Short Handed NL Cash Games - 6 Max Cash Game Guide
Short-Handed NL Holdem Cash Game Strategy
While much has been written about 6-max and heads-up No-Limit Holdem strategy there are many situations in which you may find yourself at a short-handed table with 3 or 4 opponents. Successfully adjusting to short-handed cash game play involves an understanding of the table dynamic and tendencies of your opponents. Adjusting to the changes in the strength and distribution of hands is also key. This article looks at the main factors which affect your short-handed NL Holdem cash game strategy.
We start by looking at the distribution of hands in a short-handed situation, explaining why confrontations are usually between unpaired ‘high-card' hands and why draw-heavy flops are not as significant compared with the full-ring games. Next the increased value of position is covered, including an explanation of why this is more important when short-handed. Finally the characteristics of your opponents, and strategy adjustments required to benefit from these, are discussed.
When playing in short-handed NL Holdem poker games the chances of any individual at the table holding a premium (or even a strong) hand are significantly reduced. This means that a wider range of hands become playable - especially when first to enter the pot.
An illustration of the relative strength of hands can be made by looking at the chances of any player holding a pair pre-flop while 3-handed. The chance of any individual being dealt a pair is approximately 17/1. In a full ring game the chances of 1 or more pairs being present in a single deal is thus approximately 59%. Compare this to being 3-handed where this chance goes down to around 16% - that is an average of 1 pair every 6-deals.
This means that most raises and calls will be made with unpaired hands, usually containing one or more high cards. While unsuited high-cards can be a problem at a full-table (where they are more likely to be dominated), in a short-handed cash game they are likely to be the best hand - and should be played positively until your opponents show resistance.
Conversely, drawing hands have less value in a short-handed game. For example suited connectors are less playable (particularly to a raise) as the type of flop that helps these hands will rarely also hit a high-card playing opponent. Likewise suited or semi-connected flops are less of a concern, with so few opponents the chances of the exact draw you fear being present are proportionally smaller.
In a full ring game position has some advantages. Acting last after the flop will help you to win the most when ahead and lose the least when behind. You will also find more opportunities to pick up small pots uncontested after opponents show weakness. In a short-handed game position is far more valuable, even to the extent that this is of greater importance than the cards you hold. The short-handed game will see most players missing most flops, giving you the opportunity to take many pots uncontested from last position after the flop.
Finally the tendencies of your opponents, and their image of you, will affect your short-handed NL Holdem poker cash game strategy. It is common to find players at both the weak-tight and overly aggressive extremes when short-handed, either failing to adapt or ‘over adapting' to the situation.
Adjusting to weak-tight opponents who are playing similar ranges to a full ring game is relatively straight forward. Raise and raises some more, when they eventually play back at you it is safe to fold without a monster hand. Those small pots add up and by using the power of position you will take most of them against this type of short-handed player.
Overly aggressive opponents will require that you adjust your 3-betting range pre-flop and play positively after the flop. Avoid bluffing this type of player with ‘air', it is always useful to have some sort of a hand (or at least outs) in case they come over the top all-in. While an opponent running over a short handed table can be profitable, it is important that you feel comfortable with the adjustments to make - the flat call in position can be a powerful move as long as you mix powerful hands in with those times you do this simply to float.
Of course, most opponents will fall between these two extremes and many opponents will also have the ability to change gears depending on the situation. Staying observant and making notes of the hands shown down and betting patterns that lead to this can become invaluable in the short-handed game. Likewise staying aware of what you opponents are likely to think of you can be valuable. If you have raised the last 5 hands in a row when someone plays back at you then they are less likely to hold a monster than if you have been playing relatively tight.
To summarize, short handed poker occurs in a variety of situations. The key to successfully adjusting are an awareness of the changes in the relative strength of hands, the increased importance of position and the fact that adjusting to opponents is as important (if not more so) than the actually cards you hold.
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