6 Max Poker Strategy
For most people, 6 handed poker games are an escape from the everyday grind of 9-10 handed games. What's not to like? You get to loosen up your starting hands and see more action. What many people do not seem to realize is that 6 handed play is much more difficult to play, simply because of the increased pressure from the blinds forcing you to play with more marginal holdings. The great thing about 6 handed games is that it will make you a better poker player overall, especially at bigger games.
Let's take a look at a few strategies that will allow you to make a smooth transition from 9 handed tables to 5-6 handed tables. The most important things to look at in our opinion are: starting hand selection by position; hand values and betting; and playing style adjustments. Having an understanding to these 3 key topics will develop you into an educated 6 handed player and an overall better poker player.
Table Position & Starting Hands
If you are unfamiliar with table position and starting hands for a full ring table, we suggest you look at our Table Position strategy tutorial. This will give you a better understanding to what we are about to explain. For most people, 6 handed table games generally mean that you can loosen up and play just about any face card. This can be true, but for the inexperienced this can be devastating to their chip stack as they would "overvalue" their hands.
This is what we would suggest you start out with as far as hole cards:
EP+1/EP+2: Pocket Pairs AA-99, AK-A9 suited/off suit
MP+1/MP+2: Pocket Pairs AA-55, AK-A5 suited/off suit
LP+1/LP+2: Pocket Pairs AA-22, AK-A2 suited/off suit, suited connectors down to 5-6
As you can tell, this is generally looser than a full handed table. Most sites will tell you that you can generally play much more loose than this; however, we feel that if you're reading this, you are slightly new and we feel that this can help keep you out of trouble. The biggest difference between full ring and 6-max is that you can play A-X suited or not, and any pair goes up in value, especially preflop. Please note that we say not to play suited connectors below 5-6. The reason behind that is that 5-6 will give you the opportunity to get hi/low straights whereas 4-3 and 2-3 suited don't have the potential to make a nut straight.
As a guide, we have this table below so that you can see where you'd be sitting in relation to the hands you would play.
Hand Value & Betting
The most abused concept in 6 handed poker is the idea that it is ok to loosen up so much you're playing hands such as A-4 in EP+1 when it really shouldn't be. Hands do go up in value, but you need to keep in mind that hand value goes up for everyone. Kickers play a very big role in 6 handed poker. If you're holding A-5 in MP it could be easily out kicked by someone in LP holding A-8. To play it generally safe to start, you should play as if you're in a full ring table and add just a couple hands to your range for each seating position. For example in a full ring game, if you play only AA-JJ in EP then only add maybe 1010-99 to your range. There is no reason to over adjust, and the extra hands in all of your seating positions is an aggressive enough adjustment.
What can make or break a beginning player in 6 handed games is betting. There is more semi-bluffing and bluffing than in a full ring game, and if you just limp in, you're sure to get raised very often. Without making a raise first in, you will more than likely be unsure of where you stand, and the raiser will be very likely to win the pot if you both miss as he will have the initiative in the hand.
Playing Style Adjustments
After reading the above you will notice that these changes are very subtle. You don't open you starting hand ranges, step on the gas, and over play and over value any ace in your hand. It's still important to remember that without the nuts, your hand still can be beaten.
Here are a couple important things to remember about your playing style and what/how much to adjust:
If you're a rock (very tight), you will be CRUSHED. The blinds come around 3 hands sooner. You cannot afford to play that tight. You need to loosen up a little bit; untuck your shirt or let down your hair...whatever works for you.
For loose aggressive players, you do not need to change much. However it's important to point out that your aggressiveness will be met with other aggressive players who will have similarly adjusted playing ranges. You may find yourself backpedaling a bit with low kickers or small pairs.
It's important to focus more on stack sizes and pot/implied odds. You will not generally have odds to chase drawing hands as often in a 6 handed game. When you face a big bet on the turn with a weak draw, sometimes the best play will be a fold or a raise rather than a call. You will notice a change in your game if can make these changes without overdoing it.
If you find yourself going broke or constantly getting outplayed, take a break and evaluate your game. It's possible to find that you're being too aggressive/tight and more adjustments are needed.
In short, we hope you noticed that with simple and subtle changes that the transition from playing full ring games to 6 handed games does not have to be difficult. If you take into account your seating position, starting hands, betting, and overall style, it can change the way you look at poker and make you an overall solid poker player. Solid poker players make solid cash. And you can't argue with that.