Full ring poker is a term used to describe any poker table with more than six players. Most full ring tables have exactly nine or ten seats although some online networks have been known to offer full ring games with eight seats per table.

This short guide will help us integrate into the world of full ring poker and, hopefully,even generate some profits.

The following list details what we’ll cover, so feel free to jump to the relevant section:

Full ring poker is a term used to describe any poker table with more than 6 players. Most full ring tables have exactly 9 or 10 seats although some online networks have been known to offer full ring games with 8 seats per table.

Once the number of players drops to six or less, the table is then a “short-handed” table. More specifically we might continue to describe the table as a full ring table (since it offers more than 6 seats) but refer to the action itself as short-handed.

Number of Players

Name

More than 6

Full Ring

3 – 6

Short-handed

2

Heads Up

Why Play Full Ring Poker?

There are a number of reasons why we might elect to play full ring tables:

Softer games – Regarding the online cash game scene, short-handed action has taken over. Most professionals flock immediately to the six-handed or heads-up tables. As a result, the weaker players are generally left behind at the full ring tables resulting in easier games.

Offered live by default – Full ring tables are much more common in live poker venues. In fact, we might have no choice but to sit down at a full ring table when playing live.

Standard tournament format – Full ring remains the most standard format offered in tournaments, both live and online. Short-handed tournaments do exist but are way less common than short-handed cash games.

Easier game format – Generally speaking, the more players at a table, the tighter the range of holdings we play. Full ring is a suitable format for beginners since there are fewer tough decisions on average.

Boosting traffic –When traffic is low, online professional players take all the action they can get. Just because their regular format is short-handed doesn’t mean they won’t jump on to a soft full ring table if it emerges.

Full Ring Table Positions

Here is a quick guide for the seats at a full ring table:

Each seat at the table has a specific name based on its position relative to the button. The button is a small plastic disc that moves clockwise around the table after each hand.

poker positions chart

 

BB (Big Blind) – The BB is unique in that it has to make the mandatory preflop payment of 1 big blind before any cards are dealt. The BB will always be the last to act preflop. Postflop, the BB will usually act first but will act last specifically when playing against the SB. Since the BB closes the action preflop, it’s usually guaranteed to see a flop when calling. This position also gets an effective discount on preflop calls (1bb already invested) and typically calls against open raises significantly wider than any other seat at the table.

SB (Small Blind) – The SB is unique in that it has to make a mandatory preflop payment of half a big blind before any cards are dealt. The SB acts second to last preflop but always last postflop making it a non-favourable position at the table. The SB has to call open raises much tighter than the BB since it has to act behind. It’s generally not possible in either the SB or BB to generate a positive winrate since the forced blind payment is such a significant disadvantage. Professional players know that the objective is to try and lose as little as possible rather than hope to turn a profit.

BTN (Button) – The BTN is considered the best position at the table because it is guaranteed to always act last postflop. It is also in an ideal location for “stealing” the blinds posted by the SB and BB. As a result, good BTN players always look to open raise aggressively with a wide range of hands.

CO (Cutoff) – The CO is a decent position at the table (although nowhere near as strong as the BTN). The CO has a pretty good shot at being able to pick up the blinds preflop, but any steal attempt needs to go through the BTN first. Furthermore, if the BTN does decide to give a CO open-raise action, it means the CO is going to be OOP (out of position) postflop.

HJ (Hijack) – The HJ is the last of the three middle positions (the other two being LJ and MP1). As a general rule for the other positions, the earlier we get, the tighter the range of hands we’ll look to play.

LJ (Lojack) – The second of three middle positions. The LJ acts before the HJ preflop but after MP1.

MP1 (Middle Position 1) – The third of three middle positions. MP1 acts before the LJ preflop but after the UTG positions.

UTG, UTG+1, UTG+2 (Under the Gun) – The term “under the gun” means “first to act” in poker. It can technically apply to any position on the table that acts first. For example, at a 5-handed table, the HJ could also be referred to as UTG. The terms UTG+1 and UTG+2 describe seats in relation to UTG (UTG+1 to the direct left, UTG+2 two to the left). Sometimes the designation “EP” (early position) is also used to describe the seats to the right of the middle position seats.

Not all positions at the table contribute to a player’s winrate in the same way.The later positions are the most crucial and where the majority of the action happens. Earlier seats usually get involved in the action only when they have a legitimately strong holding.

No matter how good a player is, the majority of winrate will nearly always come from the BTN and the CO.

Full Ring vs Short-Handed Poker

Is there a general overriding difference between full ring and short-handed poker games? Well, for the most part, poker is still poker – there are more similarities than differences.

The most significant difference, however, is that full ring games play a lot tighter than short-handed games.

pile of roll of money being squeezed by a belt labelled FULL RING.

