A short-handed poker game is a game with a table of 6 or less people. By nature, it is an aggressive game, where top hole cards are not needed to win pots. It's certainly not designed for the loose-passive poker player. Inevitably the "rocks" get chipped away by the blinds while waiting for top hands and usually get sent packing in a short time. In these types of games, you want to play a loose and aggressive, but this doesn't mean you should play recklessly. Players delude themselves to thinking that they need to play far more hands than normal and they justify their starting hands too easily.
This will lead to large swings in their bankroll. A far better proposition is to play good hands very aggressively and play more marginal hands. The strategy to employ is to target these reckless players when you have a good hand, it sounds simple enough, but it needs impeccable timing and opportunity.
So the optimal strategy is to play looser than normal, and to maintain your aggression. First off we'll have a look at starting hands you should be playing in these types of games:
- Any Pairs 55+
- A10 or higher
These are perfectly acceptable hands to play from any position in these types of game for beginners. Use your discretion and get to know and study the other players at the table. Because there are fewer players this should be easier to do and to use to your advantage. Once you form an opinion of your fellow players you should find yourself playing against them with a lot less legitimate hands than when you started the game. When there are less players at the table, the criteria for starting hands decreases rapidly. If you get top pair on the flop, you will not have the same worries about being beat or outdrawn against one or two players as if you are playing against perhaps five or six others on a full table.
Be careful if someone raises you at the table, if you don't have a feel of the other player you should play only play more premium hands. This also goes for re-raises, it's nice to be the bully at the table, but try to get a read on your opponent and check your position at the table. If you're in late position and other players have limped in, they could be good value to call with suited connecters and to call with the top pair.
For example, you hold:
The flop comes:
You have the middle pair with a reasonable kicker, the advice is to bet, your opponent will probably fold. It's a marginal hand to play but you should be semi confident you have best hand and by betting you show a positive aggressive image to your fellow players. If he's an aggressive player, call him, if he's passive definitely raise on the turn
You should loosen up, try to either steal on or at least get the following hands heads up: 55 - AA, and in late position all pairs. You should also play all AX combinations K9 and above aggressively from late position. If you do get raised and have nothing on the flop you should think about quitting, but don't give up either with a strong starting hand in a two way pot - this is what your opponent wants you to do. Don't just play any two cards for the sake of trying to bluff the other players you may find yourself down up the river without a paddle; as Doyle Brunson says: "Always leave yourself an out".