Short Deck Hold’em only hit the poker mainstream in 2018, but it looks like it’s here to stay.
Short Deck Hold’em is an action game very similar to Texas Hold’em, except it’s played with a 36-card deck, with all of the 2s through 5s removed. This game is also known as 6 Plus Hold’em.
Today we’ll go over what you need to know before playing your first Short Deck Hold’em session (click to jump to that section):
- The Rules and Hand Rankings of Short Deck Hold’em
- How Odds Change in Short Deck Hold’em
- Fundamental Tips and Strategy for Short Deck Hold’em
Alright, let’s get started.
Short Deck Hold’em Rules and Hand Rankings
Many of the rules in Short Deck Hold’em are exactly the same as a No Limit Hold’em game:
- Each player receives two hole cards
- There are three rounds of community cards (the flop, turn, and river) with a round of betting after each.
- You can bet any amount of your stack at any time.
But Short Deck Hold’em games use a “button blind” structure in which every player posts an ante and the player on the button posts a blind. So, unlike the traditional small/big blind structure, there is only one blind per hand. This blind is typically 3-4 times the size of the ante. In order to call preflop, players must complete their ante to match the size of the blind.
With the 2s through 5s removed, however, some of the hand rankings change:
- Three-of-a-kind beats a straight
Straights are mathematically more common than three-of-a-kind in short deck poker, so three-of-a-kind beats a straight. Drawing to a straight is much less appealing with this rule in place, as you are drawing dead if your opponent has a set or trips.
Aces can still be used to make the low and high end of a straight, and so the lowest possible straight is A-6-7-8-9 instead of A-2-3-4-5.
- A flush beats a full house
Flushes are rarer, with just nine cards of each suit in the deck. So, the flush ranks ahead of the full house in all short-deck variations.
There’s also a version of Short Deck Hold’em that ranks straights ahead of three-of-a-kind (even though straights are more common). At the Triton Poker Series, they played with these hand rankings to promote action. This version is rarer, but because it exists, you should always double check the hand rankings of the game you’re in.
Here’s what each version’s hand rankings look like:
Short Deck Hold’em Odds
The odds in Short Deck Hold’em completely change the game and may challenge your intuitive knowledge of Hold’em poker math.
First, more starting hands are playable because your two hole cards will be paired or connected more often. Pocket aces will come along twice as often, as will any other pocket pair. Super disconnected hands like 9-2 and J-4 are eliminated, so you’ll play more hands and be involved in more multiway pots.
You’ll also find yourself drawing to a straight more often. In Short Deck Hold’em, your chances of flopping an open-ended straight draw are 19% (compared to 10% in a full-deck game).
With fewer cards in the deck, you’ll hit your outs more often too. With an open-ended straight draw, for example, your chance of hitting a straight by the river is 45.5% (compared to 31.5% in full-deck hold’em).
So, you’ll be dealt more connectors, flop the open-ended draw nearly twice as often, and hit paydirt for a straight nearly half the time. This is why straights are made to be less valuable in the original version of Short Deck Hold’em.
Three-of-a-kind occurs less often than a straight in Short Deck Hold’em, but still more often than in traditional Hold’em. If you’re dealt a pocket pair, you’ll hit a set on the flop about 17% of the time (compared to 12% in a normal Hold’em game).
You’re going to flop fewer flush draws and hit them even less often. If you flop a flush draw, you have just 5 outs and a 30% chance of hitting it by the river (compared to 9 outs and 35% in normal Hold’em). If you miss your flush on the turn, you have just a 16.6% chance of hitting on the river (compared to 19.5% in normal hold’em).
Short Deck Hold’em Strategy: 6 Fundamental Tips
Because of the mathematical differences, the correct Short Deck Hold’em strategy may conflict with your natural intuition. Here are a few fundamental tips:
Note: These tips assume you are playing with the original hand rankings of Short Deck Hold’em.