 

At any given moment, our full ring opponent is more likely to have a strong hand and a little bit less likely to be bluffing when compared to our short-handed opponent.

The relevant strategic adjustment is to give our full ring opponents more credit when they are representing that they hold something big. This fact is especially true when they are entering the pot from some of the earlier positions that don’t even exist on short-handed tables.

The good news is that the average full ring opponent is less skilled at poker than the average short-handed player. (Just like the average short-handed player is less proficient at poker than the average heads-up player.)

Full ring games should generally be more profitable than short-handed tables. Of course, the softer games come at a price. We must exercise a lot more patience and wait around for strong holdings compared to short-handed.

If we like to see lots of action, full ring poker might not be the best choice for us.

Live Full Ring vs Online Full Ring

Sometimes players like to play the online full ring games because they feel that it is good training for playing the live full ring games at their local casino. Ironically, playing short-handed online cash games might be better training for learning to deal with live full ring games. However, online full ring games and live full ring games often play entirely different to each other.

Let’s discuss a few of the differences. It will help us to understand which adaptions to make when switching between live and online full ring play.

  • Effective Stacks – Live cash games run deep a lot more frequently than online cash games. In most online rooms, the maximum buy-in is 100 big blinds. In live cash games, it’s not unheard of for players to be allowed to join a table with 200 big blinds or more. While this changes the dynamic of the game, it’s worth keeping in mind that 100bb in an online cash game is not directly equivalent to 100bb in a live game. The exact relationship will depend on the game, but as a rough guide, we might imagine that each chip in an online game is worth roughly two chips in a live game.

    In other words, the type of range we stack off with for 100bb in an online game will be similar to the range we stack off with for 200bb in live. This fact is partly caused by looser play in live games but also caused by lower SPR’s in live games (related to open raising which we’ll discuss next).
  • Open Raise Sizing – One thing we’ll notice immediately when transitioning between live and online is that the commonly utilised open-raise sizings are entirely different. While 2bb may be a standard open-raise sizing in an online game, it’s not uncommon to see live players open raising 5bb or larger. This play has a significant effect on the SPR (stack to pot ratio). The SPR describes the relationship between the number of chips in the pot and the amount remaining in the effective stacks. (E.g. $100 in the middle, $400 remaining in the effective stacks. SPR is 400/100 = 4).

    Imagine we make a 2bb open raise from the BTN at 100bb effective stacks and get called by the BB. We are setting up an SPR of roughly 22. In the same scenario, a 5bb open raise will set up an SPR of roughly 9. The lower SPRs in live games constitute a second reason why it is correct to stack off wider in live games despite holding a similar number of big blinds.
  • Straddles – A straddle is an optional blind bet preflop (usually twice the size of the big blind). Most online rooms don’t offer a straddle feature, so it’s mostly something we’ll have to deal with live. There are two essential pieces of information regarding straddles.

    1. Never straddle unless the entire table has agreed on a round of straddles. Straddling is extremely bad for winrate because we don’t get to see our hole cards before investing in the pot.

    2. Straddling, effectively, changes our number of big blinds. For example, we are sitting with $500 in a $2/$5 game, and UTG puts on a $10 straddle. The new big blind value is now $10 (not $5). So, although we are technically sitting with 100bb in our stack, we need to treat it like it’s a 50bb stack. Straddling, essentially, ups the stakes for one hand.
     
  • Tells– A key difference when playing live is the wealth of extra information available in terms of physical tells. Some successful live players are not that great with the maths (despite what they may claim) but generate most of their edge through an expert understanding of body language. These same players (who sometimes even beat higher limit live games) may find themselves getting destroyed in the lowest levels of online full ring poker. Their (primarily psychology based) skillset does not translate well to an environment where they can no longer see their opponents.

    As a general rule, good online players will usually do well live, whereas good live players may or may not do well in an online environment. It depends on whether their skillset is weighted towards the more technical aspects of poker or purely the behavioural analysis.
     
  • Rate of Play – Most live full ring games will deal around 30 hands per hour. Online tables will typically deal closer to 90 hands per hour. Combined with this fact is that online players can play more than one table consecutively (known as multi-tabling).It’s not uncommon for professional players to play more than 1000 hands in the space of an hour.
Hands dealing cards at poker table – moving fast

 

  • Multiway Action – Online players typically spend a lot of their time analysing heads-up postflop scenarios, which are by far the most common. A player open raises, gets one caller, and we go to the flop heads-up. As anyone who has experience with live full ring will tell you, this scenario is not how the average live poker hand goes down. It’s more along the lines of, three guys limp in, someone throws in an iso-raise and we go four or five-way to the flop.

