There's a cartoon you might have seen: Two vultures are sitting on a tree in a desert and one says to the other, "Patience my ass, I'm gonna kill something." If your attitude toward no limit Texas hold'em is "patience, my ass," man, do I have a game for you. It's called shorthanded no limit Texas hold'em, and not only does it let you play a ton of hands and see a ton of flops, you're actually playing incorrectly - disastrously incorrectly, in fact - if you don't. So if you're an action junkie like I am, then hop aboard the shorthanded hold'em express as we investigate a variant of poker where patience, God bless it, is the kiss of death.
First, what do we mean by playing shorthanded?
Generally speaking, a shorthanded game is one with anywhere from two to six players. Though there's really quite a lot of difference between a "full" shorthanded game and a "short" shorthanded game, for now let's just consider that if you're facing ten or fewer beady eyeballs, you're in a shorthanded joust. We can further parse shorthanded play into cash games and tournaments.
Some cash games, especially online, are shorthanded by design. Others become shorthanded as players come and go. On the tournament side, shorthanded play is generally limited to the end stages of a sitngo or the final tables of large field tourneys. For now we'll focus on cash game play, rather than the special circumstances of tournaments, where the antes and blinds are often so high as to take the "play" out of the shorthanded game.
To play shorthanded hold'em successfully, you need to make three key strategic adjustments.
1. PAY MORE ATTENTION. In a fullhanded ring game, you can sometimes afford to let your mind drift, especially if it's the sort of game where the only thing you really need to do right is wait for big cards and then bet the crap out of them. Shorthanded success comes not from waiting for big tickets but from deciphering your foes' approaches to the game and making appropriate adjustments. So play shorthanded with riveted focus or just don't play at all.
2. DETECT PATTERNS. In a full ring game, the sheer number of players involved makes it difficult to detect meaningful patterns of play - and especially difficult to find situations where those patterns can be exploited. In shorthanded play, though, with everyone taking such swiftly repeating turns on the big blind, small blind, button, etc., players who fall into predictable patterns - routinely failing to defend their blinds, for example, or raising on the button every time - will quickly become, well, prey.
3. CRANK YOUR AGGRESSIVENESS WAY UP. This is the most important adjustment to make shorthanded. Given the nature of hold'em holdings, most of the time no one has much of a hand in a shorthanded game. For this reason, you want to create situations where you can win pots with or without a hand. That's called taking control, and sheer brute aggressiveness is the straw that stirs this particular drink. As you know, conventional fullhanded poker wisdom calls for a selective-aggressive approach to the game. Well, shorthanded is just like that - but without the selective part!
More on the shorthanded experience next time. Till then, why not give it a try? Find yourself a shorthanded game, sit down, strap in, and take yourself for a ride.