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Many Texas Hold'em players who transition from full-ring (nine or ten players) to six-max games do not appreciate the subtle differences in style of play between the two. The rules are the same, of course, but short-handed games require several adjustments in playing style position becomes even more important, as do aggression and the ability to read your opponents.

Six-max cash games have become hugely popular online because they allow for more hands to be played per hour and there are fewer opponents to keep track of. Six-max tables aren't quite as popular as full ring events, but they are growing.

This article looks at some of the adjustments you will need to consider if you decide to switch to a six-max table.

SKIP TO:

Person playing 6 max poker online

Open your Range


For a nine-handed table, the first three positions to act Under-the-Gun, UTG+1 and UTG+2 are considered early position. Players should open from these positions only with premium hands (AJ suited or higher, pocket 10s or higher).

Six-handed play essentially eliminates the early positions.

In general, when playing six-handed, you will want to widen your opening ranges. With only six players to begin with, chances for strong opening hands are reduced considerably. Premium hands (pocket Aces, Kings, Queens, or Jacks, or A-K or A-Q) occur only 2.1% of the time (56 possible combinations out of 2,652 total combinations). For six-max, one of these hands will show up on the table roughly once per eight hands dealt. If you're waiting for one of these to open, you'll be in for a long wait.

With only six players at the table, aces and middle pocket pairs are worth much more. Expanding your opening range to include all pocket pairs to 6s, any ace down to A-7, any Broadway combination and all suited aces A-6 and lower will give you 228 total opening hands for an opening range of the top 8.6% of hands, which is still conservative in six-max. Throw in suited connectors or one-gappers, especially from later positions.

According to the website PokerBank, if nine players are dealt into a hand, the odds that one player has an ace are 83%. If you are dealt an ace in a nine-handed game, the odds another player also has an ace are 69%. This means that for every 1000 times you are dealt an ace, you will have the only ace 310 times and there will be at least one more ace in the other 690 hands. With an A-7 against one other player with an ace, you would have the highest kicker 41 percent of the time, so in those 690 hands, you would be ahead of the other player with an ace 283 times. This means that combined, you're A-7 would be ahead 593 times in 1000 hands against other aces or no aces (this analysis doesn't include pocket pairs, only high cards).

With six players dealt into a hand, the odds of one player having an ace drop to 66%. If you have an ace in a six-handed game, the odds are 50 percent that another player does. For every 1000 times you receive an ace, you would have the only ace 500 times. In the other 500 hands, you would have the highest kicker 205 times with an a-7, meaning you would be ahead 705 times out of 1,000 tries, or 19 percent higher than in nine-handed (again, this does not include pocket pairs, only high cards).

Middle pocket pairs (7s through 9s) also become more valuable. The odds another player has a higher pocket pair are reduced dramatically when playing six-handed. If you have pocket 7s at a nine-handed table, the odds are 24.6% that another player has a higher pocket pair. In other words, one of every four times you have pocket sevens you will be dominated by a player with a higher pocket pair.

At a six-handed table, the odds another player has a higher pocket pair are reduced to 16.1% -- a drop of 52.7 percent. For pocket 9s, the odds drop from 18.3% to 11.7%, or a 56.4% reduction.

Chances of another player having higher pocket pair
Poker Pair
66s
77s
88s
99s
6-handed
18.0%
16.1%
13.9%
11.7%
9-handed
24.7%
24.6%
21.4%
18.3%
Diff.
52.2%
52.8%
54.0%
56.4%

This analysis does not take overcards into account, but does show that mid-range pocket pairs are more valuable pre-flop when playing six-handed.

calling pre-flop

Some players believe calling a pre-flop raise is a bad move, which you should either fold or re-raise. Fight fire with fire. They've probably never played a lot of six-max.

Calling pre-flop, especially if you will have position over the aggressor, is a solid play in six-max if you are playing a hand from the bottom of your range or a speculative hand (suited connectors or one gappers). There is a good chance the player before you has opened wider than normal, so it makes sense to take a chance to see if you can connect with a flop as well, especially if the price is right.

Calling will also help you avoid some dangerous situations pre-flop. The propensity for some players to be overly aggressive in six-max could force you to make many more big decisions pre-flop than you would face in a nine-handed game.

Ace King of Clubs

Heads up Skills, Position Matter in 6-max

It is generally accepted that a good percentage of flops seen for a tournament player is around 25%, especially in early levels, when stacks are deeper. For an MTT with 10 players at each table, a full orbit would result in 25 players seeing the flop (25 percent of 100 total flops seen) for an average of 2.5 players per flop.

For six-max, the same 25% rate would result in only 1.5 players seeing each flop. The same 2.5 players per flop ratio would require a flop percentage of 41.7%.

Most players won't open their range that widely, which is why it is uncommon for more than two players to see a flop in a six-max tournament. This emphasizes heads-up skills and makes position even more important in six-max.

Poker player shuffling a deck

Tighten Your Bet Sizing


Because you are widening your opening and calling ranges, you will likely be playing more hands. This calls for a smaller standard opening bet. For nine-handed play, the standard opening bet is around 2.5-4X the BB. For six-max, you want to lower your standard opening bet to between 2-3xBB.

Another reason for a smaller opening bet is that you will pay a blind once every three hands (versus one of every 4.5 hands in nine-handed). Reducing your betting size will help make your chips last longer.

Avoid limping (i.e. calling the big blind before anybody else has raised). Again, due to the preponderance of aggressive play at six-max, a limp is an open invitation for someone to raise you pre-flop. Then you will be forced to pay more chips to see a flop with a marginal hand, or sacrifice your initial limp to the pot. Neither scenario is a good one.

Blinds at a 5-10 table
Table
6-max
9-max
Hands per hour
54
54
Big blinds
9x10=90
6x10=60
Small blinds
9x5=45
6x5=30
Total blinds
135
90

Defending Your Blind & Button

Since blinds come around more often in a six-max table, it is important to be aggressive when playing from the blinds, for a couple of reasons.

Players are opening with wider ranges, which makes them vulnerable to a three-bet pre-flop. A strong three-bet from the Big Blind can scoop many pots before the flop.

Aggressive play signals to the rest of the table that you take your blinds seriously. This will come in handy in tournaments especially, because blinds become more valuable as effective stack sizes decrease in the higher levels.

For tournament players, the need to come out swinging is magnified. Escalating blinds and antes will whittle down your stack quicker than in cash games or tournaments that play nine- or ten-handed.

Poker dealer dealing cards

Intelligence is Crucial


While there are numerous HUDs available for online players, collecting intelligence while playing live presents unique challenges. Six-max tables are a little easier because there are fewer players to follow.

The best time to gather intelligence is when you are not in a hand. Watch the other players and take mental notes. Don't take out your cell phone between hands and ditch the headphones as well. You need all your senses and faculties engaged.

Keep it simple. Don't try to compile numerous information on every player at the table. Instead, pick out a couple of players and keep tabs on a few key data points. Are they seeing a lot of flops? Do they limp into hands? Are they playing their blinds aggressively?

Collect just enough evidence to get a general impression of the player, and then begin following another player or two. Pretty soon you'll have a mental image of everyone at the table.

Playing six-max is fun. The game is more fast-paced, and more players tend to see more pots. But it is not for the timid. It requires changes in style from full ring games, most notably adding more aggression into your style. If you are not comfortable playing an aggressive kind of poker, six-max may not be the best situation for you.

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