Key concepts

10 keys to be successful in poker short handed games

Patience is a key virtue at a poker table but certainly not in short handed games

short handed

1. ALWAYS KEEP AN OPEN EYE : Usually at a full ring table (9 to 10 players) the strategy consists in waiting for a good hand. This allows you to potentially open 10 tables at a time. In short handed games (4 to 6 players) it is a luxury you will no longer have. Blinds go by fast and the table is more active. It is urgent you identify the betting patterns at the table to benefit from them.

2. BE AGRESSIVE : it does not matter if you are large or tight. You will have to be agressive. A 6-handed game is at half way between a full ring table and a heads up.  When you get involved in a hand you should always raise or re-raise based on a wider range of opening hands than the one you are used to at a full ring table.

3. REVIEW YOUR OPENING HANDS : you have to take the position into consideration but a winning player in a 6-max game usually plays between 10% and 30% of his hands.

4. PLAY THE POSITION : It is always key but increasingly in a short handed game. It is the best way to control the pot size with a marginal hand, raise the stakes, or extract a maximum of value from your big hands. At a 5-max game the player in the UTG seat is also at the hi-jack (just 2 seats before the button) and his bad position is all relative.

5. ACT AS THE BUTTON  KING : In this position you could in theory raise 100% of your hands. You will collect a lot of dead money and it will establish your domination at the table.

6. ABUSE OF C-BETS : If you raised pre-flop you will often be in the position to control the rest of the hand. Your opponents will have the tendency to check on the flop to leave you with the initiative. The odds that somebody connected on the flop (with only one or two opponents) are scarce. If you face a check-raise after having placed your continuation bet it will be time to control the pot size (or maybe drop the hand). Meanwhile your C-bets will have to be systematic.

7. DEFEND YOUR BLINDS : You should identify re-steal spots and do not hesitate to squeeze play from the blinds when the situation is favorable. From the small blind never complete the blind. The only two options are to fold or re-raise quite heavily to secure the best fold equity possible.

8. CHOOSE THE RIGHT TABLE : in a full ring game you can wait for some good hands before confronting yourself with the strong players at the table. In a short hand game you will not be able to avoid them. If you have no edge at the table leave it and find another one before you loose 3 buy-ins.

9. TARGET THE WEAK : Profiling the players in a short handed game is easy. Focus on weak players raising them in position and punish the limpers. In such a situation you are not playing your cards but playing the man.

10. BE READY TO COPE WITH THE VARIANCE : Swings will often occur. You will be facing a greater risk to be on tilt. Leave the table as soon as you feel that your start loosing it. Lower your limits and play less tables at the same time or increase your bankroll.


How should you play AK in no limit holdem?

AK being a non made hand you should consider it as a drawing hand

How to play AK?





Although being one of the strongest hands in no limit holdem poker, AK can prove a risky hand to play. How you will play it will depends mostly on the size of your stack and the autonomy you have left. Just have a quick look at the following stats :

AKo going to war  in heads up against 1 opponent (both players see the river) :

  • AK vs AA : 7%
  • AK vs KK : 30%
  • AK vs pair : 45%
  • AK vs Ax : 72%
  • AK vs Rx : 75%
  • AK vs 78s : 60%
  • AK vs any two cards : 65%

Seing the odds, i guess you understand quite quickly that it would be fullish to go all in preflop with AK if your stack is deep (vs the blinds) at a beginning of a cash game or a MTT and if you still have time to manoeuvre at the table? Add to this all situations where you will not get paid by anyone…and try estimate now how much value you will get from this hand going all in?

AK needs a positive flop to improve. If you re-raise this hand preflop you should be quite satisfied when you win the pot preflop. It should be your target and if you do not succeed doing so you should try to find only 1 opponent. No specific re-raise amount to advise. You have to re-raise as intensively as needed based on the table profile to win it preflop or isolate 1 opponent. You must get all suited connectors out of your way. Maybe you will be called by dominated hands like AQ, AJ or KQ against which you will then be far ahead.

Hopefully this hand has a potential and you will also find an A or a K on the flop 32% of the time.

On a neutral flop you can apply here a standard continuation bet . If the conditions of a C-bet are not met the best thing you have to do is check. Because at this stage you are only beating a bluff if you did not connect on the flop and it will be difficult to stay in the hand if any kind of action shows up. If your C-bet gets called on the flop you will find yourself in a tricky spot on the turn (especially if a lot of action occured preflop leading you to think that you could be facing some top or middle pairs). You will be in a better place if you have the position on your opponent but should in any case try to control the pot size.

