Shorthanded poker is played with six or less players at the table, making it necessary to give more action than you would in full-ring poker and forcing you to play more hands in order to win.
It is a fun and exciting way to play and many of the top online winners excel at short-handed play. They prefer these types of games because they are less mechanical and, as such, involve an increase in psychological play and mind games with one's opponents.
As well, they are able to win money from less skilled players more often than in full-ring games. This is mostly due to the fact that you play more hands and are therefore in a position to make more decisions when playing. And, remember, it is by making the correct decisions that a poker player makes their money.
In addition, the added psychological factors mean that you must adapt your play to the ebb and flow of the game, thus making it harder to provide general advice that will be true for most situations. And, while advising play is difficult in all forms of poker, it is especially so in short-handed play.
Basic Shorthanded Limit Poker Strategy
The key skill to possess for successful shorthanded play is aggressiveness. In shorthanded play, the price per hand is higher, you have to play more hands, and you have to play them more aggressively.
You need to be raising and re-raising with many playable hands in order to isolate a lone opponent and take the lead. In Limit Hold'em, and particularly in shorthanded Limit Hold'em, you must push very small edges and think about the money you will make in the long run by doing this.
You cannot allow a bad streak to affect you and make you scared of pushing. Basically, most hands worth playing are now worth raising with. This is a key concept in shorthanded Limit Hold'em, and is especially true when you are in late poker table positions.
In shorthanded Hold'em, the starting hands have a different value than they do in full-ring games. The small pairs, hands such as A-x, and big connectors like KJ and QT, increase in value, and small suited connectors such as 76s and 87s, decrease in value.
This is because in any given hand you have to worry less, for example, about someone holding a bigger ace when you hold an A-x, or a bigger king when you hold something like K-T. The problem with small suited connectors, however, is that if you do not improve you cannot win with them in a showdown, whereas with A-x or even K-x, that will frequently occur.
As well, you will find yourself in fewer situations that involve top-pair and kicker trouble than you likely would in a full-ring game. And, your opponents will give action with hands like J-x on a flop of Q-J-3, so most of the time you can bet a Q-2 on this flop for value all the way to the river, whereas, in a full-ring game you would be very wary about playing this hand strong.
With the small suited connectors, the pot will seldom give you the correct odds to play them pre-flop. So, for instance, say you are on the button in a five-handed game, even if both players acting before you limp-in, it might still be correct to throw them away. Instead, an occasional raise is probably a better play in order to vary your game.
When you are in the blinds and the pot has been raised, you can worry a lot less about being dominated, and should instead focus on defending with many hands that you would have folded had the game been ten-handed.
For example, in a full-ring game, holding an A-8 off-suit in the big blind when the under-the-gun player raises would result in an automatic fold against all but the worst players. However, in short-handed play, this is a hand that you would frequently re-raise with and seldom fold.
You ought to mix-up your play by varying limping and raising with an assortment of hands. You should remain selective and not play hands like A-2 off-suit, K-9 suited, or worse. Essentially, you want a suited A-x, an A-9 off-suit or higher, a KQ off-suit, a QJ off-suit, any big suited connector like JTs, or pairs from sixes and up, and you want to frequently raise with them.
In late position, most hands become raising or re-raising hands. Even hands such as JTs can be a re-raising hand because of the extra value you will gain from taking the lead and having position. Generally, you can re-raise with basically any pair, A-x suited, or any big suited connector.
On the flop you must continue to play aggressively, especially if you were the aggressor pre-flop and it is a heads-up pot. Short-handed poker is mostly about winning pots by being aggressive with bluffs and semi-bluffs, in particular.
Most players will play any kind of flush or straight draw as though it was the nuts on the flop, and it is correct to do so in most cases. It takes experience and skill to know when to bet an unimproved AK for value on the river and when to fold top pair, and this is what you should set out to master.