Shorthanded Texas Holdem

Adjusting your play – An introduction for beginners

This information is not a template for a winning game. It is on the contrary an explanation of the factors that matters when you only play a few players and what the game at shorthanded tables looks like. Will you make a profit or a loss? Well this is mainly up to your ability to read the game and to change and vary it and of course pick the right opponents. Therefore it is recommended that you do not play any NL games before you have played for quite a long time and thus have gained some experience.

The major part of this text applies to fixed low limit shorthanded Holdem although it to some extent also applies to NL.

When the number of players at a table has gone down to about 6 or fewer you start talking about shorthanded play. Playing FL Texas Hold’em like I earlier have been recommended at full 10-tables is a completely wrong method to manage well. When playing shorthanded you are more or less forced to play more hands to be successful at the poker table. Rule of thumb: The fewer players the more played hands by you (If the blinds aren’t smaller than usual). You should also play more aggressively.

This in the first place is due to:

  • That the blinds go quicker around the table. If you do not play they will finish your stack. In other words – what you spend on blinds will not be covered by the occasional winning hands you get by playing tightly.
  • That you have fewer opponents. Thus luck or chance affects fewer opponents. This of course minimizes the risk that a fairly high pair with a pretty good kicker card will be beaten by somebody else. At a 10-player-table it is fairly easy to take down a cocky player who plays bad starting hands as the player frequently will meet high cards or high pairs. When playing at shorthanded tables this is not as obvious.
  • That you have bigger chances to blind steal. The blinds are generally more valuable when playing shorthanded.
  • That players are more afraid of opponents who raise often. More players than you expect can join in up to the river card without calling your bluff after the river card. Calling stations are welcome, that is the players that from the odds point of view play wrongly by being too much in love with their high cards and call all the way without having at least a pair on the hand.

Some background to make the above way of thinking more complete:

Let’s say you are playing heads-up, fixed limit at a $2/$4-table at an online poker room such as Bodog Poker Canada.

You pay the Small Blind ($1) and your opponent the Big Blind ($2)

You raise before the flop and plan to go on playing if the flop will give you anything. This means you are prepared to pay $3 to win the $3 that already are in the pot.

If your opponent call you 50% of the times this means that you already at this stage have an advantage as you are the one who decide if you want to go on, that is if you have got a good hand. You always fold if the flop does not give you anything after first having checked your opponent and he then has made a bet.

If your opponent call you less than 50% of the times you have the best chances to make a profit. This is partly due to the fact that he is folding his Big Blind to you and partly that you sometimes win more hands after the flop.

Now to the extra nice part. If your opponent only calls, for example 33% (1/3) of the times, this means that you win $3 two times out of three and lose $3 the third time. This means that you on average make a profit of $1 per played hand. Add further profits that you make when flopping a good hand and go on playing.

Countermeasures to this way of playing are of course, as you already might have guessed, calling and raising more frequently. This is not a recommendation – it is a must!

The winning concept is often: Raise or fold frequently.

Very often it is better to raise than just calling when you have a playable hand and when the table consists of few players and these are passive. By doing this you take the initiative and can use this in different ways – disguise your hands, bluffing and get some good action when you have the nuts. This is particular suitable when you are in a position for blind steal when players aren’t defending their blinds strongly enough.

Selecting tables – Aggressive play

Passivity is a sign of weakness when you play shorthanded. That is why I look for tables with LOW flop percentage when I want to play aggressive shorthanded. This is in other word completely opposite to what I look for when I play fixed limit with full tables.

Selecting tables – Passive play

It is of course possible to play fairly tight Hold’em at these tables but in order to make this work satisfactory you would like to have 5-6 players around the table and a high flop percentage. The rule of thumb “Call more hands when playing shorthanded than at full10-player-tables” is however always valid.