Tip #1: Play fewer offsuit hands (and play them less aggressively)
Offsuit hands are significantly less valuable in Short Deck Hold’em because of the increased value of flushes and decreased value of strong pairs.
Tip #2: Play more suited hands and pocket pairs (and play them more aggressively)
This is basically the opposite of tip #1. Since flushes and trips increase in value, suited hands and pocket pairs increase in value.
Tip #3: Use the rule of 6 and 3 to estimate your odds
You can estimate your chances of hitting a draw by multiplying your number of outs by 6 or 3, depending on the street:
- On the flop, multiply your number of outs by 6. For example, if you had an 8-out straight draw on the flop, you would multiply 8 by 6 to get roughly a 48% chance of hitting by the river.
- On the turn, multiply your number of outs by 3. For example, if you had an 8-out straight draw on the turn, you would multiply 8 by 3 to get roughly a 24% chance of hitting on the river.
These numbers are pretty close to the actual figures of 45.5% and 26.6%, respectively. This rule can be super handy while you’re still getting used to the odds in Short Deck Hold’em.
Tip #4: Play your straight draws with caution
Since straights lose to three-of-a-kind, you are not as incentivized to chase straight draws. After all, you’re already drawing dead if your opponent flopped a set.
Straight draws in Short Deck are somewhat similar to low flush draws on monotone boards (such as A♣ 5♥ on T♥ 9♥ 3♥) in traditional Hold’em. You might have the best hand if you hit, and thus it can be a good semi-bluffing hand, but sometimes you’ll already be drawing dead.
Tip #5: Use bottom and middle pairs as semi-bluffs
Middle pairs and bottom pairs are great semi-bluffing hands in Short Deck Hold’em for a couple of reasons:
- You’re more likely to improve with fewer cards in the deck.
- The value of hitting trips is increased.
- These pairs have less showdown value and so you are less incentivized to try to check down with them.
Tip #6: Use your knowledge from traditional Hold’em
Short Deck is certainly a different game, but not so different that you should disregard your typical No Limit Hold’em strategy.
Many concepts still apply, like playing loose on the button, defending your big blind with a wide range, and 3-betting with a well-structured range. The specific ranges will be different, but an in-depth of understanding of No Limit Hold’em strategy is still an asset.
Starting Hand Equities
Short Deck Hold’em is still new to the poker world, and so optimal starting hand selection and postflop play is really still up for debate. One thing is for sure though; starting hand equities are vastly different in Short Deck Hold’em compared to No Limit Hold’em.
For example, hands like JT suited are much more valuable. In a short deck game, J♣ T♣ has around 50% equity against AK offsuit, and 47% against A♥ K♥. In a full-deck game, J♣ T♣ has about 40% equity against A♥ K♥.
Another example: the AK versus pocket pair battle is no longer a coin flip — A♥ K♥ is now a 60% favorite against a pocket pair. Even AK offsuit has 55–57% equity against a hand like 66 in short deck poker, depending on the variation being played.
With fewer cards in the deck, big hands are going to come along more often overall versus traditional hold’em. Therefore, you’ll see more coolers, like this one suffered by Phil Ivey at the Triton Series:
In a regular Texas Hold’em game, Ivey very well might put in a re-raise on the river, but he knew the chances of Xuan Tan having exactly TT or KK in this spot go way up with a 36-card deck, and so he just called with a full house.
Short Deck Hold’em has been a favorite among high rollers on the Asian poker scene since 2014. The 2018 Triton Short Deck Series drew a huge turnout of poker’s elite players for the first high stakes tournament series dedicated to Short Deck Hold’em Poker.
Other major events like the Poker Masters and the WSOP Europe added short deck events to their schedule this year, and the game is becoming more popular in US poker rooms as well.
It’s not impossible that Short Deck Hold’em takes over Pot Limit Omaha as the second-most played poker variation in the world. It’s already very popular in Asia and has many of the same elements of PLO that high-stakes players love. If you love action, this is the game for you.
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