Shorthand Limit Texas Hold’em

Shorthand Hold’em (tables of six or fewer people) is very popular on the Internet. In fact, most of the higher-limit games are played shorthand. Thus, to make any kind of money playing Internet poker, you really should learn how to play shorthand first. Here are some pointers you might find useful as you investigate.

What type of game should I look for?

Good question! One of the most important skills at playing poker is simply playing the right game. Unless you just want to practice, there’s no reason to play against other pros. You certainly can’t expect to make money that way! The best way to tell if a game is easy or not is to look at the flop percentage. If it’s 40% or higher, the game is good. If it’s 25-30%, stay away. Some sites express the flop percentage as average number of people at flop. This isn’t as helpful, but generally go there if it says the average is three or more. More people going to the flop means that the quality of hands being played is lower. Thus, all you have to do is sit and wait to strike.

Pre-flop starting hands

So what exactly are the good hands and the bad hands? Many books have been written on this subject, but we can summarize briefly what we hold to be “playable” hands. One thing to remember is that hand values are relative, so a hand can be good in some situations and total trash under others. For example, if there has been a lot of action like a raise and a re-raise and then someone calling the re-raise, we recommend folding anything besides an ace-ace or king-king combination. It might even be a good idea to fold with two kings if the competition is tight. Since hand values are relative, it’s important to think about what the other guy has and try to guess whether or not you have a better starting hand than him before going in.

Hands to raise with (non-raised flop):

Paired cards

Hands to call a raise with:

High paired cards
A-J (maybe)

Hands to re-raise a raise with:

This depends on the raiser. Re-raise a maniac with any pair or an ace-9+ combination, because you’ll probably be winning at the flop. Otherwise, re-raise with “made” hands:

J-J Q-Q K-K A-A (although you may want to “smooth call” with J-J)

Hands to call and hope to build a pot with (early position):

High-suited connectors (i.e., 9-10s).

Flop tips

When you have a “made” hand, bet it. If the flop is A-K-5, bet with your K-Q combination and maybe they’ll fold. If someone calls, then you have a decision to make. If you think he’s drawing, continue to bet at him. If he’s the type to call with the second-best hand, maybe check to him to see if he bets (he probably has a pair too).

When you’ve got pair but it’s not the top pair, DON’T call a bet. Either raise or fold. Find out where you are on the flop. If you just flat call, that’s a total of five small bets. If you raise and he comes back firing, you can probably fold and save yourself three small bets (unless he’s a maniac, in which case just call him all the way to the river).

Drawing hands and pot odds

Always know your number of “outs,” which is the number of cards that will make your hand a winner. The formula for figuring out the percentage of hitting on the next card is:


Once you’ve figured that out, you can consider your pot odds by dividing the pot total by the percentage chance of hitting. If the bet is smaller than that number, call. For example, if you are on a flush draw in a $10-$20 hand, with two spades in your hand and two on the flop, it means there are a further nine spades out there. The chances of hitting on the turn are about 20%. If the pot is $80 and the bet to you is $10, call! It’s also a good idea to remember future bets when calculating the size of the pot. For example, even though the pot in our example is $80, if you hit, you’ll win $40 more on the turn and river bets. So all you really need is a 1 in 12 chance of hitting. Something to bear in mind.


General rule of bluffing: it doesn’t work until betting limits have reached $5-$10 or higher.

Semi-bluffing: this is what we call betting when you don’t have a made hand yet, but when you have the chance for one. For example, let’s consider betting on a flush draw. Imagine the flop is ace-6-4, you have a king-queen suited and there are two more of your suit on the board. You can go ahead and bet in this situation. Not only do you have a good chance of hitting, you can also steal the pot. Semi-bluffing is only effective at higher levels, because at lower levels you are just value-betting: people will call you.

Pure bluffs: These don’t work too well at limit poker, but they do work at times. Let’s say that the flop is a little bit scary at a higher-level table; let’s say it’s ace-queen-9. If the action is passed to you and there aren’t many in it, go ahead and bet at it if you’ve shown some strength before the flop. But we’re not guaranteeing anything.