become the game of the future. It just didn’t have the sassiness required to overtake No-Limit Hold’em (NLHE) at the top of the popularity stakes; but it did become the second most popular game in the world.

But is that still a true statement, or is Omaha Poker going to lose its popularity in 2014?

I sat down and spoke to the reigning World Series of Poker $50,000 Poker Players Championship Event winner, Matt Ashton, to ask his opinion on the matter; and this is what he had to say.

Most of your time is spent playing mixed games. So from your vantage point do you believe that Omaha Poker, and more pointedly Pot-Limit Omaha, is still the second most popular game in the world?

“When you look at the pure number of players in the game you have to say that PLO is still right up there as one of the most popular mixed games played by professionals and the fish and businessmen who are creating the action, but NLHE is still a very clear number one.

“Is it number 2? Well it has been for a long time, but it feels like Open Face Chinese (OFC) is taking over that honor. I’m not he best judge of how accurate that is, but it feels like it when I am in Vegas, or when I am with US guys on their phones. I believe that the lack of online poker in the U.S has really improved the popularity of the OFC app.

“I agree with those people who say that OFC is not a real poker game though. It’s missing the betting and bluffing elements. So I would say it’s closer to backgammon, or chess, in that regard even though the pieces you are using are the same as poker. I think that OFC is a great game and has all the elements required to be a popular game for a good length of time.”

Give me three other games that you believe have the potential to challenge Omaha Poker, and OFC, for that number two spot?

“2-7 Triple Draw is extremely popular game amongst high stake players. More people are gambling in those games (playing high stakes without really being sure if they have an edge) and I think the casual players like it too, but there isn’t a great volume of games lower down. I think the other two most popular are Stud Hi-Lo and Omaha Hi-Lo. They are still the two games you see thrown into every mix line up, in live games, and I think they’re popular with casual players because the edges are smaller (even if more consistent) and their money can stretch longer, or an upswing can happen more easily.

“The split pot games are also ones you can play without thinking as hard without losing that much of your edge, they generally have better atmospheres at the table too because of that. Not as tense as the big bet games can be.”

Why is 2-7 Triple Draw so popular?

“Equities run really close (more than any other of the 8-Game mix), drawing to make your hand is fun and variance is high…all good elements to a gambling game. At the same time there are extra decision points because of the draws and this adds to the skill edges to help the professional player. More information is retained too, because you don’t get to see what decision your opponent made on an earlier street – this keeps the game a little more pure if you like.”

Do you think it could ever overtake Omaha Poker?

“Even with those elements, making it the most fun limit game, big bet games where you are risking your whole stack are still the most appealing to the masses. Losing players are more likely to go on quick upswings too, even if not necessarily as prolonged as 2-7. Also the simplicity of a game is important to how popular it is, 2-7 is still a fair bit more complicated than PLO on the surface.”

What is 2-7 was only played in No-Limit form?

“That’s a really interesting one to me. I thought it might take off at the beginning of the year with the nosebleed action. At a professional level, at high stakes, I can see it rising at some point and becoming very popular. But at lower stakes, and to a wider audience, it will never gain that much popularity in my opinion.

“I’ve only played the game a small amount so can’t be as confident in those answers, but I think it actually requires nut-peddling to a degree, position is ‘too’ important and it isn’t correct to draw to your hand as often as in PLO. Often the correct play is to over bet large and I just don’t think the casual, or beginning player, would enjoy it as much.”

Online poker has a big say in determining how popular a game will be, and this is probably one area that OFC might struggle to compete with PLO for that number two spot. PokerStars have already ruled out the possibility of adding OFC games to its roster, because they believe it’s open to bot intrusion – a fact that didn’t stop Tony G from opening the world’s first OFC only online poker site.

In terms of live action, the World Series of Poker (WSOP), European Poker Tour (EPT) and World Poker Tour (WPT) all have a responsibility to push games other than NLHE. How well does Ashton believe these establishments are doing on this front?

World Series of Poker…

“I like the one big buy-in and one smaller buy-in philosophy. I actually thought Matt Glantz’s old blog post was pretty spot-on. The $1,500 game gets more casual players in, or convinces guys who don’t know the game that well, whereas the $10k’s have that extra ‘Championship Event’ feel about them that everyone loves

“Overall, I think they do a good job of improving the schedule each year, and get way too many complaints about structures, scheduling and stuff. I think trying $5k’s made sense, with the reducing poker economy and people’s bankrolls, but it just didn’t increase the fields like some expected.”

EPT’s and WPT’s…

“I’d like them to have more mixed games, but they are finding it difficult to attract the players. Even the 8-Game Mix at the EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo, only got 20-25 players; so it’s hard to push for more of those events when that’s the case.

“I think they do about as much as they can to offer it and keep faith to give the games a chance, but it requires enough people to afford, and be willing to play them, and that is hard with a decreasing poker economy. I think the US is the key where there is a bit more longevity in those games.”


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