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  • September 20, 2020

Poker strategy: Introduction to Short Handed Texas Holdem

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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.
Shorthanded play as a poker table where there are 3 or 4 people. I think the 5 or 6 person table is right at the threshold where things start to change so I want to discuss the real thing — full fledged shorthanded texas holdem poker.
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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.
You’ll never been a good tourney player unless you can play well heads up or with just a few other players at the 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.
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Hand Selection
Instead of giving hand grouping tables, I’m going to try to teach a conceptual approach to hand selection in these types of games. Let me first explain the pace of these games.
Normally you’ll have a raise preflop and the big blind will call. The raiser will bet the flop and the turn regardless of what they have. The majority of the time this is how it goes, the other time is split between someone reraising preflop or everyone folding to the raiser.
There are different types of games and I’ll explain those later but by and large this is what you’ll find. Because of this constant attempt at stealing the blinds you’ll need to adjust your perspective on what a good hand is.
Notice how the preflop raiser has a lot of ways to win — he can steal the blinds, he can flop the best hand, or he can bet out the person who just called.
Calling is always a weaker play because it forces you to either hit a flop (which doesn’t happen that often) or you can try to bluff which can lead to a big mess if you aren’t careful.
And if you do call down and win, it won’t be a very large pot.
So the hands that you will be willing to raise preflop with and bet will be different then the hands you will call someone else’s raise with preflop. The ideal hands are hands that do well when all the cards are out.
Try an experiment the next time you are watching TV. Get a deck of cards out and deal two hands — look at one of the hands only. Then deal the flop out, the turn and the river. Before the flop, guess whether you’ll beat the other guy when all the cards are out.
What you’ll notice is that a good portion of the hands are won with only a high card. So first off, hands that include an Ace are great. Next, you have hands that include a King (K5, K6, K7, …). Being suited helps, but most of the time it won’t come into play so it doesn’t add that much value.
Hands that can also work together to win in more ways then just catching pairs are helpful, hands like J9, T8, QT, Q9.
Obviously, any hand that you normally consider good in a ring game is great in a shorthanded game. High card strength is first along with pairs (like 55, 88, 33 even). How aggressive you’ll bet with these hands depends on your opponent and the flop.
In short handed and heads up poker the goal is to have the initiative, the betting, and force the other person to make a hand to beat you. If they let you do that, you will win in the long run.
If they get tricky and start making plays on you, then you’ll have to play tighter and more carefully.
So the good hands are any ones you would normally play in a full game (KJ, KQ,99, all those), any hand with an Ace (A4, A7, A3, etc), then any hand with a King (K7, K9, etc), and any pairs.
There are other hands you can play profitably too out of the blinds or against weak players and those include connected cards or suited cards – remember that you’ll need to hit flops to win these or bet your opponent out.
Examples of these hands would be 97s, T6s, etc.
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