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The joy of six

In the last part of Gambling’s six-month journey through the fundamental disciplines of no-limit Texas Hold’em, Duncan Wilkie straps himself in for some 6-Max cash game sickness. Fasten your seatbelts

Ah, the joy of six. A fast-paced cash game format in which the aggressor prevails while those who fail to adjust to the game’s demands quickly fall by the wayside – just the kind of gentle discipline you want to read about at the end of a six-month exploration of Hold’em’s main variants.

Unfortunately, those of you who were expecting an end-of-season stroll in our final instalment of poker strategy this series are going to be bang out of luck, because six-max cash is actually one of the most unrelenting formats you can play. It’s fast, it’s aggressive and – if you’re studious – it can be very profitable indeed.

While we covered some of the basic differences between tournament and cash play last month, these subtleties will be even more exaggerated in a six-max format. This is because you will be seeing more hands and posting more blinds at a shorthanded table, so you’ll be forced into more situations where these differences are apparent.

As such, you will find yourself in more scenarios where getting your entire stack in is as essential as it is automatic as well as being forced to make moves with marginal hands in order to keep your aggressive foes in check. It may seem daunting to begin with, but once you adjust to the pace of six-max cash you’ll probably never go back.

THE WEAKEST LINK

In any sport, a team is only ever as strong as its weakest player – and this basic rule is further exemplified if the player in question makes up a substantial portion of their team’s total personnel. While a football team might be able to carry a poor full-back for 90 minutes, it’s game over if you’re stuck with a bad doubles partner in tennis.

The reason for this is the fewer players there are on display, the greater contribution each individual has to make towards their team’s efforts and the more exposed their shortcomings will be if they fail to step up to this responsibility. While there’s no time for teamwork at the poker table, the analogy still has a bearing on six-max strategy.

Using the above logic, the fewer players there are at a poker table, the easier it is to identify a bad one – and the easier it is to identify a bad one, the easier it is to isolate and exploit them. While at a full-ring table a player can easily avoid tangling with an opponent who has their number, in six-max there’s simply no place for them to hide.

As players are forced to enter more pots because of the faster rotations of the table and the need to avoid leaking blinds, you’ll have far more opportunity to take note of the way they are playing. As you do this, you’ll swiftly be able to identify who is not adjusting to the format properly and you can then choose to target them relentlessly.

Of course, position will be key to the successful exploitation of your selected target, and as long as you have this going for you the cards can almost be inconsequential. Using your position as a weapon, you can isolate a bad player to make sure you are heads-up in a pot – thus ensuring you get their money before someone else does.

What makes this even more enjoyable is that often you can latch onto another player who is thinking the same way as you and capitalise on both them and the player they are trying to exploit. For instance, if a weak player limps under the gun (UTG) and a player in the cut-off bets to isolate, you could always three-bet behind them as a re-steal attempt.

The logic here is as follows: the limper is a bad player and could have a wide range of hands; the cut-off bettor is as aware of this fact as you are and may be trying to use their position to isolate the bad player and get them heads-up. If this is the case, they may have a marginal hand and by being one step ahead you can capitalise.

OPENING IT UP

While in some of the situations outlined above the specific circumstances in a hand will probably have more bearing on how you play than the cards themselves, it is still important to be aware of optimum opening, calling and three-betting ranges and how they differ in a six-max game from the ones you are used to in a full-ring table.

Without wishing to go over the same ground twice, it is worth taking a second look at last month’s guide to full-ring cash games and slightly adjusting the ranges for each position on the table. Whereas you should only really be opening pairs 9-9 and bigger UTG in a full-ring game, doing so would be far too tight at a six-handed table.

Here, any pair is a viable hand for opening and only at an aggressive table should you consider folding 2-2, 3-3 and 4-4 as the implied odds for playing small pairs are generally very good. Also, with fewer hands in play and wider ranges making it to the flop, you do not always need to make a set in order to continue with the hand.

