Short-handed play


Well I’ve managed to get one last post in before going to this years forum get-together. A wee change for the good this time….. I’m back to writing strategies. Please be aware that all the strategy posts have been written by myself, and are my views on the game. As usual, feel free to comment on the articles or add to them if you want.

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I’ve read and heard a lot of people complaining that they do great in tournaments until they hit the final table, and end up going out on the bubble – just outside the cash payouts. Some of the time this is down to pure bad luck, but a lot of the time it is down to inexperience of playing short handed.

So what is shorthanded play? This is when you are at a table with 6 or less players including yourself. If you play sit and go tournies you should be familiar with this as most of the time only 9 or 10 players start. I know a lot of people who will normally go out in 5th place or less. If you play 6 seater sit and go’s you are into short handed play immediately.

When it comes to short-handed play you have to be that little bit more aggressive at the table. You have to expand on the starting hands you play. The usual concept of any tournament is to play tight, aggressive poker at the start. That is, only play the premium starting hands (top 10 starting hands) but play them aggressively.

Shorthanded, you can expand to playing the top 20 starting hands and being aggressive with them. But as always, remember position and knowing how the other players play is key. You don’t want to be raising under the gun with Qs Jd at the start of shorthanded play if there are 5 others to follow you.

The Start

If you have been playing a multi table tournament (MTT) then hopefully by the time you are down to around 6 or 7 players you will know the table dynamics. That is, you know roughly how the other players play – tight aggressive, loose aggressive etc…

You should be playing to position, as normal, but if you have a good hand in early position, you must push it. If you are holding Ah As or Ks Kd, DO NOT LIMP IN! At this stage of the game you want money in the pot. If it so happens that everyone folds to you, so what? If you had to limp in with Ah As, there’s a good chance that a few will come with you, holding mediocre hands. You do not want them to hit. You have got to be aggressive. The only time I would advocate limping in with a monster like Ah As or Ks Kd is on the button or in the blinds, as long as there have been no limpers before you. If you are in a battle of the blinds whilst holding Ah As you want the other player to hang himself. Let him get aggressive. Flat call any raises preflop and only re-raise if the flop looks scary… ie flush or straight draw possibilities. Remember though, slow playing huge hands pre-flop can be a dangerous ploy. You will hear of so many ‘cracked aces’ bad beat stories going around.

If you are in the blinds, you are hoping to see a flop if possible, no matter the hand. But that doesn’t mean call any raise. You have to work out what the pot odds are to see if its worthwhile. If you are holding 10d 9d in the big blind and its going to cost you $1000 to call and there’s $5500 in the pot then you are getting 5.5/1 on your investment. Not bad odds shorthanded! I would certainly call. However if there was only $2000 in the pot and its going to cost you $1000 to call then its a fold.

Don’t go overboard with you aggression. Remember that if you are up against any half decent players, they will be watching you… taking notes on you… waiting for the moment where they can challenge you and relieve you of your chips. Being overly aggressive – with it paying off for you – can breed overconfidence, or an arrogance that could prove costly in a single hand later on. Always watch the other players. If they deviate from the way thay have been playing up to that point, be prepared for them having some kind of hand. Unless of course, you are holding the nuts!

As more players drop out of the game, you must be prepared to expand your starting hands. With only 3 or 4 players left Ac 7s, Kd 9hQc 10h or similar can be played quite easily. At this stage, almost any ace should be raised. Chances are that if you are holding an ace, your opponents are msot likely not. If you raise with say Ac 9s and are re-raised,  don’t do anything silly. A 9 is not a hand for calling an all-in, even at this stage. Lay it down and wait for a better hand.

In summary, playing shorthanded requires controlled aggression. You want to try to bully the table, but don’t go overboard. Constantly re-evaluate the players at the table, and always use your position at the table to your advantage.

Next time out, I’ll talk about the continuation bet and the information bet and how best to use them.


2 Responses to Short-handed play

  1. Great post. A good way to gain experience at short-handed play is through sit ‘n go tournaments.

  2. dagopher says:

    Thanks for the comment. I’ve had a look at your site and have to say I’m impressed with what you’ve done so far. Watch out for the email I’m sending you.

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