Online Poker and Shorthanded Tables
By: Joshua Heilpern
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One of the many benefits of poker's infiltration of the online world is the ability to create new ways to play the game that just wouldn't be feasible offline. Some examples include Sit 'n Go tournaments and micro-limit games. These tables are simply unprofitable to land-based card rooms because they generate too little revenue for them. Another online poker phenomenon is the shorthanded ring game, which typically seats 6 or less players. These games are quickly taking over full ring games in terms of popularity online.
Players like these tables because of the fast action and less competition. Shorthanded tables see many more hands per hour, and most pots are decided quickly. Since the blinds will be coming around much faster, you simply won't be able to play only your premium cards.
If you play the same starting cards at a shorthanded table as you do at a full table, you'll constantly be in a battle with the forced blinds. If you're playing at a table with 6 players, you'll be on either the big or the small blind 1/3 of the time. You'll need to open up your game, and play much more aggressively. If no one has shown any strength yet and you're in late position, hands I would raise with include any two face cards, any Ace, and any pocket pair. I might even mix it up and throw in the occasional raise with suited connectors. Since you'll be up against fewer opponents, the chances of one of them holding a premium hand are less. However, you should also be prepared to release your hand to big raise, as your opponent can wake up with pocket Aces at any table.
Changing gears and mixing up your game is even more essential at shorthanded tables. Everyone at the table will be watching the same 4 or 5 opponents in every hand, so it is much easier to pick up on each other's playing style and habits. While you can generally play a predictable game and remain unnoticed at a full ring game, your opponent's will be more observant at short tables. You should also try to keep notes and remain observant to maximize your profits. Almost every online poker site's software package has player notes built in, so why not take advantage of them? If you're faced with a tough position on a similar hand in the future, you can refer to your player notes to see if your opponent usually has the nuts, or habitually bluffs off his chips.
An easy way to keep your opponents guessing is by setting up a "standard" raise for yourself of 3 or 4 times the big blind (in no-limit play). Whenever you raise pre-flop, try raising the exact same amount every hand. This keeps your opponents from reading your hands by your betting patterns. Another way to mix it up is by switching off how you play certain hands. For example, you might raise pocket Aces 80% of the time, and just call 20% of the time. From late position in an un-raised pot, you might raise 8-9 suited 30% of the time, and throw it away the other 70% of the time.
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Finally, I recommend that you increase deceptive plays such as slow playing big hands. While I am a tight-aggressive player who rarely recommends slow playing a hand with a potential draw on the board, you'll need to do it more often in a shorthanded game to maximize your profits. Firstly, most pots are small and are decided pre-flop or on the flop at these tables. If you want to build up a pot with what you expect to be the winning hand, you can't scare away the few opponents who are left. You'll have to give them the opportunity to catch up to you. Secondly, since there will be less players involved in each hand, the risk of someone holding the necessary cards to draw out on you decreases.
Shorthanded games are exploding, and you should be prepared to sit down with the resident sharks if you want to try them out. Don't forget to pay attention, open up your starting hand requirements, mix up your play, and play a deceptively-aggressive game. Nothing beats actual playing experience, but following a few simple guidelines will help prepare you for profitable shorthanded play.
About the author:
Joshua Heilpern is a contributor for several poker strategy websites. He also runs Online Poker Reviews, an original poker strategy and review site.
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