Recent experiments on the Laboratory for Laser Energetics’ OMEGA laser have been carried out to produce strong shocks in solid spherical targets with direct laser illumination. The shocks are launched at pressures of several hundred Mbars and reach Gbar upon convergence. The results are relevant to the validation of the shock-ignition scheme and to the development of an OMEGA experimental platform to study material properties at Gbar pressures. The experiments investigate the strength of the ablation pressure and the hot-electron production at incident laser intensities of ∼2 to 6 × 1015 W/cm2 and demonstrate ablation pressures exceeding 300 Mbar, which is crucial to developing a shock-ignition target design for the National Ignition Facility. The timing of the x-ray flash from shock convergence in the center of the solid plastic target is used to infer the ablation and shock pressures. Laser–plasma instabilities produce hot-electrons with a moderate temperature (<100 keV). The instantaneous conversion efficiencies of laser power into hot-electron power reached up to ∼15% in the intensity spike. The large amount of hot electrons is correlated with an earlier x-ray flash and a strong increase in its magnitude. This suggests that hot electrons contribute to the augmentation of the shock strength.