Online poker strategy guide - Playing in short handed games

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Online poker strategy guide - Playing in short handed games

We have noticed that an increasing number of online poker games are now offered in a short handed version, allowing often a maximum of six players. Many of the pokerpistols strategy articles on playing online poker are oriented towards full - or almost full - 10 player tables. Even though much of the poker strategy advocated on this site applies in general, long or short handed, we would like to emphasize what kind of changes you might experience when you move from a long handed to a short handed game.

Who are attracted to short handed games?

First let us investigate what kind of players are attracted to these short handed games. It is true that you have to play more hands in short games in order to create value for yourself. However this is used as an excuse for bad and overly aggressive players to play too many hands. They fool themselves into believing that applying an aggressive style of play will lead to either many pot steals or at least head up situations. Even though these effects will occur when you play aggressively, you will still have to play against better hands again and again. This is not profitable in the long run. Further putting a lot of money in the pot when you are behind, will lead to large swings in your bankroll. You have to spot these players and capitalize on their aggressiveness. As always not to punish the aggressors, but simply to take advantage of the situations they create. Besides of the players who look for more action and a justification for playing more hands, there are also another type of players who are attracted to short handed games. This type is a dangerous one: it is your type! What happens if six players like yourself decides to play the same shorthanded game? You will sit down and each play good common sense tight aggressive poker, and think the others are just aggressive players, whom are trying to get it heads up or steal. On average you are not going to gain or loose anything, but you will get a lot of more volatility. And off course as a serious poker player you know this is only bad, it will lead to a lower survival probability of you bankroll without any corresponding gain. Watch out for this situation!

How to play

Even though it is used as an excuse for bad and aggressive players to play too many hands, you have to realize, that you have to play more hands in a short hand game than in the long handed game. It is also important that you understand, that the kind of hands that is going to pay you off on a (suitingly aggressive) long handed table is not going to give the same kind off implied odds in short games. When the number of hands shorten, the value of high starting cards increase dramatically. If you get top pair on the flop, you will not have the same worries about being beat or outdrawn against one or two players as if you are playing against perhaps five or six others on a full table. If you draw towards a straight or flush, you will often not get enough value in expected return to justify it. The semibluff doesn't seem as powerful a tool if you are almost shure that one opponent will call to the end. (This is often the case on the types of tables we suggest you play on). Only if you have AX suited and hit nothing we suggest you try the semibluff technique. Why? because of the triple-combination of positive outcomes. You combine the possibility of you being ahead, with the (small) possibility of a steal with the possibility of actually improving your hand by hitting either the flush or perhaps just the ace. So you should loosen up, and try to either steal on or at least get the following hands heads up: 55 - AA and in late position all pairs. You should also play (aggressively) all AX combinations. Stop pushing if somebody raises you back, but don't give up either with a strong starting hand in a two way pot - this is what your opponent wants you to do. Do not play any two cards and hope that the others will fold or that you get it heads up against another bad hand. Wait for a relatively strong hand (at least AX) and be ready to take it to showdown.

And in the end just a small reminder that all of the normal things you should always consider when playing poker still applies in short handed games. See Texas hold'em online poker strategy guide III - especially point 2: Position.

Written by Smith Jones - a writer at

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