Doctor Baklava or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Variance

Salim is one of the regulars at 5/10 Pot-limit Omaha at Motorcity. One day he said to me, “You’re a very sweet man…like baklava.” Mike, poker friend/PLO tutor, commented that my street ball name should be Doctor Baklava. Clearly I have Doctor Strangelove on my mind, but come to think of it Salim’s hair and glasses are a dead ringer for Peter Sellers’ in the movie:


Just make him Iranian and you’ve pretty much got the picture. Salim is a rather perceptive and tricky poker player done in by his quitting strategy. If he gets up he’ll quit, but if he’s losing he’ll play all day and night. Combine that with a serious tilt problem and it leads to a lot of +$1000, -$10,000 sessions.

But Salim’s leaks are minor compared to other players in the game. It’s easy to forget that there are many levels of badness at poker. The No Limit Hold’em players are “bad” in that they’re too passive, don’t bluff with the right hands, don’t value bet thinly enough, etc. But they’re experienced poker players. Most of them could beat up on beginners easily enough. You don’t see the kind of things you’ll see in a home game, like betting 10% or 500% of the pot, or randomly calling a river bet with nothing. You do see that kind of stuff at 5/10 PLO. People frequently misread their hand, or just don’t know the rules. For those reasons it became absolutely mandatory for me to learn the game.

I started playing micro-stakes online while frequently sending questions to Mike. I was struggling for awhile, but I’ve had some nice sessions recently and I’m hoping I’ve turned a corner. PLO is far more complex than NLHE because there are so many more hand combinations. In the past I’ve said that poker is simple once you know the right play. This isn’t really true of NLHE if you go deep, but it’s obviously not true of PLO. This is a nice thread to remind yourself how interesting poker can be, and how good the best players are.

PLO is notoriously high-variance, causing some people to say it’s just a game of luck. As with poker in general, the truth is there’s a lot of luck and a lot of skill. Certainly you can have a big edge against weaker players. It’s true though that PLO is far more of a gambler’s game than NLHE. When I played the following hand I had just read this assessment of high-stakes PLO pro (and, I just learned on his Wikipedia page, Finnish watersliding champion) Ilari Sahamies: “ilari can’t help himself from gambling to win huge pots but besides that aspect of his game he is very strong and plays very well. as far as leaks go, gambling to win huge pots isn’t such a bad one really.”

Merge Network $0.25/$0.50 Pot Limit Omaha Hi – 6 players – View hand 2067297

DeucesCracked Poker Videos Hand History Converter

EpicWestern (UTG): $52.49

6anista (MP): $50.00

Hero (CO): $53.45

werdgreb31 (BTN): $54.21

tigobitties1 (SB): $84.08

SpringFeast (BB): $94.85

Pre Flop: ($0.75) Hero is CO with 6 of clubs 4 of spades 5 of diamonds 7 of clubs

EpicWestern raises to $1.43, 6anista raises to $4.54, Hero calls $4.54, werdgreb31 calls $4.54, tigobitties1 calls $4.29, SpringFeast raises to $28.67, EpicWestern raises to $52.49 all in, 1 fold, Hero raises to $53.45 all in, 2 folds, SpringFeast calls $24.78

Flop: ($173.01) J of spades 2 of hearts 5 of hearts (3 players – 2 are all in)

Turn: ($173.01) T of hearts (3 players – 2 are all in)

River: ($173.01) 7 of spades (3 players – 2 are all in)

Final Pot: $173.01

EpicWestern shows K of diamonds K of spades 3 of spades Q of diamonds

Hero shows 6 of clubs 4 of spades 5 of diamonds 7 of clubs (Two Pair Sevens and Fives)

SpringFeast shows A of spades A of diamonds 6 of spades 4 of hearts

Hero wins $168.12

Hero wins $1.89

(Rake: $3.00)


Before it gets to me, EpicWestern opens under the gun and 6anista 3bets. I’ve played a lot of hands with both of these guys. 6anista is a very tight player, so I expect him to have a very strong hand to raise an under the gun open. EpicWestern should also have a pretty strong hand to open under the gun. I have a perfect rundown (four connected cards with no gaps) with a suit, which is a very powerful hand in PLO. I don’t figure to be a favorite against their hands, but there are very few hand combinations against which I’m a big dog and my hand plays well in position. I expect them to both be weighted towards high card hands, which is very good for me if it turns out to be true: they each hold cards the other would like to see, whereas my cards are still mostly in the deck, and flops that are good for me are bad for both of them. Anyway, I call. I don’t know if this is a great play, but I don’t think it’s bad. Trying to do something like this in NLHE, say cold-calling a 3bet with 76s, would be setting money on fire. PLO is much more forgiving to these kinds of gamble-y plays.

SpringFeast then puts in a cold 4bet from the big blind. SpringFeast is my friend Mike, who I’m now going head-t0-head with in this hand. His raise is unexpected, but not unwelcome. With this action and these stack sizes, he needs to have aces most of the time to make this play, which I actually don’t mind. What I’m really hoping for is he and someone else both have aces and I get it in three-way, a great spot for me. As it turned out EpicWestern had double-suited Kings. I call it off and end up getting all-in three-way with 34% equity and a decent chunk of dead money in the pot, making a tidy profit in expected value. This time around I make a junky two pair on the river and scoop the pot. Naturally it helps to be lucky.


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