Playing Shorthanded Poker Games

Shorthanded Games

If you've read my piece about the REAL origins of poker, you'll know that when I invented poker, our very first games were shorthanded. I had a tough time convincing some of the other ocean-dwelling life that I, Hammerhead, had turned vegetarian and would like to invite them over for a new home game that I was working on.

I did, however, manage to stir up 3 brave aquatic souls for the inaugural game. We had a great time and I, of course, took down all the clamshells. Looking back, there were some advantages to playing such a shorthanded game.

First of all, I was able to firmly grasp their playing styles in my mind. I was able to focus more on my opponents, rather than always relying on my cards and position. Compared to the proper tight-aggressive style you should play in today's full ring games, I was also able to play a lot more hands and be in the action constantly. Of course, it didn't hurt that I was playing against a swordfish, a giant squid, and a stingray, as those breeds are notorious for playing bad poker. Next time you find yourself in a poker game with a giant squid, trust me, you'll do just fine. Anyhow, while I prefer full ring games to shorthanded games because of the extra money on the table, you should know how to dominate any game you enter. Here are some strategies straight from the shark's mouth about shorthanded games.

Shorthanded Poker Game Strategies

In you're going to play short handed, I recommend playing no-limit, whether it be in a cash game or shorthanded tournament. I never was one who cared much for any sort of limit, and I like to be able to double up, or more, on any given hand. The first thing you need to realize is that the value of starting hands goes way up in shorthanded play. Since you're playing with, at most, 5 other opponents, the odds that one of them has a premium hand go down. Of course, anyone can wake up with pocket Aces in any game, so even though you're going to value your good cards more, you shouldn't put your opponent past a real premium hand.

For example, holding any two face cards, like KJ offsuit, gives you a much stronger hand when playing with fewer opponents. In fact, I would probably raise this hand from late position. Any Ace can be played, but you'll still run into high kickers if you play mediocre Aces. Expect to win small pots with these weak Aces, as you can't be confident enough about them to bet very much. Pocket pairs are also better to hold shorthanded, and you should probably raise with them if you're the first to enter the pot. Hands with lots of draws, like suited connectors, play the best against full tables with lots of callers. This ensures that you're getting great pot odds on your play. Unfortunately, you're usually looking at only 2 or 3 callers preflop, so you shouldn't play these as often unless you're bullying your opponents. Remember that as the number of opponents decreases (for example, when you're playing a shorthanded Sit 'n Go tourney) you should loosen up your starting hand requirements even further.

When you sit down at a shorthanded table, one of the first things you should be concerned about is creating a table image. This is a very important concept for shorthanded games because you and your opponents can't help but notice each other's play. There are so few of you and you'll be seeing so much of each other's playing style that awareness becomes an important tool in how you play your game. Most likely, you'll want to create an aggressive table image at these tables. Notice that I didn't suggest a tight-aggressive style, because you can't play tight if you play shorthanded. The blinds come around too often for you to have the luxury of waiting for premium cards. Furthermore, if you convey a tight image to a short table, you probably won't get much action on the hands that you want action from. So try to build an aggressive table image, steal some pots, and hopefully you'll get action when you're holding the nuts by giving action, even when you aren't. Capeesh?

While building your own table image, you want to start noticing how your opponents are playing. Are they showing down strong cards? Or, are they typically raising with bottom pair? Use this information, and take notes if you like, to help you make decisions on when and how much to bet on future hands against them. I can't stress enough that knowing your opponents is very important in shorthanded play. They're going to be watching you, so why give them an advantage by not watching them, too?

Another play that I frown heavily upon in full no-limit tables is slowplaying a big hand, especially preflop. While you still shouldn't do it too often, it may make more sense to slowplay in shorthanded games. Because you're typically not going to get many, if any, callers on your raise, you might want to just flat call with hands like pocket Aces and Kings. Be aware, however, that you're walking down a very dangerous path by letting everyone in, including the blinds, for cheap. They could easily flop two pair, and you'll be suckered in on the flop with your overpair. Your main goal by slow playing preflop is to induce a raise so that you can reraise. Also, consider slowplaying hands like two pair or a set more often on the flop. With fewer opponents, it's less likely, but certainly not impossibly, that your opponent is holding a draw that was improved by the flop.

When playing shorthanded, open up the jaw a bit before you clamp down on your fishy opponents. Play an aggressive game, and not a tight one in these games. If you can't open up a little bit, then you're better off sticking to the full ring games. Play more hands, raise more hands, and try more steal attempts. Bluffing is also much more successful against 1 or 2 opponents, so choose the right spots and splash your chips in. These are tough games to master if you're a beginner or you're not the right type of player, so be forewarned. On the other hand, you get to play more hands and get to know the players at your table. The solution is simple to a smaller pond of fish: get a larger shark! Ahem, that means you, landlubber! Until next time, adieux my gill-challenged friends.

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