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6+ Hold’em

Tips for Short Deck NL Hold’em

5,966 Views on 13/11/18

Short deck NL hold’em is currently enjoying another ramp up in popularity.

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Short deck NL hold’em - also known as 6-plus hold’em - is currently enjoying another ramp up in popularity. Three or four years ago, it appeared in the public eye for the first time when the likes of Phil Ivey and Tom Dwan were reportedly playing it in nosebleed live cash games around Asia against rich businessmen. 

Many players have said it’s almost a hybrid of NL and PLO because of how close the equities tend to run together. A consequence of this is that all in clashes pre-flop are much more common. Perhaps more suitable for somebody looking for mobile no deposit free spins than a seasoned poker player.

This is all because the deuces through fives are removed from the deck, leaving only 36 cards. We might be forgiven for thinking little would change, but in fact, the hand rankings are quite different. A flush now beats a full house, and three of a kind sits in front of a straight!

This makes perfect sense as instead of drawing to nine outs for a standard flush draw, you are now seeking out only five. This is a huge difference.

Why Short Deck Is an Action Game

With the hand rankings changing around slightly, we can also see that the chances of making your draw are different too.

Obviously you still have eight outs to complete a straight draw, but instead of digging through 47 cards to hit jackpot, there are now only 31 to contend with. Now we will hit our straight more than 45% of the time.

Already we have seen that a flush is rarer than a full house, but we will still complete the draw more than 30% of the time, in comparison to 36% in normal NL hold’em.

Even a gutshot straight draw will be successful almost 25% of the time.

Another Rule Change

Savvy players of standard NL hold’em will be familiar with what is known as “the rule of two and four”. In short deck games we must switch to “the rule of three and six”.

To clarify for newer players, what we mean is on the flop we can multiply our outs by six and the result is our equity, or on the turn we multiply our outs by three to know our equity.

This shortcut works remarkably well, but does become less accurate the more outs you are counting.

Don’t Be Deceived By So Many Strong Hands

With only 630 starting hands possible compared to the usual 1326, we can expect to see powerhouse starting hands much more frequently. For example, pocket aces will arrive in front of you every around once every 100 hands, instead of every 221 using a full deck. Ace-king is also seen twice as often.

The problem here is that it actually becomes quite deceiving in terms of absolute strength versus relative strength. This can be illustrated by thinking about how well we view two broadway cards in normal hold’em - it’s a fairly decent hand right?  Playing short deck rules we will be dealt such a hand close to one third of the time!

So, if decent hands are actually the norm in this game - similar to post flop in PLO - we must be extra vigilant to not get carried away.

An Illustrative Hand

This hand illustrates the wildly different pre flop equities we witness when playing short deck hold’em. It comes from the recent Triton Poker Series in Jeju, South Korea, during a Short Deck Ante Only tournament. 

The antes are 3,000 each hand,except the button who pays 6,000.

UTG limps with pocket aces and the HJ raises it up to 25,000 with AcQd. The CO calls with Js9s and while the BTN considers his move we get to see what the equities are.

UTG - AA - 30%

HJ - AQo - 12%

CO - J9s - 32%

BTN - 22%

So J9s is actually a favourite over pocket rockets in a four-way pot. Usually, the results wouldn’t look like this. Here is what we would usually see.

UTG - AA - 55%

HJ - AQo - 5%

CO - J9s - 19%

BTN - 21%

In the end, the BTN0 folds preflop and UTG then completes his original plan by jamming all-in. This how the match ups look now.

UTG - AA - 49% - 263,000

HJ - AQo - 12% - 71,000

CO - J9s - 34% - 54,000

So we can see just how dramatic the differences are between the two formats.

Why Should We Play Short Deck Rules?

For a start, action games always attract players who are prepared to gamble it up. This is not only good for your overall enjoyment, but it increases potential profit too. It’s also good to get involved with new games while everyone is still finding their feet. The best players at each stake level will not have had much time to increase their edge over everyone else. There’s also not much information out there yet, making it a much closer contest.

Stars such as Phil Ivey heartily endorse the game. He told the media:

I started playing Short Deck recently, it has quickly become one of my favorite games. I enjoy playing it. It's fun, it's something different, it's new and there's a lot of gambling involved. The equities run pretty close, so it's pretty easy to get your money in the middle and be 50/50 or somewhere near that. It suits a more gambling style of player."


Mark Patrickson

Mark Patrickson is a professional cash game player grinding stakes up to 100nl 6 Max NL Hold'em13 years experience of poker, across MTT SnG and cash, FL PL NL.Currently living in South East Asia and trying to make it back to mid-stakes befo ... Read More


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