When browsing all of the available tables at online sites, one can see that shorthanded limit hold’em is quite a popular game. Why? Beginners and intermediate players like the action, and advanced players like the profits!

This column is aimed at experienced full-ring players who are making the switch to shorthanded play. Shorthanded play is a different game than full-ring play, and requires a different mindset to be successful. Full-ring players who are patient and play tight can be successful in most full-ring games, simply by playing better starting hands than their opponents. In shorthanded play, the best players are always on the attack, exploiting their opponents’ post-flop weaknesses.

To analyze shorthanded dynamics and strategies, we first need to ask: What types of games are profitable and what types of opponents do you want in your games? To answer these questions, we simply need to look at the three biggest mistakes that players make when starting to play shorthanded. They are:

Playing too Tight

In full-ring games, the biggest mistake that players make is playing too loose. In shorthanded games, you can eke out a decent profit by playing relatively tight, but the real money is made by playing a lot of hands and exploiting your opponents’ post-flop weaknesses. This is why solid full-ring players have a difficult time making the transition to shorthanded play. Conversely, it is also why some players who have a difficult time in full-ring games excel in shorthanded games. Your opponents make a lot of mistakes in shorthanded games, so playing too tight before the flop decreases the number of opportunities that you have to take advantage of those mistakes. Of course, you don’t want to take this too far, but you can often play more hands than you might expect in the right type of game.

Playing too Passively Before the Flop

The key to shorthanded play is aggression! Before the flop, passive play simply takes away from your edge.

Calling when you’re the first player in is a very weak play. The first thing I look for at a shorthanded table is players who limp when they’re the first in, as I know that I can profit from them. By limping, you allow two of your opponents in the blinds to enter the pot cheaply with a weak hand. If I am in one of the blinds, I love it when my opponents limp when first in.

You want to force your opponents to pay to see the flop! By limping, you are allowing your opponents behind you to enter the pot not only with weaker hands, but hands that you are effectively giving the right price to justify a call.

Another indication of passive play is simply calling raises before the flop. You must realize that a hand like A-K or any other two cards has only a 1-in-3 chance of hitting a pair on the flop. By calling, you, rather than your opponent, become the one who needs to hit your hand. You also allow the blinds to enter a big pot cheaply. Of course, when you are in the blinds, you will be calling raises a lot, since you will be out of position on every street. But, you should also be reraising with some frequency, for the simple purpose of putting the burden on your opponent to hit a hand on the flop.

Occasionally, but not often, you can call a raise when not in the blinds. When you do call raises, it should be for very specific reasons that are based on the styles of the raiser and the players remaining in the blinds. If you see an opponent calling a raise two or three times within a short period, he is almost certainly playing too passively.

If possible, sit to the left of players who like to limp and cold-call raises. When sitting to their right, you often force them out of pots when you raise. By sitting to their left, you’ll get to play a lot more pots, and play them against these weak opponents while you have position.

Folding too Often on the Flop

Many opponents fold too often on the flop. Hand ranges are quite wide in a shorthanded game, and premium hands are less frequent. You can’t wait to hit big hands in shorthanded hold’em or you will be folding too frequently and giving up too much. In shorthanded play, many flops hit no one. Generally, any pair, any draw, two overcards, or ace high is worth continuing with on the flop. If you see opponents folding too often on the flop, you know that you are in a very profitable game.

The same ideas apply to play on the turn. Some opponents will want a pair or better to continue, and you can use this against them by betting them off the best hand with your weaker draws.

My next column will look at these three mistakes to analyze the best type of shorthanded game to look for, and then I will outline a five-point strategy for dominating these games.      

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