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Shorthand Limit Texas Hold'em Strategy

Understanding how to play shorthand games (six or fewer people) is important to becoming a winning poker player. Most postflop play in longhand games involves critical shorthand concepts. If you are an internet player, you will find that shorthand games are very popular at online poker rooms. In fact, most high-limit games are played shorthand.

What type of game should I look for?
One of the most important skills in poker is simply playing in the right game. This is a very under-appreciated weapon in a poker player's arsenal. Unless you just want to practice, there's no reason to play against professionals! The best way to examine a game is to watch how much betting and raising occurs. If there is a lot of raising and folding, stay away! If people limp in a lot preflop and then just call bets, join the game! The reason you want to play against passive players is that selective aggression is the key to winning at shorthand.

Preflop Starting Hands
So what types of starting hands should you look for when playing shorthanded? Many articles have been written about this, but I'll briefly summarize what I believe are the playable hands.

One thing to remember is that hand values are relative, so a hand can be good under some situations and total trash under others. For example, if there has been a lot of action, like a raise, a reraise, a call, then a cap, I would fold anything besides AA, KK, AK, QQ, and JJ. You should always think about what the other guy has and guess whether you have a better starting hand than him before entering a pot.

Hands to raise with:
Pocket Pairs, AT+, KQ, KJ, QJ, JTs

Hands to call a raise with:
High Pocket Pairs, AJ, KQ, KJ, AT (maybe), QJs.

Hands to reraise with:
This depends on the raiser. Reraise a maniac with any pair or A9+, because you'll probably be winning at the flop. This sort of player could easily be raising with A4, so you want to isolate him, even when holding a hand like 66. Against other types of players, reraise with strong hands like AA, KK, QQ, JJ, AK, AQ (although you may want to smooth call with JJ). You should consider just calling with AK and AQ because it does very well 3- or 4-handed. If you hit top pair with one of these hands, there is a good chance you will get paid off if the pot is 3- or 4-way.

Suited connectors and small pairs are only playable under certain conditions. If people are not aggressive, it may be possible to limp with these hands and play multi-way pots. If there are four or fewer players in the game, there will not be any multi-way pots. So when the game is very short, suited connectors have very little value. For small pairs, you want to play a heads-up pot if the game is very shorthanded. Thus, if you are in early position, you should usually fold small pairs. If you are on the button and everyone has folded, you should raise with a small pair.

Flop Tips
When you have a made hand, bet it. Whenever you have a hand that is top pair or stronger, you should usually just bet. If your opponent raises you, you should probably respond with a reraise. Your opponent may be trying to buy himself a free card on the turn by raising you. Or he may have a weaker hand and is trying to raise for value in his eyes. Nevertheless, generally the best move is to bet or reraise with top pair and good kicker or better.

However, if you make a pair, but it's not the top pair, you have a decision to make. This decision will be highly situational, but here are some general tips. First, you must analyze how strong your hand is relative to the board.

Your Hand

It is unlikely that someone holds a nine. You should bet this hand if it is checked to you and probably call down if someone bets at you. Let's look at another example.

Your Hand

In this situation, your hand is extremely weak. You should fold this hand on the flop. Basically, measure how good your hand is against other likely hands.

Another important idea revolves around when to fold your hand. If you are going to fold, you want to do so earlier in the pot. For more discussion about this topic, check out When To Fold.

Drawing Hands and Pot Odds
Always know how many outs you have, or the number of cards that will make you a winning hand. But don't be too liberal when counting your outs.

Your Hand

In this example, you cannot count the Ace as an out. After all, someone could easily have AK or hold a Jack.

Flop bluffs. If you are the preflop raiser, the flop is a very good time to bluff.

Your Hand

Suppose you raised preflop, and it is heads-up on the flop. Your opponent checks to you. Bet! You have nothing, but he probably has nothing, too. Go ahead and try to steal. In pots that are contested between just you and one other player, often mere aggression is enough to win the pot, so your cards don't matter as much.

Semibluffing. Semibluffing is betting when you don't have a made hand yet, but you are on a strong draw.

Your Hand

You have a flush draw. Go ahead and bet. Not only do you have a good chance of hitting, you might steal the pot right here.

Other Bluffs. These don't work too well at fixed-limit, but they do work at times. Suppose the flop is checked and a Queen comes on the turn. Go ahead and bet. Your opponents are likely to fold unless they hit a draw or they have a hand themselves. Please realize that some opponents will call you down with Ace high. Against these players, don't bluff much. Instead, value bet often, and win a lot of chips whenever you have any sort of hand against them.

Next Article: Advanced Shorthand Limit Strategy

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