Feuled by seemingly nonstop television coverage and internet access in nearly every house, internet Texas Hold 'em is exploding. There are dozens of online poker rooms, with over 75,000 players often playing at the most popular site, Party Poker. While there is money to be made everywhere, the shorthanded games offer some of the best opportunities to make a healthy living.
The standard poker table in an online poker room has ten seats. However, the poker rooms also offer shorthanded games where a maximum of six players sit at the table. The rules of the game are the same, but the strategies employed should be vastly different to take advantage of the different conditions. I liken it to tennis?singles and doubles are similar, but to be an effective doubles player one must approach the game with a vastly different mindset.
The most important component to playing winning poker, whether it be shorthanded or at full tables, is starting hand selection. The vast majority of starting hands are losers in the long run. There is a limit poker concept called Expected Value (EV) which is basically the number of big bets a player can expect to win per hand if he were to play that hand thousands of times. A positive EV hand is one that will make money for you in the long run and winning Texas Hold 'em players stick with these starting hands.
In shorthanded games, many of the hands that are ?EV at a ten man table become profitable. The reason for this is that with fewer opponents there is a lower probability of running up against a really strong hand. Because of this fact, thousands of players gravitate from the full tables to the 6-man variety. This is why our opportunity lies at the smaller tables. There is a very high correlation between these players' lack of adherence to sound starting hands and poor post-flop play. These players tend to lack sound fundamentals in all facets of their games.
We know that the competition is weak at 6-max tables, but how do we take advantage of it? Two words: controlled aggression. When we have a solid hand, we must raise and bet. Timidity is a mortal sin in shorthanded games. Simple mathematics will prove this point. An unpaired hand will miss the flop over sixty percent of the time. If we've raised and isolated ourselves to one opponent, the odds are in our favor that he has no pair after the flop. So, whether we've hit the flop or not, we have a good chance of winning the pot with a bet right there. If we've raised with a solid hand, we are probably in the driver's seat when both players have hit the flop, both players have missed and we have hit and they have missed. Only when we miss and they hit are we in trouble.
The hands we choose to play or raise depend on many factors: the number of opponents, the style of play of our opponents, the skill of our opponents, and most importantly our position. It's a vast generalization, but in general it's usually not prudent to enter the pot unless you're holding a pair or two cards nine or higher. If we are the first to enter the pot and a couple of players have folded, most of these hands should be raised. Remember, if we are given the chance to raise and isolate to one opponent, we are in a commanding position. This is often possible at a tight table or in a "blind stealing" position?one of the last to act in a pot that has not been entered.
This has been just a brief introduction to the opportunities present at shorthanded play. Many players avoid playing shorthanded due to their unfamiliarity with the game, but by making a few simple adjustments in your game you will win big at shorthanded internet poker.
Greg Dwyer is a professional poker player who makes his living playing Texas Hold 'em on the internet. Visit one of his websites for more articles on poker strategy: http://www.pokercentral.us and http://www.hittheflop.com