In terms of unpaired hands, holdings as marginal as A-10 suited can be opened UTG and K-Q suited is also generally too strong a hand to fold as well. However, be aware that competent six-max players will know that your hand range will not be as strong as it would in a full-ring game and will three-bet you with a wider range themselves.

As such, it is usually a good idea to have a plan of action before you proceed with any hand and the mental notes you’ve made on other players at the table will help you decide what to do next. If you notice that a player with position on you is always three-betting your opens, it is best to either tighten up or start four-betting them back.

With the shoe on the other foot, when you are in position in the cut-off or button you can afford to be a lot more liberal with the hands that you three-bet with, with pairs, suited broadway combos, high connectors and even suited one-gappers all being viable candidates to re-raise a player depending on where they are opening from.

Be cautious, however, as although an aggressive three-betting style is usually the way to go, you will be doing it so much more frequently in a six-max game that people will soon notice and adjust their play accordingly. This can lead to some interesting clashes between hands that would never get it all-in in a full-ring game.

BLIND LEADING THE BLIND

As an extension of this, there are certain situations in a six-max game where getting your entire stack in is almost mandatory because of the short-handed dynamic – and knowing these in advance will give you far greater peace of mind. More often than not, these unavoidable confrontations occur in late position or from the blinds.

For instance, if you open the button with ace-king suited and get raised by a player in the blinds, you should instantly be thinking about getting the rest of your money in. The reason for this is that the range of hands that they will be three-betting you with includes a lot of holdings that you crush but that are still strong enough to get it all-in.

Facing a button raise, the player in the blinds might well three-bet with a hand like A-Q, A-J or K-Q knowing that your opening range will be wide. However, if we take this a step further, if they know that you know their three-betting range will be wide, they will also know that your four-bet range will have been adjusted to compensate.

As such, they may stack-off with a hand like A-Q for value knowing that in spite of the heavy action it could still be ahead of your range. They could also attempt to bluff with a worse hand in the hope of getting you to fold something similar. When you consider all these factors, getting it all-in with ace-king here is clearly a +EV (Expected Value) play.

The same can also be said of much worse hands in this situation depending on how aggressive the player in the blinds is and what the previous dynamic between the two of you has been. It is for this reason that it is not uncommon to see hands like T-T racing with K-Q in button versus blinds clashes, so it’s not as crazy as you think.

A word of caution, however, is that just because you are thinking on a certain level doesn’t always mean that your opponents are too. Sometimes you can talk yourself into believing that a four-bet shove is a highly sophisticated bluff, when in actual fact it’s really just an average player picking up a big hand and playing it face-up.

One of the upsides of the super-aggressive dynamic of six-max games is that the increased action pre-flop often enables you to define a player’s range of hands far more accurately, making your decisions easier on later streets. Hopefully by using this information and combining it with the suggestions in our last issue, you’ll now have a pretty clear idea of how to be a winner in all forms of cash game.

Full-Ring Cash Dos and Don’ts

Do:

• Loosen up your opening requirements to suit the short-handed dynamic. As the number of players at the table goes down, the less strong your holding needs to be to open the pot – especially from late position

• Identify the weaker players at your table and do your utmost to exploit them. Mistakes will be magnified on a short-handed table and the more often you can get heads-up with a bad player, the more money you’ll make

• Be aware that the shift in table dynamic is a two-way thing. As you adjust to accommodate more aggressive opponents they will for the same to you, so make sure you are thinking on multiple levels based on previous history

Don’t:

• Think that because you’re playing six-max it instantly becomes an anything-goes free-for-all. There are still optimal opening ranges and your position will dictate a lot of your decisions, so make sure you’re being smart-aggressive

• Be too proud to admit when you’re over-matched. Remember that if you can’t spot the bad player at the table, it’s usually you and you simply can’t afford to be the worst player in a short-handed game. Look for a softer seat elsewhere

• Over-think things against players whose logic is less sophisticated than yours. After all we’ve discussed, it is easy to level yourself into thinking a player is making a four-bet bluff when in reality they’re not capable of such a play
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