• July 24, 2021

Playing Short Handed – 5 to 6 Players

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Shorthanded play is considered to involve 6 players or fewer and requires a different strategy to longhanded games.
The blinds come around much more regularly which means you are committing a greater percentage of your stack to see the same amount of cards as you would in a longhanded game. In order to survive, you must lower your starting hand requirements significantly in order to play a wider range of hands, shrewd opponents will be doing the same which means the table plays looser and allows you to lower your requirements without fear of always having the worst hand; basically substandard hands win more frequently because the standard has dropped.
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Hands that possess great value in a longhanded game like a suited connector lose their value somewhat because shorthanded games struggle to supply sufficient pot odds to correctly draw to them. High value face cards increase in value because they are much more likely to win without needing to improve, any ace with a half decent kicker becomes a very attractive hand shorthanded and well worth raising pre flop with. Any pair, especially medium and high ranked pairs also increases in value because invariably it will be the best pre flop hand at the table and raising with them is more likely to get opponents to fold.
Aggressive play is well suited to shorthanded games; in a longhanded format it is often correct to only play 15-25% of the hands dealt to you, but in a shorthanded game where you are either in the blinds or button over 33% and 16% of the time respectively, it is appropriate to raise the level of aggression in your game, most likely your opponents will be making the same adjustments.
With so many factors dictating you to play more aggressively, position takes on a more important role than in a longhanded game; your opponents will be gambling a lot more often and you should be aware they are likely to make more positional moves, as should you. The value of middle pair, or even bottom pair on the flop increases too; where it is sensible to release middle pair in the face of aggression at a 10 handed table, you should be prepared to stick around with such holdings in a shorthanded environment, especially if your opponents have proven themselves to be loose and aggressive.
Caution is advised though, because of the drop in standard, it is far easier to become committed with a substandard hand. Shorthanded play involves a lot more gambling than longhanded play, but this doesn’t mean there’s significantly less value in laying down a made hand
Success in shorthanded games where the maximum number of players at a table is six rather than the traditional 10, requires a very different skill set than that which triumphs in more traditional tournament settings.
Taking it slow is out the window:
Where 10-handed (or ring-style) tournaments reward patience, shorthanded tournaments play fast and loose. This is because the blinds are coming around at a relatively quicker pace. For instance, at a six-handed table, a player is forced to contribute to the pot as a blind bettor one-third of the time. On the other hand, a player is only forced to partake in the action through the blinds one-fifth of the time at a traditional table. Therefore, action is forced almost twice as often at short tables! For this reason, patience is both inappropriate and unprofitable in shorthanded scenarios.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder:
A player will have to become comfortable with a wider variety of starting cards to succeed at short tables. The ring-game luxury of waiting for more premium starting cards is not similarly bestowed upon shorthanded players. Since shorthanded action is more frequently forced, the minimum bar a hand must pass to become playable is far lower.
The importance of foreplay:
Shorthanded play allows an attentive player to extract a lot more information about his opponents much more quickly than at a traditional 10-handed table. This is a simple result of the fact that with only five other players at the table, he will be witnessing the actions of his tablemates more frequently. Moreover, he will more regularly be able to play each of his opponents personally, thereby extracting even more information. A player’s goal should be to acquire as much information as early as possible. Therefore, I play more passively than normal for the first 20 minutes at a short table. Why pay to extract the information that I can garner for free by observing the forced play of the others at my table?
Get to kow your tablemates
the importance of knowing your tablemates is that once you have acquired information about the players at your table, tailor your behavior to their individual styles. If your opponent is passive, you want to apply pressure by raising and betting into him. If your opponent is scared, do not be afraid to make oversized bets in order to make him think his tournament life is at stake. If you face an inexperienced player, you want to exploit her lack of knowledge about shorthanded play by representing stronger hands than other, more experienced players would be willing to give you credit for at a short table.
In the end, there is no substitute for experience. So get over the hump and get out there already. He’s waiting. And fasten your seatbelt, because your courtship with shorthanded play is guaranteed to be the ride of your poker life.
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Steve Carr

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