Starting Hands

In most cases it is enough to have a fairly high card in combination with a fairly good kicker card (7 or higher) to call or raise. Overdoing the aggressive play can sometimes pay off at certain tables but it can also make you lose a lot if you do not notice that your opponents have started slowplaying or that they simply cannot be defeated easily – cause they know that you know how to defeat these tables…

A starting hands table will not be shown here. These hands are far too dependent on the playing conditions at the table.

and something about FL odds

When the flop has been dealt you should see to it that you always have something on your hand when calling somebody. Making a a draw for something else than a flush (when you have 4 cards to a flush) or straight (when you have an open straight draw, for instance 9-T- J-Q) is from an odds point of view a completely wrong decision if you are sure that the opponent has a stronger hand than yours and you also know that he will not give up. And very often it is much better beeing the agressor in those hands.

If you have an A with a fairly good kicker card without anything else worth mentioning I do not say it is wrong to raise as you with frequent raises can force a player with a mediocre pair to fold. This is more common than the fact that you will hit an A on the turn- or river card… This however to a large extent depends on how scaring the flop is to your opponent and your own certainty that your opponent does not have anything that is favoured by the flop.

Even if you join up to showdown and lose your way of playing might have created good conditions for coming hands when you really have a strong hand. As mentioned before it takes a lot of reading and thinking/planning when playing shorthanded compared to playing longhanded (10 players).
Shorthande playing contains lots of hands that goes all the way to showdown with an A as the highest card with a low kicker card after loads of raises which might be good to know (there is of course a big difference between playing against 6 players or against 3 players – so be wise!). You keep your game balanced.

Risk of trouble

The shorthanded tables are probably the place where the players tend to use bad language and cause trouble the most ;-). If you learn to play winning shorthanded you should not expect to hear that you are good player. It is more likely you will be booed at and asked to go to a place which is slightly hotter.

You have to disregard this and merely establish the fact that these comments come from players who do not know what they are talking about and who play too tightly. That is why they literally hate your raising standards with QTo (well, it should’t be standard raise either – it depends on the table…) and even worse hands. Calling the flop in this way is not a problem but going on calling is wrong unless you have something of value.


Does this sound simple? Unfortunately it is not. Reading the players and picking the right opponents is incredibly important in order to beat these tables which is the difference from the low limit-tables where you in the long run nearly make a profit automatically by playing very tightly and by using your positions ( if many players call the flop and play their hands too far).

Be aware that your bank roll will be exposed to BIG fluctuations.

The rake

Playing shorthanded or heads-up without rakeback is a big waste of money. Even at the limit tables the pots will be raked for hundreds of dollars each month. This is an amount that you could have yourself.

Value Betting the River in Texas Holdem

texas-holdem-river-bodog-pokerIf you read any types of advanced poker ebooks or strategy articles at any of the online poker sites, you’ll learn that one of the biggest flaws amongst even winning players in the micro-stakes games is that they don’t value bet the river properly.

Unfortunately a lot of regulars butcher the river. They either don’t value bet the river enough with strong hands, or they value bet in awkward situations where they would be much better off checking for value and taking the safer route.

Think about this one for a second. Have you ever caught yourself with Ax or mid-pair and decided to raise the board after a check only to get bluff-raised off the pot and fold? Well this is precisely what I’m talking about when I say that most players don’t play the river profitably enough or exploit enough value from the regulars.

There are no rigid safeguards or rules for how you play the river. In fact, the river encapsulates what Texas Holdem is all about. Getting the meta-game right, understanding your opponent’s playing style and narrowing down his hand range is the only right way to playing the river. If you are having to guess at these stage whether your opponent has something or not then you’re probably not at a very good player yet.

Against calling stations and weak TAG players you should be value betting lightly more often, since they are more likely to call with dominated hands. Against decent LAGs and solid players however you should only be value betting with strong hands.

Value Bet or Check the River?

You only want to value bet the river when you’re ahead. Typical hands that I will value bet the river with will be 3 of a kind, the nut flush/straight or top two pair. For example, if I have K10 on a board A-K-4-9-K then it is 99% likely that you are ahead.

Your aim should be to extract the maximum value possible from the board, however knowing how to do this will depend on your opponent’s playing style and how he played the flop and turn. If he showed some aggression by betting the flop and continuing by betting the turn then he’s probably got the Ace and will be calling you down.

