Poker can typically be played with anywhere between 2 and 10 players per table, depending on the exact variant. Yet, for some reason, 6-handed tables have become a clear favourite in the online poker environment when compared to its heads-up and full-ring counterparts.

What is the reason for this?

There are doubtless many reasons why players pick 6-max of poker over other forms of poker. But, there is one reason that seems the most likely. 6-max poker has the perfect balance of action. What do we mean by this?

It’s pretty easy to get bored at a full-ring table. We might have to play a considerable number of poker hands before we find ourselves in an exciting situation. The first 3 seats at a full-ring table are barely playable and, in the majority of cases, we are forced to wait for strong premium holdings. Assuming we do get dealt a premium, it can sometimes be tough to get any decent action because the average full-ring (FR) player is very tight.

A heads up (HU) match is the complete opposite. We are involved in pretty much every hand, and any 2 cards can be playable from the BTN/SB. We don’t get any breathing space whatsoever and need to be constantly alert. HU is a great choice for action junkies, but can be too intense for many players.

We also potentially lose the feeling of “anonymity” that some players value. In a 6-max or FR game, our opponents will not have all of their attention constantly fixated on us. In HU, our opponent is watching our every move, scrutinizing us, looking for leaks. Some players don’t like the additional pressure this feeling brings.

So now when we consider something like 6-max poker, we should be able to see why many players pick it as their game of choice. We should also remember, that some of these choices have a bit of a knock-on or “trending” effect. The majority of cash game players pick 6-max, so when a new cash game player arrives on the scene, they might opt to pick 6-max games, because it is typically considered “cooler” by the community.

6-max poker vs Other Variants

The general idea is that the more shorthanded the format, the wider the ranges it is considered correct to play. So, a decent tight-aggressive 6-max poker regular might play 23% of all hands dealt, while a decent tight-aggressive full-ring regular only plays about 16%, or even tighter in some cases.

In HU games, it can be considered correct to play 100% range when we are first to act in the BTN/SB. Our overall playable range would be well above 50% when we take into consideration both positions.

6-max poker does share some similarities with other variants. Poker position strategy is important. So typically the later our position, the more hands it can be correct to play.

As a rough guide for our raising range assuming the action is folded around to us preflop -

UTG – 14%
MP – 18%
CO – 27%
BTN – 48%
SB – 36%

The same is true when we consider preflop 3betting (a re-raise when facing an open-raise from our opponents).

MP 4%
CO 6%
BTN 9%
SB 8%
BB 8%

It’s also a general trend that the more shorthanded we play, the wider postflop ranges will get on average. So, assuming we face a flop raise we should give a full-ring regular a large amount of credit, while we give a 6-max regular less credit.

By the time we consider HU games, flop raises are typically a lot more commonplace and are not necessarily representative of an especially strong range. A decent 6max poker player will be raising around 15% of flop-cbets. The average player raises a lot less than this, however.

Population Tendencies

In order to become a strong six max player, it can be worth knowing a few of the common tendencies we will see in such games, and how they differ from optimal values.

As an example, the average 6-max poker player does not 3bet as much as is recommended. A good 6-max regular will typically have a 3bet frequency of around 7-10%. The average 6-max poker player at lower limit games is likely to 3bet closer to 4% of hands.

This information has an effect on how we should respond when facing a 3bet from an unknown opponent. It’s essentially going to be fine to fold a huge percentage against 3bets since the average player is not really 3betting us that much.

When high-level players are involved in a 6-max poker battle, it is common for them to fold to 3bets just under 60% of the time. But assuming we are playing low limit 6-max poker games we can make an exploitative adjustment and fold even as much as 70% of the time.

Technically this means we are exploitable, but since most of our opponents will not adjust, we are the ones exploiting them for having too tight of a 3bet range.

Here are some additional population tendencies that make our lives a lot easier and allow us to find an exploitative response to various 6-max poker situations.

  • The average player raises 7% of flops instead of the recommended 15%. We can give a ton of credit to flop raises.
  • The average player will never 3bet bluff any street…ever. We can fold anything but premiums against a flop 3bet for example.
  • Pot-sized bets are typically a sign of a premium holding and rarely a bluff.
  • Triple barrels are heavily weighted towards value and should be given a ton of respect.
  • Turn raise (2bet) is usually the nuts.
  • River raise (2bet) is usually the nuts.

There are doubtless many more population tendencies that can improve the exploitative side of our game, but this list is a good place to start.

Identifying Fish

There are 6 available seats at a 6-handed poker table, and not all of them are equal. Some seats are better than others. It depends on who else is at the table and how they are arranged.

The general objective is to “get position” on a weaker player. By “position” we mean sitting directly to that player’s left. This means in the majority of cases we will act after that player on each street. The only exception is when he is on the BTN, and we are in the SB.

The scenario we don’t like is when we have a strong, aggressive opponent directly to our left. In many cases, this can be the difference between making money or losing money in a given session.

But how do we identify the weaker players in the first place. There are two very easy ways.

  1. This player has a tendency to open limp

    Good 6-max poker players rarely, if ever, open-limp. As soon as we see a player who prefers to limp the majority of his preflop holdings rather than come in for a raise, we have likely identified a weak opponent.

  2. This player does not have the rebuy option enabled

    Good 6-max regulars typically use the “rebuy” feature to automatically top-up their stack when they lose chips. In most cases, this top-up amount will be 100bb, but sometimes it will be another round number such as 40bb or 50bb, depending on their exact strategy.

    If we see a player with a random looking stack-size (76bb for example), and he clearly does not have the auto-rebuy function enabled, we have likely found a weaker opponent. We can use this to help us table select effectively. The best targets are players with stacks between 50bb and 99bb.

6-max – Standard Bet-Sizing

Another way we can identify weaker opponents is to look out for unorthodox bet-sizings. Naturally, very good players make use of unorthodox bet-sizings, but good players are few and far between. This means that on any given occasion where we see our opponent using a non-standard sizing, we have likely identified a fish.

In order to recognize non-standard sizings, though, we need a rough idea of what standard sizings are. Here are some of the most common ones.

Open-Raise – Anywhere between 2bb and 4bb, but most frequently between 2 and 2.5bb.
3bet – Usually about 3 times the size of the open raise
4bet – Usually about 2.2 – 2.5 times the size of the 3bet. (3x 4bets are a big tell in many cases)
5bet – All-in assuming 100bb effective stacks

Cbet in -
Single-Raised-Pot – 66% pot
3bet Pot – 50% pot (or just over)
4bet Pot – 33% pot (or just over)

Flop raise -
Single Raised Pot – 3 times the size of the cbet
3bet Pot – 2.2-2.5 times the size of the cbet
4bet Pot – Either a jam or a min-raise

Naturally this is not an exhaustive list, but it should be enough to help us identify weaker opponents by their bet-sizing.

6-max is Fun

The most important thing when first trying out 6-max poker is to think deeply about the action. But also to enjoy the experience, especially if we come from a full-ring background. We might find it refreshing that we can get involved a little bit more and not spend the majority of our time waiting for premium holdings.

6-max poker, in essence, feels a little bit closer to the true nature of the game – the pace is faster, more exciting, and we get to see a lot more action.

Chad Holloway is a 2013 WSOP Bracelet winner who has previously worked for PokerNews as a managing editor and live reporter