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Short-Deck Hold’em Strategy

A royal flush

It’s not often that a new poker variant actually gains traction in the poker world but that’s exactly what Short-Deck Hold’em has done over the last few years. The game originated as somewhat of a gambling game in the high-stakes games that take place in Asia but it gained more and more attention as players discovered new players of strategy. The game is now offered by a select selection of online poker sites and it’s one of the few games where nearly everyone is still learning the ropes.

What is Short-Deck Hold’em or 6 Plus Poker?

In Short-Deck Hold’em the standard 52-card deck that is used in all poker games is culled down to 36 cards by removing all deuces, treys, fours and fives.

Short-Deck Poker is also known as Six Plus Poker because the lowest card in the deck is the six. The game can be played with anywhere from 2-10 players but is usually played with six players.

Short-Deck is unique from other games not only because of the special deck but also how the rankings work. The reason the rankings have been re-worked is because the odds of hitting certain hands changes dramatically with the shorter deck. For instance you’re much more likely to hit straights or sets because the cards are more connected.

Aces are once again high and low but this time they stand in for the five instead of the traditional deuce. That means you can make a straight with 9-8-7-6-A. Because of all the aforementioned reasons Short-Deck Poker is a great action game and can be fantastic for an entertaining home game or a particularly interesting online session.

Since everyone is still learning the game it’s easier to find softer tables where players don’t know how to play. Here are the re-worked poker hand rankings for Short-Deck Poker (*reflects a hand that’s ranked differently):

  • 1. Royal Flush
  • 2. Straight Flush
  • 3. Four of a Kind
  • 4. Flush*
  • 5. Full House
  • 6. Straight
  • 7. Three of a Kind
  • 8. Two Pair
  • 9. One Pair
  • 10. High card

*Note that a flush ranks higher than a full house. There are also variations of Short Deck where a set beats a straight.

What’s the Best Short-Deck Strategy?

Short-Deck strategy is an extremely new game and the perfect strategy is still being developed.

Just like Hold’em in the early 2000s it’s going to take some time for correct strategy emerge and currently there just aren’t that many resources for learning the game.

On the bright side just about everyone is starting at the same level right now so there’s not a huge skill disparity between players.

With that said there are a few basic tips that instantly improve your win-rate:

Understand the Rules

This is an easy one but you’re not winning many Short-Deck hands if you don’t understand the rules. If you’re coming from Hold’em it will take some time learning the new hand rankings but it’s absolutely something you’re going to have to memorize if you want to succeed at Short-Deck Hold’em.

Also watch out for the pesky A-6-7-8-9 “wheel” straight that catches some new players off guard.

Relative Hand Value

If you’ve ever played Pot-Limit Omaha you’ve most likely learned that rock-solid hands in Hold’em aren’t quite as much as a sure thing. It’s similar to Short-Deck Hold’em so don’t be surprised when you see your set or full house cracked.

A simpler way of putting it: You’re going to get better hands more often. In fact you will be dealt pocket aces twice as often as regular Hold’em.

It can be very helpful to play to the nuts (that is the absolute best hand on the board). So long as you are more cautious than you normally are then you should be fine. You can easily let those pocket jacks go when you are facing a lot of heat.

Sets are More Common

It’s easier to hit a set in Short-Deck Hold’em. Because there are fewer cards in short deck you are up to nearly 20% to hit a set. That’s roughly one out of five times. In ordinary Hold’em you only hit a set roughly one out eight times.

Keep in mind your opponents will also be hitting sets more often so try to avoid set over set.

Straights are Much More Common

Because the deck has been stripped down you are much more likely to make a straight.

In fact, if you have an open-ended straight draw on the flop, the odds of making a straight by the river rocket all the way up 45%. That means you can aggressively play your straight draws and you will generally have equity even if your opponent calls with a made hand.

The same cannot be said for flush draws as there are only five cards left of your particular suit left in the deck.

Flushes are King

You’ll quickly find in Short-Deck Hold’em that flushes are frequently the nuts. That’s not only because they beat full houses but also because you’re less likely to succumb to a bigger flush.

Because there are so many less flush cards the chances your opponent has a bigger flush than you goes down significantly.

That means that while the value of many mid-to-premium hands goes down, suited cards are quite valuable and a fantastic way to scoop massive pots when you hit.

Be Aware of Variance

Short-Deck Hold’em is an action-packed game and players should keep that in mind when deciding what stakes game to play.

With No-Limit Hold’em players generally want to have anywhere from 50-100 buy-ins in their bankroll. With Short-Deck it’s probably worth having at least 60+ buy-ins.

There’s simply more luck involved with Short-Deck so don’t be surprised if you have massive winning or losing sessions. Try to keep a level head and skill will eventually prevail over variance.

Don’t Be Afraid of Over-Betting the Nuts

Most new players in Short-Deck Hold’em will be enthralled by the amount of premium hands they’ll be getting.

If you’ve got the stone-cold nuts you shouldn’t be afraid of putting serious cash in the middle because there’s a good chance they’ve got something strong as well.

New players will likely have a hard time folding their hands, which would be monsters in regular Hold’em, so make sure you maximize your profit.

What Are the Best Starting Hands in Short-Deck?

One thing to keep in mind with Short-Deck Hold’em is that although monsters like pocket aces and pocket kings are still very strong the other premium pairs take a hit.

While you might always re-raise with pocket queens and pocket jacks in regular Hold’em, it’s a scarier proposition in Short-Deck.

Players are much more likely to get premium pairs in Short-Deck so the likelihood of smashing your queens into aces or kings is much higher. Even ace-king offsuit is significantly less strong.

On the other hand drawing hands like ace-king suited and jack-ten suited are much stronger. Jack-ten, in particular, is an incredible hand for Short-Deck and is actually a coin flip against ace-king.

Hands like T-9, QJ and QT suited are also very strong.

Suited hands, in general, go up in value when playing Short-Deck because flushes beat full houses. Even bad hands like J-6 have some value when they are suited. Like PLO you generally want to be drawing to the nuts. Nothing is worse than realizing your draw is worse than your opponents once you flip your cards.

A special note on middle and low pocket pairs: If you’re playing on a site where sets beat straights then there is a lot more value in those hands. In fact if you manage to hit top set on a flop then there’s a good chance that’s going to be the nuts.

It’s time to get out there and start playing. In the meantime here’s a famous video of iconic cash game pro Tom Dwan explaining how to play the format:

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