If your stack is decreasing (lets say during the end of the first phase of an online MTT) you can consider re-raising all-in with AK. However calling an all-in with this hand is another story since you have no more fold equity.

Below 10BB or with an M<7 it is a no brainer : re-raise all in or call any all-in with AK.

What is SAGE system about?

SAGE system
Below 10 big blinds you can only play in a push or fold mode (raise all-in or fold). The SAGE system is a very efficient method that enables you to take the most optimal decisions (but does not protect you from a bad beat for sure….).
The SAGE system enables you to know with hands you should go all-in or call an all-in from an opponent.
First calculate your ratio : (your stack) / (big blind + ante if any)
The SAGE method only applies to ratios inferior or equal to 7.
example : your stack is 10 000 and the BB is 2 000 your ratio is then 5
Second, calculate the strenghth of your starting hand:
  • each card is worth its facial value : 2 for 2, 13 for K and 15 for A
  • the value of the highest of the 2 card is doubled
  • if you have a pocket pair add 22 to the total
  • if you cards are suited add 2
example : say you hold 109 of heart the strength of your hand is 31.
Last you have to compare the strength of your hand to your ratio as per the table below :
  • If ratio is 1 : push with 17 and call with 0
  • If ratio is 2 : push with 21 and call with 17
  • If ratio is 3 : push with 22 and call with 24
  • If ratio is 4 : push with 23 and call with 26
  • If ratio is 5 : push with 24 and call with 28
  • If ratio is 6 : push with 25 and call with 29
  • If ratio is 7 : push with 26 and call with 30


Let’s steal the stealer

A re-steal consists in re-raising all-in an agression identified as being a bluff (a steal). Purpose is to steal the stealer and thus re-steal.

It is a very powerful move but also very risky. You must use it in a perfect context or it will be for sure EV- in the long run. You should not attempt a re-steal more than once per hour. The power of the re-steal is based on the fold equity over your opponent. So you need to have a really strong read on him.

You need to have identified a bluff. How do you that? First by identifying non bluffs. When can you suspect that someone is not bluffing?

  • This player plays tight
  • He does not have the position (UTG, UTG+1, UTG+2)
  • Blinds are small compared to his stack (no interest in stealing)
  • He raises limpers when blinds are high compared to the average stack (raising players which have a low fold equity shows strength)
  • The raiser raises to 2 or 3 BB with a stack of 9 BB
  • The raiser raises a small stack in the BB which is already committed

So how can you identify a bluff?

  • The players folded several times to a 3-bet
  • He is the cheapleader and always raises when first to speak
  • His M is inferior to 7
  • His M is superior to 12 (and he can afford to fold to re-steal)
  • ….

You detected a bluff. What should you do?

  • You should be in a position to place a raise at least equal to 25% of the stack of the aggressor and offer him a pot odds inferior to 2 to 1 with a raise at least equivalent to 4 times its initial raise : indeed before your re-steal the pot is made of the BB, the SB and 3BB raised by the aggressor so 4,5BB in total. In order to cut your opponent’s odds you need to raise at least to 12BB which will give a 7,5 against 16,5 odd (so 2,2:1)
  • A re-steal to 15BB is a good target

What are the advantages of a squeeze over a 3-bet?

Squeeze : the more the merrier


3-bets are increasingly mastered by regulars. The squeeze however which consists in raising following an opening of a player which got called by one or several others. The squeeze in bluff is a very efficient move. Compared to a 3-bet more chips are involved in the pot meaning a squeeze does not have to succeed as much as a 3-bet does on order for it to be profitable. Quite surprisingly several reasons can explain why a it is often more respected than a 3-bet.

  • First it is a less personal move (since you are not targeting just 1 player) which will make your bluff less obvious
  • Second it is a move which is more difficult to offset (considering that you are facing here again several players)
  • Third, a squeeze represents a more narrow range than a freebet (you will be confronted to more 3-bets than squeezes)
The strength of your hand does not matter much when you want to squeeze in bluff. Like Dan Harrington during the final table of the WSOP 2004 you can do it with 62o! But holding an A or a K as a blocker will limit the risk against a big pair or AK.
You can also squeeze for value. Do not overestimate implied odds of speculative hand (like T7s)  in a pot with several players. A squeeze can be a good option depending on the range of opponents. Also have no shame in winning the pot preflop with AA or KK after a squeeze considering that the strength of those hands decreases with the number of players involved.
If you squeeze do not make it too expensive. A lot of players raise at pot value when they squeeze but with effective stacks of 100BB when you squeeze you should not engage more than 4 times the initial raise.

