Short-handed poker play

In this section you will learn:

What are short-handed games?

Short-handed aggression-filled cash games are by far the most popular games on the internet at the moment.

With only six players, these are action games and you need to become an action player if you want to succeed. You can't just sit around and wait for good hands if you want to come out ahead, especially as you leave the lower stakes behind. You must play a wide range of hands aggressively.

How much money do you need to play?

If you watch the players at the higher limits, you will see players raising and re-raising each other pre-flop all the time. Frequently, they will get all their money in on or after the flop – sometimes with fairly dubious hands.

Because of this, the demands on your bankroll are much higher as the variance in these games can be huge.

If you plan to play mid to high-stakes poker you should already be thinking of a bankroll in terms of 30 buy-ins or more. If you regularly play in six-handed games at stakes of $5/$10 or above then a sensible bankroll should be in the region of 50 buy-ins. This is because it is usually the most aggressive players who win the money. They do this by forcing their opponents to fold when they have a marginal hand with an aggressive image that allows them to get paid-off when they do have a big hand. In the biggest online games, everyone knows this. So, it becomes a battle of aggression with each player trying to get the others to back down, allowing them to take control.

Starting positions

Suited connectors, face cards and medium pairs are all non-premium hands that you should be re-raising loose-aggressive openers with some of the time. This balances the times you raise with a big hand such as aces or kings. You should also be calling with these holdings to keep your opponents guessing about where you are in any particular hand.

You should almost never be open-limping from any position. Raising three to four times the big blind – with any hand you want to play – will give you the impetus to win the pot by continuation betting the flop if you are called. If you are not called, you will still have taken down the blinds without a showdown.

Similarly, you should not make a habit of passively limping behind another limper pre-flop. If they habitually do this, you should be raising with any type of playable hand to around five times the big blind, in position, to isolate them. Be prepared to continuation bet the flop if faced with a call.

What happens next?

As suggested, most pots will have been raised or re-raised before the flop. So it is standard practice for the last raiser to continuation bet. However, the higher the limits you play, the more you will see people reacting to this strategy by floating (calling with a weak hand in position hoping to take the pot away later), bluff-raising or smooth-calling with any made hand.

To counteract this, you will need to mix your continuation bets with check-raises and check-folds in order to keep your opponents off-guard. You should also float more yourself against opponents who have shown an ability to fold in the face of turn aggression. As always in these games, the key is to play the players far more than the cards you are dealt.

The turn and river are interesting streets in single-raised pots, as with 100 big blind stacks a player who raises pre-flop and bets close to the pot on every street will usually be able to get their stack all-in by the river. For this reason – and because continuation betting is so prevalent – you also need to be double-barrel bluffing against persistent opponents on the turn a decent percentage of the time (especially when the board changes or you pick up outs).

You also need to follow through on the river with an all-in bluff often enough that it balances the times you value bet a big hand and puts your opponent in a difficult decision. If you follow this general strategy and play aggressively on all streets with well-balanced frequencies, you will be a formidable opponent.