Ultimate Guide For Playing 6-Max Table Games

  • Avatar for WSOP Winner Chris 'Fox' WallaceReviewed by  WSOP Winner Chris ‘Fox’ Wallace

As you might expect, 6-Max poker games feature a maximum of six players at a table. Many Texas Hold’em players prefer 6-Max poker, as it allows you to play more hands per hour and there are fewer opponents to keep track of.

However, although the rules are the same, it’s important to adjust your playing style to the smaller field: you should widen your opening rangestighten your bet sizing, and play more aggressively.

Read on to find out more about these strategies and increase your chances of winning in 6-Max ring games.

Open Your Range

Because six-handed play essentially eliminates early positions, you should widen your range.

At a nine-handed table, the first three positions to act preflop – 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 Ts or higher).

When there are only six players seated, however, chances for strong opening hands are reduced. Premium hands (A-K, A-Q, pocket Aces, Kings, Queens or Jacks,) occur only 2.1% of the time (56 combinations out of a possible 2,652). So at a 6-Max table, one of these hands will show up 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 pocket 6s and above, any ace down to A-7, any Broadway combination (e.g. any combination of cards T or above) and all suited aces will give you 228 total opening hands for an opening range of the top 8.6% of hands, which is still conservative in 6-Max. You can also add suited connectors and one-gappers, especially from later positions.

Why A-7?

With nine players dealt into a hand, the odds of any player having an ace are around 83%. Moreover, if you are dealt an ace in a nine-handed game, the odds another player also has an ace are around 69%. This means that for every 1,000 times you are dealt an ace, you will have the only ace 310 times on average, 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% of the time, so in those 690 hands, you would be ahead of the other player with an ace 283 times. Combine these statistics and your A-7 would be ahead593 times in 1,000 hands against other aces or no aces (note that this analysis doesn’t include pocket pairs).

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

Middle Pocket Pairs

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 in every four times you have pocket sevens you will be dominated by a player with a higher pocket pair.

At a six-handed table, however, 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.

Chance of another player having a higher pocket pair

Your Pocket Pair9-Handed6-HandedDifference

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 Preflop

Some players believe calling a preflop raise is a bad move, and that you should always either fold or re-raise. Fight fire with fire. They’ve probably not played a lot of 6-Max.

Calling preflop, especially if you have position over the aggressor, is a solid play in 6-Max if you are playing a hand from the bottom of your range or a speculative hand like 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 preflop. The propensity for some players to be overly aggressive in 6-Max could force you to make many more big preflop decisions than you would face in a nine-handed game.

Why Heads-up Skills & Position Really Matter in 6-Max

It is generally accepted that good tournament player should aim to see around 25% of flops, 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 6-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 6-Max tournament. This emphasizes heads-up skills and makes position even more important in 6-Max.

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 usually around 2.5-4x the BB. For 6-Max, you want to lower your standard opening bet to between 2-3x BB.

Another reason for a smaller opening bet is that you will pay a blind once every three hands (versus once 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 6-Max, a limp is an open invitation for someone to raise you preflop. 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.

Defending Your Blind & Button

Since blinds come around more often at a 6-Max table, it is important to be aggressive when playing from the blinds, for a few reasons:

  • Players are opening with wider ranges, which makes them vulnerable to a 3-bet preflop. A strong 3-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 10-handed.

Blinds at a 5-10 table

TableHands per HourBig BlindsSmall BlindsTotal in Blinds Paid

Conclusion: Intelligence and Aggression are Crucial

While there are numerous HUDs available for online players, collecting intelligence while playing live presents unique challenges. 6-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 detailed 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 6-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, 6-Max may not be the best situation for you.

Improve your game by checking out even more poker strategies and guides here or bring it back to basics with the poker rules for all poker variants.

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