On the other hand if he checked both the flop, turn and river then he’s very unlikely to call any sized bet on the river. He might have even had a drawing hand like JQ and missed it on the river. Against these types of players you need to make much smaller value bets to encourage them to call. I’d make a ¼ pot value bet for example rather than a 50% bet which I’d do if my opponent had the ace.

Most players fail to recognize dangerous boards and value bet when they are not 100% confident that they are ahead. A bad time to value bet the river for example would be when you have 78 on a 9-10-J-Q-4 board. Although you have a very good hand you could easily be drawing dead to the nut straight. Hence, if your opponent checks to you then you are better off checking for value and seeing a cheap showdown.

To explain why checking is the best option let’s say you value bet for instance. By value betting 50% of the pot you are only likely to get called by hands that beat you since there are 4 cards to the straight on the board. What’s more, if you value bet the river then there is a greater chance that your opponent will try to bluff-raise you by representing the nut straight. Hence, checking for value is the best option in the long term.

Now, obviously there will be much more difficult situations to assess on the river. Let’s say that you have JQ for example and board shows 6-J-K-2-7. If you’re opponent checks over to you then your decision to bet the river should be based on your opponent’s tendencies. If he c-bet the flop but checked both the turn and river then he could have hit the bottom or even mid-pair.

You should value bet against this opponent since there is a high chance they will call with an inferior hand. On the other hand, if he raised pre-flop, bet the flop and the turn but then checked the river, then there is a greater possibility that he has the K. Since he showed so much aggression earlier in the hand I will check behind a check under these circumstances and avoid an ugly re-raise.

The Basics of Bankroll Management

A lot of players who start out playing poker do not have any idea about how to manage their bankroll. Bad knowledge of Bankroll Management will almost always result in the player eventually going broke and having to make a new deposit to the poker room. We all hate losing money and even worse; going broke.

The idea of bankroll management can be applied to any game, activity or sporting event that you wager money on, all of which can be done at websites like Ideally, you want to give yourself enough leeway so that a bad run of luck doesn’t send you back to the ATM or your credit card.


There are different bankroll strategies for different types of poker games and limits. There is one Cash Games Strategy and one Tournament Strategy approach to this bankroll management system.

Cash Game Strategy

If you are playing cash games then your optimal strategy will vary depending on if you are playing No limit and Pot Limit Hold Em or if you are playing Fixed Limit Hold Em.

No Limit Hold’em

When playing No Limit Hold Em it is recommended that you have at least 20 buy ins for the level that you are playing. However some players are saying that you need as much as 40 buy ins on your current level to feel safe and stable. This means that if you are for example playing at the $1/2 NL tables with a maximum buy in of $200 you will need a bankroll of at least $4000.

Fixed Limit Hold’em

For Fixed Limit Hold Em Players it will be calculated a bit different. It is recommended that a Fixed Limit Hold Em player should have at least 300 Big Bets for the level where they are playing. This means that if you are playing on the $5/10 Fixed Limit tables you will need a bankroll of at least $3000.

Sit N Go Tournament Strategy

If you are a Sit and Go player you will have to use another approach to the bankroll system in order to optimize your bankroll. When playing in Sit and Go tournaments you should have at least 40 buy ins for the level you are playing at to practice good bankroll management. This means that if you are playing $20+2 SNGs you should have at least $880 in your bankroll.

When playing after these guidelines you are less likely to go broke. If you are on a losing streak you will have to go down in levels to make sure that you are always following to bankroll rules that you have set up. If you for example started out with $880 playing $22+2 SNGS and lost your way down to $440 you will have to move down to the next level which would be $10+1. Then when you hit $880 again you can allow yourself to move back up to the $22+2 level.

Razz Poker

razz-pokerPoker is big family of card games. Many of these card games have been popular at different points of time. Razz Poker is one such poker game that has achieved popularity very recently.

It is basically a stud poker game that is also called low ball poker, meaning, the lowest hand wins. The aim of the game is to make the lowest possible hand of five cards, out of the seven cards that are dealt to a player.


