Texas Hold'em Shorthanded Part I: how to approach the preflop

In shorthanded poker, the most influential factor is position. It is what matters most, after the cards and the start we have. The key to winning is to avoid starting with a beaten hand, i.e., to start playing with cards that are good enough to deal with any pair of cards you think are in your hand.

Intuition is important in poker, and in Texas Hold'em shorthanded even more so. Pre-flop, we need to focus on trying to get a feel for our opponents, develop our ability to read their play and know where the shots are going to go. Obviously, factors such as stack are important, but preflop is the first chapter of the round and you have to prioritize.

What is Shorthanded in poker: the basics

Let's start small. When we talk about shorthanded, we mean a poker game for 6 players. 6-max poker is a speciality, and it has its own rules that you need to know. Don't think of 6-max as being like Full Ring when four of the players pass or fold: their dynamics are little alike.

Shorthanded is a variety of poker that can be described as loose aggressive. However, it is advisable to play tight aggressive. Why is that? Because the logical thing to do is to play loose thinking that, if not, the blinds will make mincemeat of us, but that is a big mistake. We have to play more hands, but that doesn't mean we don't select them. We play more hands because the cards we are playing against are not as strong as the cards we are playing against in the full ring. That's the difference.

To play the hand it is recommended to have a VPIP of 25%, or close to it. The VPIP is the value that indicates the number of flops seen voluntarily. The lower the VPIP, the more selective we are. The higher it is, the more "kamikaze" our play will be and the less valuable our hands will be on average.

The big question is whether a VPIP of 25% is considered tight. Normally it is not, but it is seen as such in 6-max games. If we play fewer hands, we are missing good opportunities.

We said at the beginning that in shorthanded poker what matters most is position. Why? Because we rely on it to play enough hands to reach that VPIP percentage. If we don't, it will be impossible to voluntarily see that many flops.

Playing from UTG and BUTTON

The interesting thing about shorthanded poker is precisely how it is played from the UTG and from the BUTTON position. From the UTG the game is straight to the death. We open with a raise to sweep or to make the opponent make a mistake and make him see more than one bet at once, a cold call.

Keep in mind that, from the UTG, limping is not advisable at all. It is extremely expensive, as we will probably raise, we will rarely be able to tie anything with guarantees on the flop and we will be giving the table odds for them to call after us.

In UTG+1 the guidelines and characteristics are the same, but in UTG+2 we will have to be more agile in drawing conclusions to obtain information from the hand. We will have to be attentive to the styles of play and the amounts being bet.

From UTG+2 it is normal to limp in with normal cards. If the pot is not open, we raise. We can also do this if we have strong cards. By raising from UTG+2 we can get rid of the button and make him leave us alone, while sending a clear message to the blinds: that we are in the game and we are determined to talk. It's a strong move.

From the BUTTON, these directions for playing from UTG+2 can be reused. If we have rather average cards, we can call if a player has opened the pot before us. If we have good cards, we can re-raise.

But keep in mind that, although in an aggressive table a call is enough, in a tight table it is necessary to raise if we think our cards are strong. The million-dollar question is how to tell the difference between good cards and really good cards. There is no clear answer to this, as it depends on the play of each hand, and your cards and your opponents' cards will be different each time.

How to defend the small blind

What do we mean by defending the small blind? Defending the small blind from a steal, which will occur when they open the pot with a raise. Our problem here is that the player who will go after us will be the big blind. It's a conflictive situation in which three players will go for the pot and we can get hurt badly. The solution is to simplify the game and not take risks, although if we find ourselves in this situation we have been set up and we will have to defend ourselves however we can.

Pay close attention to the reaction of the big blind to the robbery attempt, this can give us a lot of information. If the BB is not too happy, we can call to get into the pot. The downside is that opponents won't throw their cards away that easily. That, added to the fact that we are in the worst position imaginable in this situation, will complicate things for us.

Let's not go crazy defending the small blind either. If we can get them to throw their cards away or make them think that the steal attempt doesn't affect us, we may dodge a major bullet. But if things get complicated and we are compromised, simply resist within reason.

How to defend the Big Blind in Shorthanded Hold'em

Defending the big blind is another matter, although we have to assume that from the blinds our role should be limited to trying to cushion losses, not to make money.

With this in mind, the first thing to realize is that, when faced with a robbery attempt, if we occupy the position of the big blind, we must have a very wide repertoire of possibilities. The steal attempt is usually made with interested (also known as illegitimate) cards, because the steal is made by taking advantage of the position of the table and that the pot has not yet been opened. In that context, if they have perceived that the blinds are weak, they may go for the steal, but it is not foolproof, so they are already taking risks by attempting it. Beware, because you can lose out.

To defend yourself as the big blind you should know perfectly the play of the BUTTON, the CO (the first chair with position, located just before the BUTTON) and the small blind (SB).

And back to the same thing: how important are the positions in shorthanded poker! It is elementary to know how the whole table plays, but if we want to have any chance of defending the big blind, we must know these three positions above all.

A good tactic to defend the big blind is to re-raise if we get a raise. Firstly, because your opponent won't expect it, and secondly, because it will make the steal much more expensive than you thought it would be. Almost nobody thinks that they are going to re-raise when faced with an attempt to steal the big blind; by doing so, you can break their schemes and put them in a compromising situation, even if the steal is going to be a reality.

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