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Omaha Eight-or-Better at the Aria Poker Room

In the last few months of 2010, I've played a bunch of times in the $200-$400 limit mixed game in "The Ivey Room" at the amazing Aria Hotel in Las Vegas. The game is spread everyday at 1:00 pm by Jean-Robert Bellande, Tommy Fischer, and a rotating cast of characters.

This mixed game features seven different forms of poker: Texas Hold'em, 2-7 Triple Draw, Omaha Eight-or-Better, Seven Card Stud, Seven Card Stud Eight-or-Better, Badugi, and Badeucey, a popular action game that Bellande invented.

There's one particularly cool attraction about playing in "The Ivey Room"; you can order food from any of the five-star restaurants at the Aria Hotel -- for free!
Anyway, a hand came up recently that was so entertaining that I felt compelled to write about it, even though it was an Omaha Eight-or-Better hand. A well-known high-limit player named Cuco raised it up to $400 to go from first position. In third position, Luis Velador folded his hand. Then, he threw it over to Arturo Diaz in the fourth position to inspect, after Diaz had folded his hand.

Next, Jay Abujawdeh called from the button, I folded in the small blind, and my buddy Layne Flack called from the big blind.

I asked Diaz to see the hole cards that Velador had folded so he tossed me Velador's hand: A-2-J-9, all offsuit.

The flop came 9c-9s-5d. Flack, Cuco, and Abujawdeh all checked. Of course, Diaz and I silently chuckled at Velador's misfortune because he would have flopped trip nines had he not made a very fancy fold!

The turn card was the 3h. Flack bet $400 and Cuco and Abujawdeh each called.

The river was a king. Flack checked, Cuco bet $400, Abujawdeh insta-called, and Flack folded.

"You win," said Cuco. Abujawdeh waited for Cuco to showdown his hand, but instead, Cuco threw his hand into the muck. That's when Abujawdeh flipped over his A-J-6-2.

Cuco starting swearing as he angrily plucked his cards out of the muck. He continued to berate himself, muttering, "I had you tied! Why did I fold my hand for free? I never do that!"

Everyone chuckled at the absurdity of the situation as Cuco revealed his now dead hand: A-J-4-2.

Let's take a closer look at this hand.

Laying down A-2-J-9 in Omaha Eight-or-Better is definitely a controversial play. Most pros wouldn't fold this hand pre-flop in a $200-$400 limit game. To get an expert's perspective on this laydown, I called poker pro Mike "The Mouth" Matusow, known to be one of the best Omaha players ever.

Mike was certain that Luis Velador had an automatic folding hand. He explained that Luis had no choice but to fold because Cuco had raised it up in first position.

"Luis knows that Cuco is a super-tight player and that he really knows how to play Omaha Eight-or-Better. So, if Cuco raises from the first position, Luis must figure that Cuco has A-A as part of his hand, or maybe A-K-2," said Matusow. "And since A-2-J-9 offsuit can't make a flush, it plays poorly against A-A because you're drawing to only half of the pot."

Mike told me that there are only three players in the world that he'd fold A-J-9-2 to if he were raised from under the gun: Cuco, Mark Gregorich, and Scotty Nguyen. Against any other player, he'd definitely play those cards.

Matusow really loved Cuco's $400 bet on the river. In fact, he thought Cuco should have actually won the pot with that bet but Abujawdeh just made a flat-out great call. What makes the hand so funny, though, is that he waited for Cuco to fold his hand before showing his own A-J high!

"It sounds as if the kiddie-game is being played down the street at the Aria," concluded Matusow. Well said, Mike, well said.

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