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StrategyNo Limit

Short-handed Theory

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In this article

  • Short-handed Theory
  • Articles to help you improve your game
  • Factors that can influence your play

Your first experiences in poker should be made at the full-ring tables. But once you have spent enough time there, you will reach the point where you are ready for short-handed play (no more than 6 seats at the table).

This article will introduce you to the basics of short-handed play. You will also be given a number of other articles that go into further detail.

More action

You can expect to find a lot more action at short-handed tables. This is simply because you have 5 opponents at most. You will have to play with weaker hands more often to stay in the game.

You have to learn to play with a marginal hand. There aren't many hands you would raise with out of early position in a full-ring game, but will need to play significantly weaker starting hands when you are short-handed.

You can't avoid the action until you have a strong starting hand. You can't be afraid to show aggression and attack the blinds.

Before the flop - Your image

You can find a number of practical examples of pre-flop play and theory in the pre-flop articles. You find links below.

Your image is a decisive factor! You can't sit back and bide your time waiting for a strong hand before you get involved like you do in a full-ring game! In fact, you can't even follow a chart when you are short-handed, since your play depends so heavily on factors other than your own two cards.

When it comes to short-handed play, you want to be aggressive and to keep the initiative on the flop.


After the flop - tougher decisions

A lot of people will tell you there isn't much difference between full-ring games and short-handed play after the flop. This isn't really true. Knowing your opponent's "range" becomes very important. This is usually pretty easy in a full-ring game. You can imagine what a tight opponent might have after limp/calling from early position, and what it means if he then 3-bets on the flop.

Putting your opponent on a range is more difficult in short-handed play. An open limp is usually a sign of a weak player. If a good player wants to play a hand, he open raises. Anyone acting behind him is more likely to 3-bet. You can imagine how much wider the ranges must be.

You will rarely be able to interpret a 3-bet correctly. It could be a good hand, a marginal hand, or even a bluff. Bluffs are much more common in short-handed play. There is usually no way around it.

If you are sitting behind an aggressive player who open raises every hand, you are going to have to stand up to him. Your opponent will read you like an open book if you keep folding until you have a strong hand.

You are basically forced to throw in a 3-bet with a marginal hand now and then, preferably with a hand that won't be dominated if you get called. The articles below teach you how to play on the flop, turn and river.


Know your opponent

You need to pay more attention to your opponents and try to put them on hand ranges. Your post-flop play depends heavily on the range you assume to be facing. Standard contibets are not very effective, since you will usually get called.

Your opponents can't wait for a good hand any longer than you can. This makes "set mining", which is a part of many tight players' full-ring game, a meaningless effort.

Limp/calling with small pocket pairs won't be profitable in the long run, since you need to hit a set to start any action after the flop.

Statistics become increasingly important. Of course, you should always be paying attention to your opponents, even when you're not involved in the hand, but this is rarely possible.

A stat program, such as Holdem Manager 2 or PokerTracker 4 can take a lot of work off your shoulders and help you estimate your opponent's range more accurately.

A pre-flop raise, which would signal a very strong hand at a 10max table, this simply means that a player doesn't have implied odds in 6max.

If you play passively at 6 max table, your opponents will know you have a very strong hand when you suddenly do show aggression. You won't be able to stack your opponent often enough to make your strategy profitable. This is why you have to show aggression with marginal hands on the flop, as well.


The "theory" of post-flop play doesn't change much, but you have to pay close attention to your opponent. A flop raise doesn't necessarily indicate a strong hand; it can easily be a bluff or semi-bluff.

As a result, certain hands can be taken to the showdown more often. You will find more aggressive opponents at 6max tables. You will have to adjust your game to the more aggressive nature of short-handed games.

If, for example, you are facing an opponent who often raises with a draw, you can protect your top pair to the point of going all-in on the flop.

If the board is drawless, you should tend to see yourself way ahead/way behind and call down. You can and should tend to play somewhat more loosely than you would in a full-ring game.

Balancing and deception

This is an important part of balancing your lines and your deception. You don't want your opponents to be able to read you (deception) and know what kind of hand you are on. Deception isn't as important of a part of your full-ring game, since you will usually be more concerned with your own hand at a 10max table.

Naturally, your opponents at a 6max table will question whether or not you actually have a strong hand and will adjust their game accordingly. This requires you to take an opponent oriented approach. You won't find yourself making automatic decisions, but rather analyzing the situation at hand and asking yourself what your opponent might have.

There are two important points to keep in mind when putting this to practice:

First of all, you should play fewer tables. Making autocalls, raises etc. when multi-tabling in full-ring games without having a specific read on your opponent is one thing, but it's impossible to do so at a short-handed table. You should always be able to keep an eye on the table action and your individual opponents.

Observe how your opponents react in specific situations. These reads will help you the next time you are playing against that opponent.

Variance vs. bankroll management

One of the main problems with short-handed games is greater variance. This might not impress you much, but variance can have an effect on many aspects of your poker game.

