Short-handed games aren’t something that I recommend for the beginning poker player, but these are becoming more popular online. You also might run into this if several players have recently deserted your cash game. Many tables are set up to only allow 6 players, and they’re usually full. Personally, shorthanded games aren’t my favorite to play for one simple reason: there isn’t as much money at the table. You’ll usually find that the pots are faster, but smaller. The action is faster, but you won’t have as many players in the hand with you. This type of play attracts a lot of players because of the faster action and the ability to play more hands.
It’s true that you’ll be playing more hands in shorthanded play. You’ll have to open up your starting hand requirements or else the blinds will just eat you up. When you do come in, especially in late position, a raise is usually in order. Even if you only steal the blinds, at least you create an aggressive table image and you’ll have enough to cover the blinds next round or play a few extra hands.
You can also win more pots with worse hands than you would in a full cash game. You’ll usually only have one or two opponents, are your top pair with a mediocre kicker will usually be good. For example, if I call from late position with A-3 suited and the flop comes A-10-9, you should bet at it. Your opponent will probably raise if he has you beat, fold if he doesn’t have anything, or put in a weak call if he caught a pair of 10s or 9s. You can keep betting at the pot on future betting rounds and try to collect some extra bets.
Even though you’ll be playing more hands shorthanded, you still need to watch out for a big hand from our opponent. Just because there are only 6 of you playing, doesn’t mean that pocket Aces don’t come around. If you’re betting at a pair of 10s, he might slowplay you into thinking you have the best hand. Watch out for a raise in shorthanded games when you have a borderline hand.
Also, while slowplaying a vulnerable hand is rarely correct in a full cash game, you may consider trying it in a shorthanded game. Since you’re usually only playing 1 or 2 opponents, you want to make the most out of your strong hands. If you hit something like 2 pair or a set on the flop, you may consider checking or only betting a small amount into your opponent. The intention is to allow your opponent to catch up to your hand but not exceed it so he’ll be willing to call your larger bets or even raise you. Of course, you’re going to welcome that action if you’ve got the top hand. The same dangers and draws exist, however, in any game, so you’re going to get burned if you slowplay too often or in the wrong situations.
Shorthanded games are good for fast action and lots of hands when you’re tired of a full cash game, but don’t expect large pots and lots of callers very often. They can also be tricky for beginners, so start off small and work your way up as you gain skill.