published over 5 years ago
The battle in the blinds
In hold'em, blind stealing and defense is what separates the great players from small winners and mediocre losers. As you play increasingly shorthanded games, the amount of time you spend in the blinds increases dramatically. You will spend one and half more times paying blinds at a six-handed table than you will at a 10-handed table (33% of your hands vs. 20% of your hands). It is a very simple concept that drives the action of shorthanded poker. Compared to a full ring game, it will seem that nearly all of the hands you are in will be heads up vs. a blind, or with yourself in the blinds heads-up vs. a single opponent. Learning to adapt to these situations can be difficult - it is often more art than science - but is integral in succeeding in shorthanded play.
Learning the hard way: common mistakes
When I first began playing poker (specifically Texas Hold'em), the vast majority of the hands that I played were full ring. After playing full ring for sixty thousand hands, higher-limit friends told me that the best way to become a better player was to learn to play 6max.
Following their advice, I moved over to $1/2 6-max at PartyPoker and began playing. At the time, there were not nearly as many resources today as there are now for an aspiring shorthanded poker player -- the forums at twoplustwo did not included anything about shorthanded play, and the best you could hope to find was to post a hand and note that the game was a bit more shorthanded. I just jumped in and began playing...horribly. Though I do not have the databases anymore, I vaguely recall my stats being something like 38/15/1.8. I was too loose preflop, too passive postflop, and was putting myself in far more troublesome situations than I needed to -- the vast majority of "marginal" spots were not profitable at all, especially for a player of my skill level. Simply put, I overadjusted. I knew that playing shorthanded required some differences but I did not know what they were, and I took basic ideas (you should play more hands) and over applied them. I was reminded of this today when a younger player asked me what the main differences I saw between $3/6 6m and $3/6 full ring play were. Honestly, though there are differences, they aren't as drastic as people seem to think they are -- more importantly, they aren't nearly as drastic as people tend to envision when they first begin playing.
A few specific examples
I know it helps to be specific, so I will try to actually mention the types of mistakes I was making: opening K9o UTG+1, KTo UTG (this is marginally profitable if you are a good player but in a high rake environment with loose players it is likely a loser). QJo UTG. QTo UTG. A7o, A8o. Any Ace in the cutoff. Any King on the button. Far too many hands in the small blind vs. a frequently-defending button. The list goes on and on. I was raising a lot of hands and putting myself in a horrible position postflop, after getting called and not having any idea where I was postflop unless I flopped good. Example? You raise A9o UTG and are coldcalled by a loose player and a loose-aggressive Button. The BB folds, strangely enough, and you see a flop of J75 with two clubs. What's the right play?
Quantifying the right play here (bet-call, bet-fold, check-fold) is difficult enough when you are in position, but at least there you are given the advantage of having a bit more information. In this case, you've opened with a marginal hand in early position and now are presented with the options of betting blindly into two loose players, one who may raise with a wide range (club draws, 98, air, any pair, etc), or checking and taking it from there. Hopefully you can see the difficulty this presents. If you are an excellent postflop player, these situations (to an extent) can be handled with enough skill to make the hand +EV from this situation; however, in lower stakes games, overcoming the prohibitive rake structures is difficult enough playing a smaller range of hands.
Walking the tightrope
A large portion of your profit in shorthanded play will come from blind steal attempts in shorthanded games; either you will steal the blinds outright, or you will win a larger pot a portion of the time when the blinds defend. Even in passive games when blinds defend frequently but not aggressively, the amount of profit to be found from stealing the blinds is quite high. At the same time, you have to remember not to become too wildly aggressive with marginal hands. Although I hate "shooting for numbers," a good overall ASB (attempted to steal blinds) range should be in the neighborhood of 35%. The basic handrange I gave above may actually be somewhat too tight, depending on the game and the opponents, for blind stealing; often I will find myself adding in suited 1-gappers like 97s, T8s, and many suited Kings (easily K7s+, but often all the way to K2s) as well. This is entirely dependent upon my opponents, though -- versus a blind who calls a lot preflop and check-folds a lot of flops, I will widen my range to include hands like 86s, 75s, 76s, T7s, Q7s, Q8o+ -- basically a ton of hands intending to take down a 5SB+ pot very often.
The ideal that you are looking for in terms of blind stealing is to make life difficult for an opponent who will be out of position on all postflop streets; if you raise with a very narrow range of hands your hand will usually be stronger than his, however, this comes with your range being easier to read postflop. If you raise with a much wider range preflop, your hand becomes much more difficult to read and you become more difficult to play against, but if you take that too far then you've sacrificed EV by raising with hands that cannot sustain a profit long-term. Early in your poker career, I'd recommend sticking with a more solid range of hands, slowly increasing your range as you become a better postflop player.
A very general range that is somewhat fair (quite possibly a bit on the tight side, but it is unlikely to get anyone in significant trouble for playing too tight in lower limit games, as the impact the rake has on hands like opening 22 OTB) follows here:
Open for a Raise from Any Positon (UTG, MP, CO, Button)
AA-77, AKs-A8s, AKo-AJo, KQs-KTs, KQo, QJs
Open for a Raise starting from MP, CO, or Button
The above, plus 66, ATo, KJo, QTs, JTs
Open for a Raise starting from CO or Button
The above plus 55-44, A7s-A5s, A9o-A8o, K9s, KT, Q9s, QJ, QT, J9s
Open for a raise from the Button
The above plus A7o-A2o, Q8s, T9s, J8s, JTo
A more loose-aggressive range advocated by a number of players on the twoplustwo forums is linked here:
Preflop Chart (http://static.deucescracked.com/preflop_chart.xls)
It is much more complete than the basic range I gave, and I generally agree with some of the recommendations. It occasionally feels too loose, especially with regard to implied-odds hands in late position, but overall is very good. Before reading through it and deciding "ok, open KJo UTG every time," it is important to take into consideration the process that goes into making preflop decisions: this applies both in defense and in stealing.
Rob, just FYI, the link to the hand chart is broken. Not that I mind terribly the Alizee gif, I just don't think it'll improve my poker game.
Frankly I find looking at Alizee improves several aspects of my life . I like this article sometimes I find it easier to get information into my head if I can see it written down rather than listening to commentary - particularly because I'm often too lazy to take notes (typical student).