    Of course, we are not saying that heads-up pots don’t happen in live games, simply that the proportion of multiway scenarios is much higher in a live game than it is in an online game. It’s common for online players to lack essential skills in multiway pots while live players end up weaker than they should in heads-up scenarios.

Let’s proceed by briefly considering some challenges that are unique to either live full ring games or online full ring games.

Live Full Ring – Open Raising

How big should we open raise in live full ring games? An important skill here is adapting to the table. Certain types of starting hands don’t play well multiway, meaning we want to avoid scenarios where we get a large number of callers. Take pocket Aces, for example. If we raise to 3bb and six players call, it’s going to be challenging to win a big pot with an overpair when any one of our opponents could have made two pair or better.

Our Aces much prefer to get one caller and go heads-up to the flop. We could try a 5bb open raise and see how many callers we get. If we still get several callers, we can increase our open-raise sizing further.

Every time we sit down in a new live full ring environment, our sizings will go through a period of calibration until we find the optimum sizing with different types of hand. Usually,it’s the tougher games that see players open raising smaller, in general (closer to how the online games play).

Live Full Ring – Iso-Raising

It’s no secret that there is a lot more open limping that occurs in live games relative to online games. A strong iso-raising strategy is more crucial in live games than online. (An iso-raise or “isolation raise” is where we raise preflop against a limper in the hopes of playing a heads-up pot against a weaker player).

Iso-raises will also need to go through a period of sizing calibration similar to figuring out the best open raise size. If players are not folding very much preflop, then very large iso-raise sizes can be incentivised.

Live Full Ring – Multiway Pots

The most important principle here is understanding which hands perform well in multiway pots and which don’t. Anything that has good potential to make the nut straight, flush or a full house will perform well in a multiway pot. This category includes holdings such as suited connectors, suited aces and mid to high pairs (provided they make a set).

Hands that prefer heads-up scenarios are big off-suit broadways and premium pocket pairs (JJ+, for example). We want to raise and attempt to narrow down the field before seeing a flop with these hands.

Just for clarity, hands such as JJ+ can do fine in multiway pots provided we play cautiously and try to hit a set. However, it’s usually still better we isolate the pot heads up where possible.One lone pair, unimproved JJ+holding can get us into a lot of trouble in a multiway scenario.

Besides, set-mining with a holding like Aces is typically a waste of a hand. We’d instead raise it big preflop for extra value. However, if we do ever find ourselves in a huge multiway pot with Aces, it’s usually best to try and hit a set before investing a large number of chips.

Online Full Ring – Preflop Hero Folds

Some winning live full ring players may play as many as 25% of their preflop holdings. This percentage is very different from the average winning online full ring player, who will usually enter the pot with around 16% of their holdings. Many especially-tight full ring players will only enter the pot with 12% of their holdings or less.

As a result, online full ring games can produce some scenarios where big hero-folds are incentivised preflop – including hands as strong as pocket Kings.

For example, we 3bet with KK against a tight UTG open and fold when facing a large 4bet. It might seem like a crazy fold, but if Villain only 4bets Aces, it could be right decision.

Online Full Ring – Availability of Games

One reason why most online professionals play short-handed games is simply because full ring games don’t usually run above a specific limit. There may be regular traffic up until 50nl, but full ring games usually dry up at 100nl and higher. They will run every so often when a recreational player decides to start a table, but it certainly won’t produce enough tables to get in any decent volume. As a result, most serious players are forced to switch to short-handed.

We should, of course, be willing to jump on decent full ring tables when they appear, even if we consider short-handed games our speciality.

Summary of Live vs Online Full Ring

Live Full Ring

Online Full Ring

Much softer games than online

Tougher games (but softer than short-handed online)

Lots of multiway scenarios

Mostly heads-up scenarios

Lots of preflop limpers

Mostly open-raises preflop

Deeper stacks but larger opens

100bb stacks but smaller opens

Tell based games can thrive

Technical understanding of poker mandatory

Winning players play 20-25% of holdings

Winning players play 12-18% of holdings

Games all the way up to ultra-high stakes

Games at 100nl and above run somewhat rarely

Around 30 hands per hour

Around 90 hands per hour (per table)

Straddling option often available

Straddling usually not available

Iso-raising extremely important

Iso-raising scenarios less frequent

Players stack off wider for given stack size

Players stack off tighter for given stack size

Standard format for live tournaments

Standard format for online tournaments

Same position names and rules in both

Same position names and rules in both

About the Author
By
Timothy "Ch0r0r0" Allin is a professional player, coach, and author. Since the beginning in 2006 he has built his roll from the lowest limits online without depositing a single dollar. After competing in some of world's toughest lineups (and winning) he now shares his insights and strategies with the 888poker magazine.
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