NHL 6-Max is the most famous variant in online poker
Many moons ago, when online poker was still finding its virtual feet, everyone and his dog was playing full ring games. In fact, in those days, the choice wasn’t as varied as the menu enjoyed by today’s online poker fans – rather there were either 9 or 10 players to a table, that being the convention at the time (as it still is) in actual bricks & mortar poker rooms.
However, since the introduction of 6-max games, this comparatively fast-paced short-handed format has grown over the years to be the modern, more exciting choice. With the blinds veritably racing around the 6-seat table compared with what might seem the snail’s pace with the traditional format, the game will inevitably see more action.
A Rolling stone gathers no moss
The very nature of 6-max poker means that it’s simply not possible, with literally a third of every orbit seeing us having to fork out for the Blinds, to wait around and play only premium hands. If you’re not willing to get your hands dirty and dive headlong into the melee, then short-handed poker probably isn’t for you.
Having said that, the game has evolved to such an extent that full ring strategy isn’t at all a carbon copy of what it was in the pioneer days. Even if we were to jump in a time machine and travel back 10 years (wouldn’t that be a poker player’s dream?) we would see differences between then and now – some of which, ironically, have come about as full ring players tried out short-handed games and then switched back to their former stomping grounds with a more refined, flexible, aggressive strategy. So there are elements (some psychological) of shorthanded poker at today’s full ring tables, too.
It’s imperative, then, in our battle against both the Blinds and the opposition, to adopt a proactive approach to 6-max games.
Hopefully, if I write Aggression, Aggression, Aggression here it might help in hitting home the message that a key part of our 6-max strategy is – yes, you’ve guessed it! – Aggression. Of course this is useful in poker regardless but, in this particular context, especially so.
First, there’s the obvious numerical feature when playing short-handed, namely that instead of up to nine opponents we’re faced with only five – that’s just over half the number of players we need to push off their hand to pick up a pot! In fact a distinctive feature of short-handed play is the frequency with which an opening bet is able to elicit wholesale folds around the table, earning the Blinds and whatever additional chips might be lying around without even getting to the Flop. And we don’t by any means need to wait around for a strong hand to get away with this kind of steal. With considerably more hands to look forward to than in full ring games, players are going to be loathe to put up a fight with only an average holding – especially out of position.
Note that this tactic applies to unraised as well as unopened pots. Moreover, this kind of pre-flop aggression is a good play on numerous levels as well as giving us an opportunity to take down a pot uncontested. For example, we’re representing strength, thus putting opponents off getting involved; there’s now a price to pay. Consequently, we’re also thinning down the field in order to increase our chances of winning. A bet of 3BB should do the job, and it’s also an acceptable amount to let go in case we’re faced with a big reraise and need to fold (inasmuch as any amount is acceptable to part with!).
Showing strength and assuming the initiative in a hand also introduces fold equity, so that a subsequent show of aggression post-flop in the form of a continuation bet will have more success.
Remember that position, while always a crucial factor, is of vital importance here. With hand ranges typically wider and more flexible, in turn rewarding aggressive play more than is the case with a full ring game, so the role of position tends to be enhanced still further. Having a positional advantage over two opponents, or even one – which happens countless times during a session – is even more effective than it is when three or four players come along for the ride.
But don’t be passive
Just as it’s important to emphasise that we need to be prepared to get busy at 6-max tables and be willing to put our head above the parapet, conversely, we need to avoid timid, overly cautious play. We simply wouldn’t enjoy the advantageous tactics and features described above if we played passively. Limping wouldn’t show strength (quite the opposite), or narrow down the field, or add fold equity. Moreover, limping in a shorthanded game also runs the risk of finding ourselves being pushed off the pot by someone else’s aggression. Ironically, they could well be trying to steal which, remember, is something that we should be doing! In a game where the most successful players sniff out and exploit opportunity, our not trying to claim ownership of chips that are shouting out to be hoovered up is a poker sin. (Obviously there are times when limping is appropriate, but you get the picture).
So, there we have it! As you gain experience playing 6-Max poker, remember to consider the importance of Aggression and Position, be proactive, seek out spots to steal, and avoid passivity.