Short Handed poker is normally defined as a table that has less than 6 people. A normal holdem ring game has 10 people. When it gets down to half of that amount then the dynamics of the game change. The same style that won with 10 people now is too tight for a shorthanded game.
It is a fun and exciting way to play and many of the top online winners excel at short-handed play. They prefer these types of games because they are less mechanical and, as such, involve an increase in psychological play and mind games with one’s opponents.
Why learn to play shorthanded?
There are four main reasons why you should learn to play shorthanded holdem and those are as follows:
The first reason is the money. Chips move much faster in shorthanded games then in ring games. If you know what you are doing you have more opportunities to milk the weak players — you get way more hands per hour.
Next, if you like tournament play then you need to be a good shorthanded player because there is only one winner at the end of the day and that requires you knock out everyone at the final table.
Third, if you have any desire to move up the stakes ladder to middle and upper limits you need to be able to play well shorthanded. Many of the concepts that make you a strong shorthanded player also make you a good upper limit poker player.
Lastly, shorthanded play includes many of the more fun aspects of poker (not just waiting around all day for your cards): betting, bluffing, raising, position, etc.
The key skill to possess for successful shorthanded play is aggressiveness. In shorthanded play, the price per hand is higher, you have to play more hands, and you have to play them more aggressively.
You need to be raising and re-raising with many playable hands in order to isolate a lone opponent and take the lead. In Limit Hold’em, and particularly in shorthanded Limit Hold’em, you must push very small edges and think about the money you will make in the long run by doing this.
You cannot allow a bad streak to affect you and make you scared of pushing. Basically, most hands worth playing are now worth raising with. This is a key concept in shorthanded Limit Hold’em, and is especially true when you are in late position.
In shorthanded Hold’em, the starting hands have a different value than they do in full-ring games. The small pairs, hands such as A-x, and big connectors like KJ and QT, increase in value, and small suited connectors such as 76s and 87s, decrease in value.
You will find yourself in fewer situations that involve top-pair and kicker trouble than you likely would in a full-ring game. And, your opponents will give action with hands like J-x on a flop of Q-J-3, so most of the time you can bet a Q-2 on this flop for value all the way to the river, whereas, in a full-ring game you would be very wary about playing this hand strong.
When you are in the blinds and the pot has been raised, you can worry a lot less about being dominated, and should instead focus on defending with many hands that you would have folded had the game been ten-handed.
You ought to mix-up your play by varying limping and raising with an assortment of hands. You should remain selective and not play hands like A-2 off-suit, K-9 suited, or worse. Essentially, you want a suited A-x, an A-9 off-suit or higher, a KQ off-suit, a QJ off-suit, any big suited connector like JTs, or pairs from sixes and up, and you want to frequently raise with them.
In late position, most hands become raising or re-raising hands. Even hands such as JTs can be a re-raising hand because of the extra value you will gain from taking the lead and having position. Generally, you can re-raise with basically any pair, A-x suited, or any big suited connector.
On the flop you must continue to play aggressively, especially if you were the aggressor pre-flop and it is a heads-up pot. Short-handed poker is mostly about winning pots by being aggressive with bluffs and semi-bluffs, in particular.
Most players will play any kind of flush or straight draw as though it was the nuts on the flop, and it is correct to do so in most cases. It takes experience and skill to know when to bet an unimproved AK for value on the river and when to fold top pair, and this is what you should set out to master.
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