This column includes excerpts from the new, expanded edition of Internet Texas Hold'em: Winning Strategies for Full-Ring and Short-Handed Games.
My last column looked at the three biggest mistakes that players make in shorthanded limit hold'em. This column will discuss the best type of games to look for, and then will outline a five-point strategy for dominating shorthanded games.
There are two types of games that you should be seeking. The first is a game with one or two maniacs. If you can find a six-handed game with one or two players who are on tilt or who are just playing very poorly, you have found a profitable game.
The other type is a tight-passive game. In this type of game, your opponents play relatively tight, limp when first in, don't reraise you, and fold too often on the flop. These games are not that difficult to find. In fact, they are the norm for many games at limits of up to $10-$20.
Outlined here is a strategy for tight-passive games. If you are not in this type of game, you should certainly be able to find one; if not, the following will either require some adjustments or may not apply.
- Play loose! Try to play a lot of hands with the right table conditions. Note the caveat here that you must be in the right game. Otherwise, you need to make a lot of adjustments, including not playing quite so loose. Exact starting-hand selection is discussed in detail in the book.
- Always raise when first in, no exceptions.
- Almost always reraise or fold against a lone opponent if you're not in the blinds.
- Always make a continuation-bet on the flop against a lone opponent (and frequently against two opponents).
- On the turn, take your good hands to the bank! Your opponents will often get frustrated with your loose-aggressive style and start to think that you never have a good hand.
Let´s look at some examples of the dynamics of this strategy in action, and how it becomes profitable.
You raise when first in from early position with decent starting hands like K-J and A-9, or even K-9 suited, and raise from the cutoff and button with all kinds of starting hands, such as A-7 offsuit, 4-4, 10-9 offsuit, or 7-6 suited. Since your opponents are tight and passive, you win the blinds often, earning 1.5 small bets every time they fold. If they don't fold, you don't need to worry about a reraise too often, since they are passive, which allows you to see flops relatively cheaply. You "win" via the combination of stealing the blinds right away and building post-flop value with your hand, even if it is somewhat weaker than your opponent's hand, on average.
On the Flop
Of course, the majority of the time, someone will call your raise preflop. In the example above, there are at least 4.5 small bets in the pot, and 5.5 if the caller was not in one of the blinds. Add another bet if three opponents see the flop.
The flop comes, you miss, and you fire a bet 100 percent of the time against a lone opponent, and with a high frequency against two opponents. This bet will often earn you a nice little profit. If there are 4.5 bets in the pot, your opponents need to fold only one in five times for you to make a profit! If there are 5.5 bets, they need to fold only one time out of six! I guarantee that if you have chosen the right game, they will fold much more frequently than that. Again, you "win" via the combination of taking the pot on the flop and, if called, having some equity invested in the hand, as you could end up with the best hand.
You can see that under ideal playing conditions, your starting hands really don't matter that much. Of course, you can't totally disregard starting-hand selection. The flop bet is almost always profitable, given the amount in the pot, but you have to recognize that you contributed to building that pot. Against a lone opponent, you generally are committing a total of three small bets (two preflop and one on the flop) to win 2.5 to 3.5 small bets. If your opponents fold roughly 50 percent of the time before the turn, you could justify raising every single hand! Obviously, these types of opponents are quite rare, but the point is that you can profit in the long term by stealing the blinds and pots on the flop while also being able to capitalize on your better hands after the flop.
But our profits don't end simply on the flop. There is one more secret weapon to give us huge profits: a good hand. You are going to hit your hand some of the time, and when you do, you are more likely to be paid off, as your opponents won't believe that you have a hand.
Realize that you can play "weaker" hands with more aggression than you might think. Second pair is a pretty decent hand when your opponents think you always have nothing. They will call you down with small pairs, A-X, or even K-X. They might try to raise you with nothing on the turn, assuming that you have nothing, also. You will be amazed at some of the hands that your opponents will turn over on the river when you implement the loose-aggressive strategy that I have outlined above.
There it is - a simple and profitable five-point shorthanded strategy. You make money by stealing the blinds, by winning the pot on the flop, and by winning with your good hands.
Of course, it is much easier to put this down on paper than actually implement it. The first thing to realize is that it takes a certain type of player to try this strategy. This is shorthanded and you are playing loose, so be prepared for a lot of variance. You will get hammered when all of your hands start missing and you hit a bunch of second-best hands. Of course, when you are on, you will win a lot of money.
Your post-flop play also must be stellar for you to be able to pull off a very loose strategy. You are not playing premium hands, so you need to be able to overcome them with good post-flop skills.
Try this five-point strategy, and you will receive the ultimate comment. Inevitably, one of your opponents will type in the chat box, "What a fish!"
In my next column, I'll be switching to the subject of online no-limit hold'em tournaments, as I will discuss my big win at Full Tilt Poker, where I topped a 10,000-entrant field.
This article first appeared in Card Player magazine.
Matthew is the owner of Dimat Enterprises, “Publishing Today’s Best Poker Books”. The Math of Hold’em by Collin Moshman and Douglas Zare is available now at pokerbooks.InternetTexasHoldem.com.