Improving Your Shorthand Game

All forms of poker present unique challenges. The size of the game also changes the way it’s played. In this section, we’ll give you tips on how to handle certain trouble situations the shorthand (six players or fewer) limit game.

1. When you’re dealt a small pocket pair (7’s or less)


Small pocket pairs work best in a large, multi-way pot (you’re hoping to hit another card of your pair and make trips), or heads up. Therefore, your pre-flop strategy should reflect this. If you’re on the button, and one guy has raised and another has folded, your best strategy would be to shut out the blinds and make it heads up. In this case, re-raise. However, if you’re the big blind and three other people have already called the big blind, it’s best to just check and hope to hit a set on the flop.

Note: Don’t use the re-raise to make it heads up against a very tight player. There’s a good chance he has a higher pocket pair, in which case, you’re owned. The re-raise to make it heads up is useful under the assumption that your opponent just has two high cards.

On the flop

If you’re in a multi-way pot, the answer is simple. Fold if you don’t hit a set, jam the pot if you do. The only exception is if you hit a weird flop, like 5-5-2 or 6-6-6 (and you hold something like 7-7), in which case, you probably hold the best hand and should jam the pot.

If you’re heads up, it gets a little trickier. If the flop is mainly low cards, bet at it, since your opponent probably has nothing. However, if the flop is A-J-Q, you’re probably toast. You can go ahead and bet at it (in case he has a low pocket pair too), but if you encounter any resistance, you must fold.

2. Flop bluffs

Flop bluffs work best against one or maybe two opponents. The method is fairly simple. Suppose you raise it up pre-flop with K-Qs, and the flop comes up A-9-5. Well, you have nothing—not even a flush draw, but they may have nothing too. Go ahead and bet at it, you might steal the pot right there.

If they just call you, you have a decision to make. They may have an ace and a low kicker or they may have something like K-9. In either case, you’re losing. You should generally check and fold. Do this about 80% of the time. However, you don’t want them to be able to crack your bluffing strategy just by calling you on the flop and seeing what you do on the turn. Because of this, we recommend slowplaying sometimes. For example, suppose you have A-9 at the flop, bet at the flop, then check-raise at turn. In other words, punish them for simply calling. People should never be allowed to call with a second-best hand if they hope you’re bluffing; they should be forced to raise to see where they are. If you suspect that, they’ll just call you with the second-best hand. You should bet until the river when you have the goods, but always just bet/check-fold when you don’t. You should sometimes bluff on the turn too, though only rarely. Who knows, you may hit and win it anyway.

3. Slowplaying

We don’t recommend slowplaying very much because we prefer running flop bluffs and flop bluffs are only successful if you actually bet with the goods at the flop. However, sometimes it’s best to just wait and jam the pot. In that case, we recommend slowplaying in multi-way situations when you really have the goods. For example, if you have A-Q and the flop is A-Q-3 and the turn is an ace, you’re in good shape. Generally, you should probably wait for a bet if you think one will happen and then raise it. In other words, slowplaying and jamming the pot on the turn will often be very profitable in multi-way pots, but we don’t recommend it in heads up situations. Often, in heads up, you’ll give your opponents a deadly free card and it’s not worth losing the pot for one more big bet.

One thing to always remember about slowplaying is that it is successful when you have a super boss hand and you want to let the other players develop a hand that is good but not good enough to beat yours. Slowplaying a set when a flush draw is on board is dumb, because you are allowing your opposition to develop a hand that can beat yours. You have to think, What can they develop that won’t beat me but will still make them bet so I can raise them? Don’t slowplay if you just have a good hand, slowplay if you have the boss hand.

4. Paired board when you have the third card

This is a dangerous situation. Let’s say the board is Q-Q-A and you have A-J. You may have the best hand or you may be toast. However, the situation is pretty simple. If it’s checked around to you, check. After all, what will people call you with? The only thing people will call you with that can’t beat you is A-7 or maybe a pocket pair (few would call, though).

So, when you’re in this trouble situation, you have to consider two factors: What will people call you with that won’t beat you and what are the chances they have the trip? The higher the two cards, the much higher the chance they have the trip. A-A-J is far scarier for someone with K-J than 4-4-J. We recommend treating the first flop with caution and probably give it up pretty easily, while the second one you should probably bet at it.

That brings up the question, What does it mean to play it carefully? Well, if someone bets at you with the board A-A-J and you have K-J, your opponent may have Q-J, so you should go ahead and raise. You opponent would probably fold if he had Q-J, but he probably wouldn’t if he held an ace.

This, of course, brings up the counterpoint: Don’t they know you don’t have an ace if you raise? Good point! That’s why you can’t always slowplay in these situations. If you have A-Q on that board, go ahead and raise too. This way they can’t predict what you have.

5. Playing against a CRAAAAAAZZZZY maniac

Maniacs can be a real pain in shorthand. However, they are generally dealt with best by just calling (although you should raise them if you hold a very strong hand). Maniacs will increase the variance of the game, but you will win in the long run.

For example, during one game at the $100-$200 level at Intercasino, a member of our staff recalls being dealt Q-Q, a nice hand by all accounts. Someone called while the maniac at the table raised. Our man re-raised and the maniac capped, with one other standard player still in the pot. The flop arrived A-K-4 which, of course, was the worst possible flop for our man. Still, he bet at it; the standard player folded and the maniac raised again. Fortunately, our man had identified the maniac as a maniac after watching him during a different round, and decided not to fold; he just checked or called all the way to the river. The maniac, it turned out, had a 3-5 hand.

6. Don’t pay them off

Sometimes, when people are on a flush draw and you have a top pair or a top two pair, they will wait for you to bet so they can raise. If you think they were on a flush draw and then the flush card hits on the river, don’t pay them off. Just check it on the river. Think about the math. If you are in position and just check the river, you save yourself two big bets (four total bets). If it’s a standard hand, there was probably a raise pre-flop and bets-calls on the flop through turn. So you put in a total of five bets. You literally save yourself about half the money you would have lost if you use this technique.

Some quick DON’s of shorthand

  • Don’t go in with any ace if someone else has already gone in. Chances are, they have either a decent pocket pair, an ace and a higher kicker, or something like K-Q. Any of these hands will dominate you.
  • Don’t play above your bankroll. Many poker experts have made this mistake several times themselves. Shorthand has a high level of variance. Make sure you can bank many hours of play before sitting in. You don’t want to go in, have your aces cracked, and go home broke!
  • Don’t just play your hand. Always remember what the other player is thinking. While this isn’t quite as important as it is in no limit, you have to think about what the other player went in with and what he is calling/raising with. Don’t always bank on the notion that he is bluffing, because most of the time he’s not.