6-max games are unique in that they serve as the middle man between heads up and full ring games. For expert players, this is the ‘jackpot’ step they had to take for the six figure starting salary.
If you are transitioning from one of these two into the 6-max arena, or even if you are just completely new to the idea of short handed games, there is a lot that you will need to learn. The overall pace, dynamics, and game play of a 6-max table is something that is not instantly learned and will take a long time to get a firm grasp on.
With all of that having been said, there are certainly some do’s and don’ts that will help to speed up the process of development in the 6-max games. Whether you are preparing for short handed games at your full ring tables, or simply looking to take the dive into 6-max games, these tips will help to elevate your game.
One thing that many players quickly realize is that 6-max games tend to play very aggressively. You will be somewhat hard pressed to find a 6-max table that is full of tight and passive players. Plus, if you do happen to wander into one of those games, your money is as good as printed. The aggression factor is what scares some people off, allows others to make money, and drives yet others insane.
With aggression comes increased variance, and with increased variance comes a lot more tilt. 6-max games truly are an animal of their very own kind, so you will need to be willing and able to adapt to changes as needed.
6-Max Micro Stakes Do’s
6-max play, as a general rule of thumb, will reward an aggressive approach. Now, the line between aggressive play and reckless play is often times quite blurred.
Main Key: You need to be able to measure when you are putting pressure on your opponents vs. when you are handing them money.
This is the sort of skill that can only be learned with time, however, and it is only natural to make several mistakes early on. Every great professional in almost any field knows that they need to push the envelope to see how far they can go. Eventually you will find out what works and what is going just a bit too far. 6-max is great in that aspect because it will allow you to reach new areas of your game, but it will also illustrate what types of playing styles can leech your bankroll.
Key I: Play Aggressively
Aggressive play is very much cliché in poker, especially in any games post Chris Moneymaker winning the WSOP Main Event in 2003. Traditionally, poker had been a game where the smart players would eventually take all of the money. They didn’t need to play aggressively because that only meant that they were opening themselves up to an unnecessary amount of risk. In the games of today, however, everything has changed. If you were playing poker 10 years ago, you never would have even heard of 6-max tables. This is a perfect demonstration of just how far poker has come. 6-max is a product of the new generation of poker, which rewards well timed and persistent aggression.
The primary reason that 6-max micro stakes players shy away from aggressive play is because they fear losing. There is nothing worse than the fear of losing, because if you never lost, it means you probably aren’t winning very much either. Yes, you are going to have a bunch of hands where your pre-flop three bets and post-flop c-bets go unrewarded, but they will be far outlasted by your successful plays. If you are afraid to take some chances and put your money on the line, 6-max is definitely not the game for you.
Key II: Steal Blinds
Stealing the blinds is a basic skill set that is applicable in most any games, full ring included. In the micro stakes, though, full ring games are chock full of calling stations. This can make it difficult to take down a number of pots when you are not holding a hand with some sort of real showdown value. In 6-max games, you will have numerous opportunities to pick up a few blinds at a time through aggression alone. The important thing to remember is that your steal attempts should minimize risk by being placed selectively (against the right opponents) and with the smallest bet sizes properly. If you pick your spots effectively, stealing the blinds will become a fantastic ancillary benefit of your aggressive playing style.
Key III: Value Bet, Hard
Value betting is a skill that is particularly useful in 6-max games when you have the table image of an aggressive player. If most of your opponents feel as though you are playing more pots than would be viable in their eyes, it will give you the opportunity to squeeze extra money out of them when you have made hands. 6-max tables cater especially well to value betting because your limited pool of competition is more likely to pick up on your general playing style. Once they see a few stolen pots, they will eventually decide to take a stand against what they feel is the “table bully.” You need to be able to recognize the spots where your perceived erratic play will let you play a strong hand as if it were a complete bluff.
6-Max Micro Stakes Don’ts
1.) Open Limp
Open limping is one of the cardinal sins in poker cash games. When you are shifting to a 6-max table, the detriment of an open limp is escalated. Not only are you donating dead money to the pot, but it is that much more likely to get stolen away. In some full ring games, you will be able to get away with a limp from time to time, but this just isn’t the case in 6-max. Avoid open limping at all costs. This is one of the first disciplines that is taught to players who are looking to fix big leaks in their game. If you have a hand that isn’t worth raising with, just throw it away. If you plan on limping and calling a raise, you are better off just making the first raise yourself. Again, this plays into an aggressive playing style, the most profitable way to play 6-max tables of any kind.
2.) Play Passively
Open limping and passive play go hand in hand, but you can’t open limp post-flop. Weak, passive play will be eaten alive at any relatively strong table. Even if you only have one or two opponents who are any good, they will isolate you and punish you if they find out that you like to give up after the flop. If you brick the flop, take some shots at the pot anyway. You can always give up later, but you have to give yourself a chance to win before you accept an automatic loss. Making lazy, weak, and careless calls is another epidemic among losing 6-max players. Remember that aggression is always king. Yes, you may want to slow play from time to time, but don’t make passive play your go to strategy.
3.) Play Out of Position
Playing out of position is the worst thing that you can do in just about any poker game. Of course, sometimes you will have no choice but to play pots out of position. After all, you aren’t going to open fold your pocket aces just because you happen to be under the gun. There are some skills that will help to compensate for your positional disadvantage, though. The first thing you should do is always make sure to enter the pot with a strong raise. Don’t limp, don’t min raise, and don’t even make a small raise. Announce that you want to play the pot and do your best to thin out the field. If you are going to play a hand out of position, play it to win.
Now, the real areas to avoid are limp calling, check calling, and even bet calling out of position. Any of these plays will create some truly difficult spots both before and after the flop is dealt. You should have an exceptionally strong hand if you are going to play pots out of position, and you better have a complete game plan in mind. Without both of these, any strong player will exploit you based on position alone.