Six-handed Texas Holdem

Tips for Playing Shorthanded Limit Online

Short-handed Holdem Poker"Aggression unopposed becomes a contagious disease."
-- Jimmy Carter

Due to the worldwide epidemic of the Maverick Syndrome, the basic nature of correct poker play has evolved since the beginning of the poker boom. This is because players as a whole, after seeing and being influenced by both reckless and skilled risky play at the end of multi-day poker tournaments, have become more aggressive when playing in everyday ring games.

While aggressive play is generally much better than passive play, thoughtless aggression is far worse -- when playing against truly skilled opponents. Mediocre, weak-tight players have since the dawn of online poker complained about how "tough" online games are. This was never the case, but rather more a reflection of how weak-tight play was not profitable against either tight-aggressive skilled players or loose/maniacs. This is even more true in online shorthanded limit Texas Holdem games. (This article is about limit Hold'em, even more specifically, about shorthanded middle to higher limit Texas Hold'em games online.)

The consequences of all this though is a that a lot of players base their play around nothing else but trying to be more aggressive than their opponents. But blundering aggression is easily exploitable. For example, in a battle it is more often than not advantageous to be on the attack, but if your army attacks the most fortified, least vulnerable part of your enemy's line while NOT taking the time to reconnoiter and find a more vulnerable place to attack 300 yards up the road, you will have made a potentially catastrophic blunder. You may in fact still win the battle, but you are far less likely to do so in comparison to if you attacked the weak part of the enemy lines, and then outflanked the strong part of the line by attacking it from behind.

Maverick Syndrome sufferers think they play better than they do, to a very unreasonable degree. They think they have all sorts of really cool moves that stupefy their opponents, and so they seek out types of games where they can more often "make moves" -- head-up and short-handed games, especially limit games where a failed move won't cause you to lose all your money, and so you can make move after move after move. Despite the high rake cost in playing shorthanded, these games present great opportunity for profit online, NOT because anyone reading this is a super-duper player, but because opponents make themselves play worse, make themselves more vulnerable for more bets, than they commonly do in full games.

Winning poker is about edge: getting yourself in mathematically favorable situations. We create edges by our actions (like hand or game selection), but we can also gain edges by simply allowing our opponents to do things that are mathematically unsound. The most obvious example of this is we want to play against an opponent who is out of control, on tilt. What 6-handed games commonly offer though (besides players more likely to be on tilt because they lose more hands because they play more hands) are overly aggressive players who simply try too hard to win every hand they play. They do this largely because they have an over-inflated sense of their ability and their "moves".

I can't tell you how many times I have seen players bluff Q6 on the river after a JJ8 flop. They desperately try move after move to try and win pots they should have surrendered long before. Fragile ego is part of it, but more than that it comes back to thinking aggressive play MUST be the winning play. They think of some bold move on TV, or a bold move that worked six weeks ago, and they try it on the flop... then try something else on the turn... then desperately try something else on the river. They might luck into winning the hand, but more likely they just throw off their chips foolishly.

So what do we do about it? We LET foolishly aggressive players throw off their chips. We ENCOURAGE them. We give them opportunities to make moves. When we have something, we desperately try to show weakness -- which is like waving a red flag in front of a bull to thoughtlessly aggressive folks. Showing weakness, feinting weakness, is not weakness. In fact, it is showing great confidence in your strength, but the hyper-aggressive guys won't get that (at least at first, meaning limiting yourself to shorter sessions with hyper aggressive players will often be a good idea). They are too wound up in their "moves" to notice they are blundering into a trap.

Aikido is the martial art of using an attacker's energy against him, rather than directly opposing it. The best way to fight fire is with water, not fire. The best way to deal with overly aggressive opponents is not to try and be more aggressive than they are, but rather to allow them to be overly aggressive in pots where you have the best hand, and they even know it!

Then, combine that with showing aggressiveness when you are weak and look weak -- for instance, on that JJ8 flop, if you called a raise with Q6 in the big blind, don't checkraise the flop, check call instead. THAT will scare an overly aggressive player more than a checkraise. If you checkraise, they likely will just reraise you. After the turn card, if you bet regardless of the next card, you are much more likely to win, AND get the bonus of having the over-aggressive player think you played the hand poorly and they made a good "move" by folding the turn. I'm not saying that move is always the right move. I'm saying an extremely aggressive opponent will often not understand what APPEARS to be non-aggressive play, and will react in exactly the wrong way -- just like they will react in the wrong way when you show weakness when they are betting.

Use Aikido. Use your opponent's reckless aggression against them. Don't try to out-do them at their game. Make them play your game. Happily allow them to be suicidal when you have the best of it. If they want to put in the last bet on the river when you have the nut hand, let them, and be glad as your stack their chips.

See also Texas Hold'em Basics and Schooling in Texas Hold'em