How to play poker
6-Max poker: improve your strategy for six-handed games
Six-handed games can be quite intense. You’re under more scrutiny than usual, so you’ll need to shake up your strategy a little bit – especially when it comes to starting hands.
In this section, we’ll give you a run-down of what hands you should play, based on your position. This advice is based on a hypothetical situation where:
- All the players have full stacks
- The table is an even mix of tight, loose, novice and good players
- No-one’s limping in (calling the blind). It’s raise-or-fold time
In the real world, things aren’t always so balanced. For one thing, after a few hands, your opponents will start to work you out. So it always pays to throw in a few marginal hands here and there – just to keep them guessing.
Playing under the gun
Early position is always a challenge, but in six-handed games there’s pretty much nowhere to hide. You should only really play your best hands here, plus the odd bluff to keep up appearances. Hands you should stick to are:
- 7-7 and better (pairs)
- A-J suited and better
- K-Q suited and better
- 7-8 suited (or something similarly random, just to mix it up)
If you’re at a tight table (where more players are folding) you could add hands like K-Q, plus a few more suited connectors. Raising from this position, against super-careful players, sends a strong message. By the time you get to the flop, most of your opponents will have moved out the way, putting you in control. Of course, if someone challenges you, you’ll have to fold.
If you are at a loose table (usually the lower-value games), you need to be more selective. Go by card value, as bigger pairs with high kickers are more likely to win the chips. Ditch connectors and pairs under 9-9 and be prepared to play A-10 or K-Q off-suit.
Middle position is a little easier, but you still want to be playing top hands only. If the table is tight, someone’s tilting badly (making irrational decisions) or the stacks are more than 150 big blinds deep, you can afford to open up a bit, and see what you can pick up later in the hand.
If someone’s already raised, then the only hands worth playing are Q-Q and above, or A-K. Under the gun will only raise with something good, in which case your J-J or A-Q is probably not going to cut it.
If there’s a lot of action going on, you can re-raise Q-Q, J-J or even 10-10, for value (to build up the pot). But with a tight player, you could easily end up out on a limb – much better to flat call with these hands instead.
In the cutoff, you’ve got a lot more leeway. So you can play more hands while making your position do the hard work.
As well as the middle position hands, you should consider playing:
- 2-2 and above
- A-2, A-3, A-5 suited (really useful in late position)
- 5-6 suited
- J-10 off-suit
Beware of danger hands like K-J and Q-10 that can get you into trouble.
Depending on the situation, you could also raise with:
- Suited one-gappers like 7-9 and 8-10 suited
- High suited two gappers like J-8 suited
- A-x suited (where x is any card)
With these hands, you could be looking at a flush draw or even a combo draw (where you could make a straight as well) – a huge advantage at this point.
Only add these extra hands if you’re at a good table. If the button or blinds are betting back at you, don’t raise them. And if you’re getting called a lot, you might need to tighten up for a while, as you’re getting too predictable.
To keep up a good table image, try not to bluff more than 20% of the time in this position. In other words, four times out of five, you need to have something substantial if you’re going to raise.
This is the most profitable seat at the table, so you want to play a lot of hands. You’re there to steal the blinds and face down any weak players, so even Q-8 suited or 3-5 suited is playable at this point.
Stealing the blinds is so important that you should think about raising by default, at least until the blinds start to catch on to you. Before they do, just tone it down enough to confuse them, then start again.
This tactic works best at tighter tables. When play is looser, it could end up in too many confrontations, which is bad news if you don’t have the cards. If you think this is happening, tighten up or start playing absolutely by the book (always the best way to stay out of trouble).
In general though, bluff-raises are the order of the day, and should pay off nicely. With the right table image, you could get away with two bluffs for every three genuine re-raises.
We’ve got even more tips for playing short-handed games, so have a look when you’re ready to take the next step.