Shorthanded Texas Hold'Em Poker
If you ever played online poker, you already know the most important differences between a full ring game and a short handed one. Why am I saying this? In online poker, players move around between tables a lot. Whenever they feel they're not playing well enough at a certain table, or that they're being dominated in one way or another, they simply leave. This will often have you stuck in a short handed game, even though - when you initially joined - the table was full.
When you end up with only a few opponents at your table, the game changes radically.First thing you'll notice is that you feel compelled to win more hands than you normally would. You even feel like you need to act on every hand. This happens because the blinds come around more often, and being in the blinds more often will require you to reach into your bag of A-play tricks more often too. As we all know, strong play from the blinds in one of the most important things in poker. All right, so what does that mean for hand selection? Most hands in short handed poker are won on much weaker hands than they are in a regular full ring game. Fewer players mean fewer chances for someone to hit a monster, and thus your starting hand standards should be lowered too.
It is not a rare thing in short handed poker to see someone win pots on as little as a pair or a high card. You need to adapt, because if you remain as tight as I hope you were when playing the full ring game, opponents are going to throw you around from pillar to post in no time at all.
A direct consequence of the number of players remaining in the game and the lowered starting and showdown hand standards, one more thing happens: the game speeds up. Whether this is good news for you or not, depends on how good a poker player you are.
If you're a weak one, you don't want to be at a short handed table. Better head out to an online casino then. If you consider you're at least a reasonably good player, then the increased speed will help your play. Remember, fast games mean that any mistake you make will have far bigger consequences than it otherwise would. In the same time though, if you pull a good move it'll also provide you with much bigger benefits than it would under different circumstances.
One last thing before we move on to analyze every stage of a short handed game: you need to be more aggressive too. Passive players will lose out in a heads up 90% of the time. If you know you're a passive player, and being aggressive is a step too far out of your comfort zone, you're better off avoiding short handed tables altogether.
Preflop: as I said, you need to lower your starting hand standards and you need to see more flops than you otherwise would. Don't get carried away though. Remember, mistakes in short handed games are more costly. Some people say a short handed preflop situation is the same as playing from position in a game where most players have already folded. I beg to differ. In such games, card distribution is not even anymore, while in a short handed preflop situation it is. ( that's because in a game where many players fold, it's a lot more likely that the ones who stay, have high cards and potential little monsters hiding in the pocket.)
On the flop: again, you need to loosen up. An ace with a good kicker is a playable hand. If possible do not give away free cards ( in the case of short-handed games, a heads up is not uncommon after the flop) Giving away a free card in a heads up, however, is less dangerous than doing the same at a full table.
If your opponent acts tough and you know you hold the nuts, let him hang himself. Lay back, call his raises and win the pot.
On the turn and river do not let the texture of the board scare you. Sometimes the turn or the river will bring along a scare card, but once you raised the opponent on the flop, do not show weakness by backing off. In short handed poker that's all he needs to have you beat.
Anyway, in a heads up, a flush or straight board-texture will often be just as scary for your opponent as it is to you.
Whatever you do, remember, short handed poker is where pure poker skill comes out and takes over from Lady Luck.