Shorthanded poker is fast-paced, intense and exciting for everyone involved. You can play upwards of 100 hands per hour and really get to know your opponents intimately. The thing I love most about shorthanded poker is that I don’t have to play the boring, tight waiting game where I only play premium hands. With only a couple other people to worry about and the blinds coming around constantly, the proper strategy is to open your range. A lot.
Before we go too far with this, we need to differentiate between shorthanded games and 6-max poker. Six-max tables seat exactly six people and I have a separate page that goes into detail there. This page will be referring specifically to tables with 2-5 active players. We’re talking about games that are even more shorthanded than 6-max.
List of the best shorthanded poker sites:
My purpose with this page is to direct you to the best shorthanded poker sites and then explain what you can expect when you make the switch to games with fewer people. If you look above, you’ll a list of sites that have the most shorthanded tables, busiest games and best software.
There was a time when some poker sites offered tables with exactly 3, 4 and 5 seats, but today your shorthanded options are mostly limited to heads-up and 6-max tables. So with that in mind, the best shorthanded poker sites have one key feature in common: they all keep more than enough tables open even when there are multiple tables that haven’t yet filled.
Some sites do it differently by only opening new tables when all previous 6-handed tables are full. This makes it a lot harder to find tables with 2 through 5 players because each additional table fills quickly. Sites that do it this way aren’t as good for finding 3, 4 and 5-way action. It would be great if one day a couple sites start hosting 3 or 5-seat tables. Until then, we have to make do with finding tables with a couple extra empty seats.
Apart from that one challenge, the internet is by far the best place to play shorthanded poker online. Brick and mortar casinos rarely host shorthanded tables thanks to space and dealer limitations. If a casino has room for 20 or so tables, the manager is going to look to use his limited space and limited number of dealers to serve as many players as possible.
Online poker sites are not limited by space and don’t have to pay dealers to run the games. Any decent site is capable of hosting an unlimited number of tables. Overall, you’ll find it much easier to find shorthanded tables on the internet.
What Makes Shorthanded Poker Different
Shorthanded poker may share the same basic rules as regular full ring games, but it’s a completely different experience. Tables with fewer players move along at a much faster pace because there are fewer people looking at their cards, deciding what to do and taking their sweet time to make up their minds. If you only have two other people at the table, each hand is going to come to a conclusion much faster.
So the first thing you’ll notice is that you play many more hands per hour in shorthanded poker. This is good for winning players and a disaster for losers. You definitely need to make sure you’re a winner at whatever stakes you play before you step foot in the shorthanded games. In fact, I would recommend moving down a level or two so you can get used to the fast pace and other strategy implications.
The next thing you’ll notice is how often the blinds hit. If you play in a game with 3 people, you’ll be paying a blind in two out of three hands. It is mandatory that you play more hands and win more pots. If you sit back and play a tight game like you would at a full table, you’re going to be eaten alive by the blinds.
Third, you’ll play in more pots with each player. Again, this is a good thing if you’re better than the other players. It’s not good if one or more of your opponents are significantly better than you. You’ll also get to know each player’s habits and style more because you’re playing more hands with each player.
With the blinds coming around so fast and there being fewer monster hands to worry about, the game becomes more aggressive. Your cards still matter to a degree, but not nearly as much as they do in games with 8, 9 or 10 players. Plus, each player gets to know the others’ games and this leads to psychology playing a bigger role in the game. If you’re both playing lots of pots with marginal hands, the player who can take the initiative and bully the table is more likely to end the night a winner.
Advantages of Playing Shorthanded
If you can hold your own at any shorthanded poker site, there are numerous advantages to the format. First of all, it’s a whole lot more entertaining than full ring games. You do not have to play a tight and boring ABC poker game when you join a table with fewer than six players. You get to see more action, make more bluffs and participate in way more hands per hour. If you enjoy poker, this is fun.
It’s possible to make more money per hour in shorthanded games if you have the skill advantage. Not only do you play more hands per hour against inferior opponents, but you also get to know your opponents better. If the skill advantage is big enough, you can impose your will on the table and accumulate a lot of chips.
One of the side benefits to playing shorthanded is that you can clear bonuses faster. Most bonuses are cleared by earning frequent player points, and those points accumulate based on how many hands you play and rake you generate. Those frequent player points add up quickly in a good shorthanded cash game.
The worst thing that can happen at a shorthanded table is you realize you are outclassed. If you’re the worst player at the table, you’re going to lose money a lot faster than you would in a full ring game. You’ll play more hands against superior opponents and lose your money quickly.
The other big problem is a lack of actual shorthanded tables. You’re almost always going to have to search the lobby for 6-max tables and join games that aren’t yet full. Eventually, other people will join the table and you’ll have to either adjust your game or go hunt down another table. It would be great if shorthanded poker sites actually hosted 3, 4 and 5-seat tables but that just doesn’t happen often today.