As is the case with most of the poker games, the history of Razz is not very clear. Where and when the game started is yet to be ascertained, but it is believed that the game started soon after 7 card stud became popular in the early 1900s.

Razz was included in the first World Series of Poker (WSOP) in 1971, and has been included in every WSOP since then except the one in 1974.

The game was never very popular, and Seven Card Stud and 5 Card Draw took the limelight for the rest of the 20th century. However after 2004 WSOP, when the event was televised, Razz started getting popular.

Razz Poker Rules

The game is played with a standard 52 card deck amongst a maximum of 8 players.

  • The game starts with the players making their ante bet, which is the opening bet. After this, every player is dealt two cards face down. These are called the hole cards. Also they are dealt one card face-up; this is called the door card.
  • Now, the player who has the highest door places the first bet called the ‘bring-in’. In case two players have the same ranked card then the decision is made based upon the suit. The rank of suits in descending order is spades, heart, diamonds, and clubs.
  • The bring-in is usually half or one third the amount of a regular bet. Bring-in can also be equal to the regular bet. If it is a fraction of the regular bet then the next player can either complete the bet, or he can call the same amount as the first player.
  • After that the betting takes place in increments of the regular bet. After the first round of betting, each player is dealt another card face-up. Betting begins from the lowest possible hand. The process goes on till the fifth card is dealt.
  • After the fifth card the betting amount doubles. The seventh card is dealt face-down and then the call-out begins with the player who started the betting after the sixth card was dealt.

If 8 players are playing, and all of them play till the end, then 56 cards will be required. Since Razz is played with a standard 56 card deck, this is not possible. In such cases, the dealer deals the seventh card on the table face up. All the players are able to use his card to make their hand. This is the only time when a community card is used in Razz.

Razz Strategy

You won’t find many high stakes poker games that include Razz. This is because most players don’t play this game with a really serious attitude. Therefore, Razz is usually relegated to small ring games or the occasional poker tournament.

Many players have commented on the fact that Razz provides a good player a better chance of winning. This is because there are a lot more chances for a player reading the hands based upon the cards present on the table. Here is a look at the strategies for various hands while playing Razz.

Starting hand: In Razz you are trying to make the worst poker hand possible. That is why if you get first three cards between an ace and a five then you are in luck. If your hand has three cards between an ace and a six, even then you should complete the bet. You can think about raising it as well.

Also, remember that other players’ door cards are also visible to you. So you should take them into account as well. For instance, if you have an ace three and a five, and your opponent’s hole card is 6, then irrespective of what his other two cards are, you will definitely have the better hand.

Keep track of the cards: It is very important that you know which cards are on the table. For instance, if you have a two, a three and seven, the hand would be considered nothing better than mediocre. However, if you see that there are three 7’s on the table, then the chance of you getting a pair reduces drastically, making your hand better.

3rd and 4th street: As discussed above anything from an ace to 5 is a good starting hand. However, 7 high and 8 high are not good hands and should be folded if the other door cards are low. But if they are higher than your 8 high then you can bet. The fourth street is where the game starts to get more interesting. Now if you get a card which ends up improving your hand then you have to become more aggressive.

In other poker games you would play to entice your opponent into betting more. However, in Razz you use a technique called ram and jam. This technique simply means that as soon as you get a good hand you should raise the bet. This is because if you do not, your opponent will fold irrespective of what you bet.

The other situation on 4th street is that you receive a card that gives you a pair, but to others it looks as though you have improved your hand. In such cases you should bet if your opponent has a bad card.

Razz is a very different game in comparison to Texas Hold’em or other popular poker variants. Also, it is one of those games that you should play when you are at your peak. You need to be aggressive in this game and have to isolate the field if you want to improve your chances of winning.

It is also very important that you do not get carried away if someone is re-raising. The best option is to call and see what the next card holds. Razz is a game that can turn around suddenly simply because the chances of improving the subsequent hands are less.

