A short-handed game is
one that has either three, four, or five
players. If you're watching a short-handed
game in progress for the first time, it will
look like a wild and crazy mess, with the
calling, betting and raising not making any
apparent sense at all.
If you see the players in a short-handed game raising all the time with questionable cards, calling with even worse cards, betting with nothing, giving their opponents no respect, and being extremely proud of their ace-high or pair of 4s at the end of the hand, you know you're watching a game that is full of players who are experts at short-handed play.
Here is a list of points to keep in mind if you find yourself in a short-handed game:
1. Players whose usual style of play is loose and aggressive will unknowingly be playing a good game when it's short-handed. Short-handed play is characterized by continuous, unrelenting betting and raising, so players who already play that way will have a leg up on the game.
2. You should change your playing style from tight-aggressive to mostly loose-aggressive. If you play your usual tight game, the blinds will eat you up, and you'll be folding before the flop too often.
3. Big cards are worth more. AK, KJ, and QJs will win without much improvement against three players more often than they will against nine players.
4. Because big hands win more easily, you can raise preflop with many more hands than you would in a full game. If you have a good handle on the other aspects of a short-handed game, you can usually raise preflop any time both of your cards are an 8 or above.
5. Because there is a lot of preflop raising when it's short-handed, you should always raise before the flop when you hold AA, KK, QQ, AKs, and other big cards. Since players expect that you'll raise anyway, the raise actually helps disguise your strength.
6. Forget that your cards are suited, if they are. It doesn't take a flush to win every time. In fact, you don't have to try to make flushes or straights, because two high cards will often be enough to win. Usually, you won't be getting the correct odds to draw to a flush or straight, but that's no problem, since you're actually betting on just the high rank value of your cards.
7. Because most pots will be raised before the flop, small pairs and suited connectors go way down in value. It costs a lot of money to raise with , flop a draw, and pay to draw, only to miss the
draw or make a pair of 6s on the river. Think ahead.
8. Do not routinely play hands with a 2, 3, or 4 in them. That is like playing with only one card, because you'll always get overcards. Again, think ahead.
9. Don't forget to gear it up a notch. Call when you might normally fold with that marginal hand. Raise when you would normally just call. Reraise a little more liberally. Check-raise more often. Call more often on the river with what would be a weak or second best hand in a full game.
10. Gaining skill at short-handed play will definitelty help you in your usual full game. Many times almost everyone will fold in a full game. At that point it's as if you are playing short-handed, especially if you're in late position. Consider what you know about playing in late position, stealing the blinds and reading players.