Set phasers to frag: low-level shorthanded NL games
As we all know, there's a bit of variance to these shorthanded games, although I believe it's worth having the experience playing them, as gaining experience in shorthanded play has been one of the most crucial elements to developing my poker game this year.
You learn the relative strength of hands that would be mediocre in a full ring. You learn a lot about hand reading and aggressive betting. Like the song, you know when to walk away and you know when to run.
Loose, shorthanded 6-max (or smaller) tables completely crowd the online poker 'verse. I think it's because there are players who crave more action. I also think, for novices, the smaller tables might not be as intimidating as full ring because they're about the size of card table home games. Of course, shorthanded games are anything but friendly.
I blame ScurvyDog for how I ended up spending a lot of my time at shorthanded NL tables. Forever chasing bonuses in the systematic manner that he's kindly revealed to the poker world, I found myself at lots of sites (particularly in the Crypto system) that just didn't have tons upon tons of tables with the limits that I wanted and/or played, like in the core worlds of the (former) Party system.
Invariably, I'd have to skip the long wait lists for full ring tables and settle down at the loosest possible tables at my limits that I could find, which were often shorthanded limit tables (many of these sites tell you right off the bat the percent of players who see a flop).
After my bankroll went up and down and up a little to the very often weak and inexperienced players, I wondered if the fishy play would be similar on the NL side of the world.
So one day I looked. And immediately loved what I saw. You had the same high percentage of people who saw a flop. Like in shorthanded limit play, this means likely profits for you if you typically rumble with them with the better hand. But I also found that instead of plinking at each other in a civilized way as in limit, you could simply vaporize people's buy-ins in one hand or force people to fold just with the threat of doing so in shorthanded NL.
In his Poker Essays volumes, Mason Malmuth is fond of saying that weak players just don't survive in NL. I think that's particularly true in shorthanded NL. You might as be the one to win all their money.
Another plus is that many of these weak players in the low NL games simply don't know how to play shorthanded games. They don't raise enough, they take the Gus Hansen TV style of play and think they can limp in with any two cards. Just like any other game, you often know what's up when they do happen to raise it up. Just get out of the way.
Same goes for betting. You're betting at them with very good hands, although just like in low limit games, they're still calling with terrible pairs, hoping to draw out on you. Only the price you're giving them at pot or half-pot makes this an extremely horrible mistake for drawing.
I took shorthanded limit charts, like this one and converted it for shorthanded NL use. As in April's excellent blog on shorthanded NL, shorthanded hold'em is a big card game. These low suited connectors just won't do it like in full ring.
It's helpful if you have experience in low limit shorthanded games before tackling shorthanded NL, but of course, obviously not necessary. I think my limit experience just helped me get used to the raise/fold pace of the 6-max beast.
I'll raise when I should and be wary of what I'm holding when others limp into the pot. As in full-ring NL, alarm bells still go off when you get raised preflop holding hands that certainly would be automatic 3-bets in limit. Any yokel can jack it up with AA in NL and you have to be careful.
Like April's blog, continuation bets are awesome. People don't like where they're at often times when they're just calling your raise in a 6-max NL game. It could be for all their chips, after all.
Even more important is game selection. When I'm burning bonuses in the Crypto system or at Full Tilt, I'll just look for the loosest shorthanded games possible. On both sites the lowest table percentage of players who see a flop that I will play in is usually around 65 percent. Sometimes these tables hover around 70-75 percent and there have been times people have tilted the table to 89 percent. They don't last very long in NL, though.
These uber-loose games often are overlooked on Full Tilt. You'll see people flocking to a pretty tight full ring NL $1/2 table just to play with a pro, but the waiting list will be empty for a 75 percent 6-max table. Fine with me.
I don't think $.50/1 or $1/2 NL 6-max is the future. Limit is the future. But if you're building a bankroll and already have a solid game, it might be profitable to check into this world and bag/frag some very profitable fish.