Playing Trash Hands in Texas Hold’em

It often happens that you have take risks in poker. Of course, betting always involves risk, but the risk becomes much more when the cards you are betting on trash. Trash cards are the cards of very low value, which have meager chances of winning. But as you are on the table and have make the initials bets, taking the risks is often the right decision.

The important thing to keep in mind here is the right time when you should take this risk. You have to make up a strategy. As your odds of winning are less, you win will totally depend on luck. If luck does not favor you, you can keep on playing trash hands a hundred times and lose in row.

So, avoid such a thing from happening, what you need is an alert mind and a sound strategy. You don’t have to fold every time you get a trash hand. It’s not only the hand that wins. If you take the right risks at the right time, you may just end up being lucky.

Strategy for Playing Garbage Hands


A garbage hand is anything that you see in green on the chart above. This is the standard chart used if you want to play your hand by the books. This doesn’t mean that you should always fold A-2 unsuited, you should just be wary of playing it as if it were a strong hand.

I wouldn’t call a lot of the unplayable hands in this chart “trash hands” exactly. This shouldn’t stop you from trying to bully other players into folding the blinds. Just make sure that you have a backup plan if you get re-raised.

The one time to bet aggressively is when the other players at the table seem timid to bet. This is the best way to try to pick up free blinds. Even if someone re-raises your raise, at least you will know that someone is lying about their hand initially.

And important thing to learn is to recognize hands are weak by their value but have the odds of winning. For instance, if you consider the card combination- Q-4. This hand is very weak, but in case you opponent happens to have a card with only a Q in it with something of value lesser than 4, you will win.

No matter how low the chances of this being the case may be, but they cannot be totally over-ruled. Your opponents may have a stronger hand that you. The more the number of opponents on the table, the more are the chances of your losing.

But as I said before, such risks should be taken at the right time. If you are alert, enough you will get a rough idea of the type hands in the possession of your opponents and you will be able to make the right moves accordingly.

Playing weaker starting hands

Some cards are trash individually but make good connecting cards. Cards that are suited usually are good options for such sets. However, you should mind the gap between such cards. If there just one card missing between the connecting cards, the chances of this gap being made up are good.

But in case the gap is two or more, then you should not think about trying to connect them, as the chances of having the right cards being dealt are extremely less. You can’t make it straight if you need 2 or more cards and so it is not advisable to keep waiting for something like that to happen.

You should prefer pairs which are smaller. Pairs are thought to be trash by some people but they are not all that useless. You can indeed make successful flops with such pairs, but the timing of such flops has to be right. If you have such a pair in your hand, don’t wait too much, because the more you wait, the lesser your winning chances shrink.

In Texas Hold’em poker you get to know if your trash hand is good enough or not, at the flop. To gain the most, you should observe the hands of your opponents after the flop. Look at the kinds of hands that they had and make a comparison of these hands with yours.

In case you find that your trash hand is better than your opponents are, take the opportunity to raise your bet. But, in case you see that your trash hand really deserves to be called trash, then stay tight and don’t hurry into making the bets.

The final and the most effective solution for avoiding losses due to trash hands is to fold. Don’t be egoistic and play on just for the sake of completing the game. If you don’t see yourself winning, fold. After all, poker is all about grabbing the chips and so there is no use of playing on if you don’t see yourself being able to do that.

Playing bad hands online

My favorite place to play currently is Full Tilt Poker. I like it because there are a lot of beginners that play their after watching the commercials. Some of these players are very easy to push around because they play strictly by the books. Here are Full Tilt Poker downloads so you can sign up with Full Tilt if you haven’t already.

You always have to be wary of playing bad hands online. The simple fact of the matter is that there are a lot of “calling machines” that will call any of your bluff bets. It is a lot different than playing people at a table.

You better get a feel for your opponent before you try pushing another player around without the cards to back it up. It only takes getting exposed one or two times before the other players start calling against you every time. If you have the option to muck the cards, make sure you do. If you don’t, you shouldn’t have been in the hand.

Here is a Full Tilt Poker review that I did a little while back. Have a look if you are interested.

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