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Home > Poker Strategy > Shorthand Limit Poker

Poker Strategy - Shorthand Limit Texas Hold'em Strategy

Understanding how to play shorthand games (tables of 6 or fewer people) is important to becoming a winning poker player. Most post-flop play in longhand games involves understanding critical shorthand concepts. If you are an Internet player, you will find that shorthand games are very popular at online poker rooms. In fact, most of the higher-limit games are played shorthand.

What type of game should I look for?

One of the most important skills at playing poker is simply playing the right game. Unless you just want to practice, there's no reason to play against pro players! The best way to examine a game is to watch how much betting/raising is occurring. If there is a lot of raising and folding, stay away! If people tend to limp preflop a lot and then just call bets, join the game! The reason you want to play against passive players is because selective aggression is the key to winning at shorthand.

Preflop Starting hands

So what types of starting hands should you look for when playing shorthanded pots? Many articles have been written about this, but I'll briefly summarize what I believe are the 'playable' hands.

One thing to remember is that hand values are relative, so a hand can be good under some situations and total trash under others. For example, if there has been a lot of action, like a raise and a reraise and then someone calling the reraise, then a cap, I would fold anything besides AA, KK, AK, QQ, and JJ. Remember, hand values are relative, so always think about what the other guy has and guess if you have the better starting hand than him before entering a pot.

Hands to raise with, non-raised flop: Paired cards, AT+, KQ, KJ, QJ, JTs

Hands to call a raise with: high paired cards, AK, AQ, AJ, KQ, KJ, AT (maybe), QJs.

Hands to re-raise a raise: This depends on the raiser. re-raise a maniac with any pair or A9+ because you'll probably be winning at the flop. This sort of player could easily be raising with A4, so you would want to isolate him even with a hand like 66. Otherwise, re-raise with strong hands like AA, KK, QQ, JJ, AK, AQ (although you may want to smooth call with JJ). However, you should consider just calling with AK and AQ because it does very well 3- or 4-handed. If you hit top pair with one of these hands, there is also a good chance you will get paid off if the pot is 3- or 4-way.

Suited connectors and small pairs are only playable under certain conditions. If people are not aggressive, it may be possible to limp with these hands and play multi-way pots. If there are four or less players in the game, there will not be any multi-way pots. So when the game is very short, suited connectors have very little value. For small pairs, you want to play a heads up pot if the game is very shorthanded. Thus, you generally should fold small pairs in early position and raise with them on the button if everyone else has folded to you.

Flop Tips

When you have a made hand, bet it. Pretty much whenever you have a hand that is top pair or stronger you will just bet. If your opponent raises you, you should probably respond with a re-raise. Your opponent may be trying to buy himself a free card on the turn by raising you. Your opponent may also have a weaker hand and is trying to raise for value in his eyes. Nevertheless, generally the best move is to bet or re-raise with top pair and good kicker or better hands.

However, when you make a pair but it's not the top pair, you have a decision to make. The decisions you will need to make will be highly situational, but here are some general tips. First, you must analyze how strong your hand is relative to the board.

Your Hand

It is unlikely that someone holds the 9. You should bet this hand if it is checked to you and probably call down if someone bets at you. Let's look at another example.

Your Hand

In this situation, your hand is extremely weak. You should fold this hand on the flop. Basically, measure how well your hand is against other likely hands that will fit the board.

Another important tip revolves around when to fold your hand. If you are going to fold, you want to do so earlier in the pot. For more discussion about this topic, check out our When To Fold article.

Drawing Hands and Pot Odds

Always know your number of 'outs,' i.e. number of cards that will make you a hand that you are pretty sure will win. However, do not be too liberal with counting your outs.

Your Hand

In this example, you cannot count the Ace as an out. After all, someone could easily have AK or hold a Jack. Thus, you should use pot odds when calling, but do not be too liberal with counting your outs.


Flop bluffs. A very good time to bluff is at the flop when you are the preflop raiser. Suppose you raised preflop with Q J. It is heads up and the flop is A 8 3. Your opponent checks to you. Bet! You have nothing but he probably has nothing, too. Go ahead and try to steal.
Semibluffing. This is betting when you don't have a made hand yet, but you are on a strong draw. For example, betting a flush draw is considered semi-bluffing. Suppose the flop is A 6 4. You have K Q -- a flush draw. Go ahead and bet. Not only do you have a good chance of hitting, you also can steal the pot. Semi-bluffing is only effective at higher levels, because at lower levels people will call you with just about anything.
Other Bluffs. These don't work too well at limit, but they do work at times. For example, if the flop is checked and then another big card (like a Queen) comes on the board. Go ahead and bet. More than likely your opponents will fold unless they hit a draw or they have a hand themselves. Please realize though that some opponents will call you down with Ace-high. Against those players, do not bluff much. Instead, value bet a lot and win a lot of chips whenever you have any sort of hand against them.