Strategies for Short-Handed Limit Hold ’em by John D’Agostino

In last week’s tip, I shared some strategies for playing short-handed no-limit cash games. This week, I’m following up with some more short-handed advice, this time concentrating on Limit Hold ‘em.

If you read last week’s tip, you’ll know that hand values change in short-handed play and that it’s proper to play a greater percentage of hands than would be wise at a full ring game. In these games, I play a lot of hands. So many, in fact, I’ve gotten the reputation of being something of a maniac. But there is a method to my madness. By the end of this article, I think you’ll agree.

Button Play

In a three- or four-handed Limit Hold ‘em cash game, I will raise about two of every three times I have the button. The quality of my hand is essentially irrelevant. The position raise puts me in control of the hand and, even if I’m holding total trash, the pressure puts the blinds in a spot where they need to catch a piece of the flop.

For example, say I raise on the button and the big blind calls with a modest but playable hand, maybe Qc-Td. Now, if the flop comes with any Ace or King, the blind is going to have a very difficult time continuing with the hand if he checks and I bet the flop. In fact, the blind is going to have a very difficult time continuing on any board that doesn’t contain a Queen or Ten.

If I follow up my raise and bet the flop with, say, 7-high, and get called or check-raised, it’s very easy to lay down the hand. I know this is going to happen at times, but I pick up the pot often enough to make the constant button aggression profitable.

Small Blind Play

When playing against opponents who raise frequently in position, I’m sure to respond with aggression in the small blind. If I’m holding a hand that’s likely best at a three-handed table – something as modest as A-9 might qualify – and I’m facing a button raise, I take control of the hand and three-bet. That puts additional pressure on the big blind. If I only call the button raise, the big blind will be getting great odds (5:1) to call the additional bet. And I’d far prefer to play the hand heads-up.

After three-betting from the small blind, I follow up with a bet on the flop almost 100 percent of the time. Since I represented a big hand pre-flop, I want to put my opponent to a decision immediately. Once I see how my opponent reacts, I can decide how I should proceed with the hand. I’ll have to give it up sometimes, but the pressure will force a lot of folds.

Big Blind Play

The big blind is the only place where I’m content to call bets pre-flop. In fact, a call is my usual reaction to a button raise. If I start with a moderate hand, I can see the flop and decide how to proceed. If I start with a strong hand, like pocket Aces or Kings, I’ll still call and look to check-raise the flop. I don’t like to three-bet from the big blind because it tends to announce my hand. My opponents know that I’m starting with a very big hand.

Overall Goal

As you can probably tell by now, I believe that aggression is key to success in short-handed Limit Hold ‘em. I think the constant bets and raises create two dynamics that can be exploited for profit. First, by being the aggressor, I have the opportunity to pick up a number of pots where both my opponent and I miss the flop.

Second, the aggression has the tendency to lead opponents to make some very bad decisions. After some time, opponents may call bets on every street with nothing more than Ace- or King-high. When they start doing that, I can tighten up and only bet hands that are likely to be winners at showdown.

At times my style may look maniacal. But in short-handed limit play, it works.

John D’Agostino