This could be tilt! If bad beats tend to bring out an outburst of emotion or if losing your stack throws you off key, you will run into trouble at the 6max tables (at least in the beginning). Losing stack after stack isn't unusual.

You will run into a lot more situations in which you have to play for an entire stack with a marginal hand at 6max tables; there's simply no way around it.

This becomes a serious problem when you lose sight of your A game and begin making uncontrolled decisions. It's easier to make a lot more expensive mistakes. Try to stay calm in these situations and read the Psychology articles on tilt. They can help you diagnose a tilt phase and help you get out of it.

A combination of greater variance and the fact that players tend to lose discipline when the stacks are flying back and forth lead us to the well-loved subject of bankroll management.

Bankroll management has a number of purposes, but the most important one is, as always: not going broke! This is what keeps you alive throughout the inevitable downswings that every poker player has to deal with.

Don't let a tilt phase cost you a significant portion of your bankroll!

Of course, bankroll management can also help you stay off tilt. Play at a limit where losing a couple of stacks won't set you back too much. You know these losses are an unavoidable part of the game, so don't let them get to you.

You should always have at least 25 stacks when playing short-handed. If, however, you aren't the most disciplined player, you should have a few more. And even after you have gained experienced, never play a limit with less than 25 stacks in your bankroll.

What's left to say? Short-handed games are growing in popularity, you'll probably end up playing it sooner or later.

You can find a lot of weak players at 6max tables. They like being in the hand (rarely fold before the flop) and like the action. Full-ring tables are usually too slow for them.

Aside from facing more weak opponents at 6 max tables, you will also be able to find a larger number of short-handed tables. You will find more 6max than 10max tables available, especially as the limits increase.

Of course, you can always rely on the old truth, "Seek and you will find." There are full-ring tables at higher limits. But at some point you will probably be curious and want to give short-handed play a try ... and you might get hooked.


This article has shown you some of the basic differences between short-handed and full-ring play. Of course, when it comes to picking a game, go with the one that is the most fun for you.

If you've been playing full-ring for quite some time, you may want to give 6max a try. Just be sure you haven't missed anything in this article and give the pre-flop and post-flop articles a read before you get started.


Comments (19)

#1 blondekz, 23 Nov 09 10:53

nice one

#2 Muscamatei, 10 Dec 09 01:29

sh is much more fun, you can make big money if you pay attention to your opponents. It takes great skill and knowledge to be profitable in sh especially in the higher limits, when you will find yourself on constant 3 bet action. The range is larger can include even 57s , 9Ts,o any pairs 22 - AA. D Ont be afraid try sh...you will love it, and d ont forget BRM will save your life and money

Great article! Best learning system I've seen so far

#3 andreimgs, 12 Aug 10 08:20

I play only short handed games. Thanks for this aticle, I will read much more about the subject

#4 AngryJack7, 05 Sep 10 17:27

I play shorthanded games aswell,since Im very agressive at table I like em much more then full ring games...nice article tho!

#5 platar2, 14 Feb 11 13:37

Yes 6max games are more fun but until the variance gets you. Losing AA time after time, flush to full set over set than things start to happen and mr.tilt becomes yours best friend.(i speak for myself) The best thing is to stay calm and to pause a day or two to clear the head.

#6 jeni2384, 01 Apr 11 11:29

we have probably all experienced this at some point......personally i hae followed advice from poker strategy and done quite well in sh games

#7 jeni2384, 01 Apr 11 11:30

thanks poker srategy

#8 Tosh5457, 06 Sep 11 02:28

Bah you can (and should) still play tight on micro-stakes, it doesn't change much from FR as the article suggests.

#9 Huckebein, 06 Sep 11 17:01

Thanks for your feedback guys! You are right, that shorthanded is more fun but more challenging too. :)

#10 churchilland, 04 Nov 11 14:14

can't read beacuase im jsut a silver player, so i guess not a good choice to put this article on NL beginners course..

#11 kemaaar, 16 Dec 11 19:32

eh oui zincou

#12 payizan, 07 Jun 12 06:54

oh yeah...thnx

#13 eetwidomayloh, 27 Nov 12 14:42

I play only sh. Well, the range is wide but when you have JJ or QQ and you get reraise don't shove but call for set value. Almost allways in that spot you are up against KK or AA. Like i said i play only sh and i play it for a long time. Like, QJs is a good hand even for fr right? Well online hands decrease in value so be carefull. Otherwise good article but online is online.

#14 tintti56, 15 Nov 14 13:58


#15 toske1, 13 Mar 15 18:38


#16 mirth, 29 Mar 15 11:49

good explanation of the difference between full table and short-handed and the required strategy changes.

#17 ninety89, 30 Aug 15 05:27

Good explanation, easy strategy to follow help a lot pretty much just play short handed now.

#18 bubamarasr, 23 Jan 16 01:20

Read it. Thank you.

#19 adisalibabic, 27 Oct 16 01:03

I love poker