When the Second Nuts in PLO is a River Fold

Time and time again the adage that Pot Limit Omaha (PLO) is a game of nutted hands is bandied about. But where does that leave the poor second nuts in PLO? In No Limit Hold’em (NLH), the second nuts is often a very difficult lay down on the river, especially when two exact (and unlikely) cards would be required of your opponent to make the nuts. In contrast, in PLO the gap in hand strength between the nuts and second nuts can be cavernous. As we discussed previously, you need stronger hands to win at showdown in PLO than NLH. But just how much stronger?

Recently, one of our OPT members sent in a very interesting hand. His take on the virtual advisor’s recommendation to fold the second nuts amounted to “Is that bot insane?”. At first blush, it sure appeared that way. But I programmed these advisor bots and I know I did not include insanity in the mix! So let’s take a look at this hand, then discuss how nutted a hand needs to be to call a big river bet.

The Hand

Our hero is in the big blind of a 6-handed $5/$10 PLO cash game. The Villain (Player 5) in the cutoff raises to $35 and everyone folds to our Hero. He looks down at a double-suited hand that contains an ace. Pretty standard call in this situation which is exactly what our Hero does. This leaves $75 in the pot and the players have similar stack sizes behind (90+ BBs).

The flop rewards our Hero by pairing his ace and giving him a nut flush draw. Our Hero wastes little time and bets out for two-thirds pot and our Villain obliges with a call. There is now $175 in the pot.

The turn settles everyone down when a Q♣ appears and there is a civil check-check leaving the pot at $175.

The river card completes our Hero’s flush draw and leaves the board unpaired. Our Hero bets three-quarters pot and I imagine is hoping that the Villain can’t get away from a slightly weaker flush.

Well – surprise, surprise – the Villain goes over the top with a raise.

From our OPT member’s account this is when he takes a moment to think. He decides to see what the advisor’s take is. He is shocked to see his advisor say….Fold! So, the advisor thinks the Villain is holding exactly 85, the only hand that beats our Hero. How likely is that?

Our Hero is having none of it and shoves.

The Villain whimpers and quickly folds and the Hero rakes in a nice pot.

Analysis of Advice to Fold the Second Nuts in PLO

First of all, this analysis is not to critique our OPT member’s play. He was clearly quite successful in his decisions at every point in the hand. The focus is on how the advisor got to a fold suggestion when the Villain raises on the river. When the Villain raises, that puts $734 in the pot. The Hero’s call would be $295 to go to showdown. To be profitable, that means the Hero would need to be right on a call more than 28.7% of the time ($295/($734+$295).

The advisor, therefore, thinks that the Villain is holding exactly 85 71.3% of the time or more to justify this fold. We need to look at what other hands the Villain could either be 1) betting for value or 2) bluffing with. We also need to examine how likely it would be that he holds 85. This will give us the information as to how many hands, other than the nuts, would motivate this raise.

What Value Hands is He Betting with?

In terms of value hands: are there any at all?

Is the Villain raising with the king-high flush? Perhaps in NLH you’d see this move, but in PLO with all the A with another heart combos the Hero could have, this would be very shaky. Beyond that, there are no hands he value raises on this board, not straights, sets, or two pair hands.

In short, there is a near-zero chance he has any value betting hands in his current range (except for the nuts). But let’s give this 5% just to allow for some variation in play.

What Bluffs is He Betting With?

What is interesting about this hand, is what the Villain can’t have in their range. On the one hand, because the Hero holds the 3 the Villain can’t have one of the two straight flush possibilities of course, so that’s a value hand dropped. But, most importantly, the Villain can not be bluffing with the naked A because the Hero holds it. If the Villain held the A then he can more confidently bluff at this board, knowing the Hero can not have an ace-high flush.

So the likely bluff options that remain are non-flush hands that hold either the 8 or the 5. The Villain at least knows he blocks the straight flush holdings of the Hero and can represent the nuts on this board, or represent other holdings if indeed the Hero does not have the ace-high flush. But that is a very bold bluff and takes some significant acumen and guts to execute.

But we can probably throw about a 10% chance out there that this is indeed a bluff with one of those straight flush blockers in his hand.

How Can He Be Holding 85?

In NLH, putting exactly 85 in the Villain’s hand, especially given the preflop 3.5x raise and the flat call on the flop, is very difficult to do. But in PLO there are many ways these two cards could be among the four hole cards.

The Villain could have opened raised with rundowns like 87♠6♠5 or 87♣6♣5 or even weaker with the middle cards not being suited or one-gapped double-suited such as 9875

He could have hands such as A♣A85 or KK♠85.  As for the flop call, with the rundown, they have many straight and flush possibilities. Pocket aces of course flopped a set and would continue and KK holdings may as yet not want to concede the Hero has an ace (especially with having outs to a flush and straight).

The Total Calculation

So if we give the Villain a 5% chance of making a poor bet with what they consider a value hand (King-high flush and worse) and a 10% chance they are bluffing with an 8 or 5 in their hand, that leaves us at about a 15% chance this raise is not what it looks like – which is the nuts. That’s nearly half of the odds needed to justify this call which still leaves a lot of room for some other odd bluffs or strange value bets and this still to be a fold.

In our exploration behind the scenes, after our OPT member brought this hand to our attention, we discovered that the sneaky little bot indeed had the 8. We commend both the bot for its boldness and our Hero for not buying it!

Final Word on the Second Nuts in PLO

Folding the second nuts in PLO is worthy of consideration when your opponent wants to play for stacks. The hand combinations that can exist that can hold the cards that produce the nuts are just so much more plentiful than in NLH. When time allows, if you logic out what hands may act with such aggression for value bets and bluffs, you may find there are fewer than you may think.

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