Am I good enough to start multi tabling?

You can quite soon consider multi tabling

multi tabling






Ever thought about multitabling? Probably. You do not need to be a pro to multitable, but you need to follow a few instructions in order not to multiply your losses exponentially.

Why could you consider multi tabling ?

  • in order to multiply your hourly winnings
  • because you happen to get bored playing at a unique table and you start to lose your focus
  • or to shorten significantly the duration needed to free a bonus

If you regularly beat the limit at which you are playing, if you are quick in your decision making process in standard situations and if you master the basics of the strategy then you should consider multi tabling. If you do not meet those conditions, then  you will be digging the grave of your bankroll.

All bankroll management principles still apply when you multi table.

The appropriate number of tables is for you to define (some poker sites offer 24 simultaneous tables). Start with 2, then 3 and 4. Playing on 12 tables does not mean you will multiply your winnings by 12. For sure no. As you will have less information on each table to make the right calls. Do not expect to play your ultimate poker in those conditions. The right number of tables is for you to define based on your comfort and your capacity to remain profitable over the long run. Start multi tabling slowly and do not burn the next steps. Would you try running before having learnt to walk? Obvious but…

You should at any time be able to prioritize your actions as sometimes you will need to take several decisions at the same time. Always be aware of which table/hand could require a deeper thinking investment from you.

Also keep selecting your table with great attention. Do you really want to multi table on a table where you find a LAG (large-aggressive) player on your left that will systematically 3-bet your openings? Or if you are surrounded by knits?

You will get tired more quickly and you should to help you configure the 4 colors cards option, deactivate the chat, deactivate all animations/pop-ups, configure a light and contrasted lay-out. Once you climb up the limits you can consider purchasing a bigger screen, maybe two. You can also use a poker tracker to help you.

Define some limits : have a 6 minutes break every 90 minutes and decide to close your session if you reach losses of -200 BB.

Have fun and do not get dazzled.

Let us know what is your optimal multitabling configuration (number of tables, equipment…)

Should you abuse of continuation bet (C-bet)?

The continuation bet (C-Bet) was revealed by Dolye Brunson in 1978….and since then has become a really standard move. How should you use a move created at a time when a lot of current poker professionals were not born. Should you abuse of C-bets like Barry Greenstein who displays a C-bet rate close to 100%?

A C-bet is a bluff (or semi-bluff). You zsuceeded representing some strength pre-flop but do not like the flop you see. But maybe your opponent(s) do not like it either and you intend to use this strength post-flop in a semi-bluff approach. And you are right in doing so since 68% of the time your opponent will not improve his hand on the flop. Except that if it was that easy, we would all be rich. Several parameters need to be taken into account :

  • First, you need to have raised preflop and to have been the last player to raise (otherwise you loose the advantage of attacking)
  • You need to have as few opponents as possible (each additional opponent decreases your chances to win the pot by 15%)
  • You will meet greater success if you bet postflop after a check from your opponent (rather than raising first). With 1 opponent only post flop you have 40% of winning the pot if you raise 1st and 60% if you open after a check from your opponent.
  • Most importantly you need to have profiled your opponent : against a beginner C-betting light (200 in a 1200 pot) is more efficient and more profitable, against a good player you need to calibrate your raise and make sure of showing some consistency based on what has happened at the table
  • But you need obviously to take also the flop (and its texture) into consideration : some are hostiles other will help you. The worst flops to place a C-bet are highly connected ones offering multiple draws options, then you have the arid ones (8-5-2 rainbow) because you will not acquire much credibility on those, flops not offering flush draws options are starting to be a good option, flops including no connectivity and a high card are even better (eg K-8-3) because if your C-bet gets paid you are almost certain that your opponent holds a decent hand, flop including a pair are even more favorable
  • What should be the size of your C-bet? No clearcut anwser. 50% of the pot according to Harrington (which means that you need to win every 3 attempts to break even).
  • In order to avoid being too easy to read you should vary your bet amounts between 50% and 70%
  • Of course you will find in your way some agressive players who will hunt for C-betters, float on the flop and attack you strongly on the turn. To fight them back you can try the  »delayed continuation bet » : check on the flop and bet on the turn and especially on scary boards. It will be very difficult for your opponent to believe you have  »air » and if he was on a straight or flush draw (with only 1 card remaining on the river) he will be less likely to call. Very few drawing attempts remain interesting at the turn.

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