Short handed poker is a very different animal from playing a full 9 player table. Aggression becomes more important. You will necessarily have to play a wider range of hands to make sure you are blinded out. But unless you are planning to stick exclusively to full ring games; you will need to master short handed poker play if you want to get your share of tournament and Sit-n-Go winnings. Compared to a full game, short handed play is much more about playing the other players and will test your ability to outplay the rest of the table. This is why short handed play is difficult to teach but there are some general concepts to help you along.
Swimming with the Sharks
First thing to consider when you see a short hand game is whether there were only 6 seats or 9 seats to begin with. Seeing a short handed 4 player game on a 9 seat table, should immediately warn you that you are looking at the winners. These are players that have carved up the rest of the table and waiting for fresh meat. You need to be confident that your poker is still better than theirs; it may, it may not. Be realistic and careful.
Wider Hand Selection
The blinds will be hitting you faster in short handed play. To avoid be being blinded out and grinded down without getting a chance to fight, you will need to widen your range of starting hands. How wide, really depends on your style of poker and the style of your opponents. But as a general rule, you will need to widen your range. On top of this, you will need to be more aggressive to win your share of blinds and pots. This means you need widen your range of raising and re-raising hands. Again, this depends a lot on the range and style of your opponents. But as a general rule, you will need to be raising and re-raising more in short hand games. The other thing to remember is that you should be aware that your opponents are widening their range of starting hands, raising and re-raising conditions as well.
If you are successfully playing full seated games, you should ALREADY be adjusting your hand selection according position. One approach to successfully adjusting to short handed play is to widen your hand selection as if you were always in the late positions in the full ring game. In a way this is a good parallel.
Position is even more powerful
Position is power and unless you can exploit the strategic advantage of position it will be difficult for you to gain an edge over your opponents. This is more so because your opponents will likely be exploiting position when they have it. You should also opening raises much more often and try to buy position if you are not on the button. Being in position will help you read the hand and put the guessing game on your opponents.
Slow Play becomes a more successful trap
Because short handed games necessarily encourage players to widen their range of starting hands and be more aggressive, slow playing becomes much more successful. This means there is quite a big payoff from being deceptive about the strength of your hole cards because they are less likely to just check things down. That is, there is less risk of them simply taking free cards. Of course, it does depend on your opponents. It also should be obvious that slow-playing too much won’t work if it deviates too much from your usual style of play, since it will set of warning bells inside the minds of your opponents.
Don’t be scared – its just different
Short handed play is the most difficult to teach. That aggression and psychology play so much more of a role in this style poker, necessarily make it difficult to teach with a few pages. But the honest truth is that this is not some mysterious form of poker that can only be master by the enlightened few. It really is just a matter of getting used to a new set of dynamics and subtle nuances. Don’t be scared, just get in there. You’ll get better with time.