So you're thinking about trying your hand at Short Deck Poker. That's not surprising, given this Texas Hold'em variant's recent rise in popularity. Now offered by all the best online poker sites, Short Deck Hold'em, also known as Six Plus Hold'em, has taken the poker world by storm since its introduction in 2018.
However, if you think your Texas Hold'em experience and knowledge are enough to ace the Short Deck game, think again. Sure, it will come in handy, but there are several key differences that make playing with a stripped-down deck an entirely different experience from playing a full-deck Hold'em.
So, how to play Short Deck Poker? How is it different from Texas Hold'em? What are the best Six Plus Hold'em strategies? We'll answer that and more in the following guide to playing Short Deck Poker.
What is Short Deck Poker?
Sometimes referred to as Six Plus Hold’em or 6+ Poker, Short Deck came to prominence around 2017 in Macau. Its name comes from the fact that the game is played using a stripped-down deck of 36 cards, with all of the 2s through 5s removed.
This makes the game much more fast-paced and action-packed than a traditional Texas Hold'em. It also decreases the number of trash preflop hands while providing players with a wider range of hands they can play.
Short Deck Hold’em vs No Limit Hold’em
The Short Deck poker rules are pretty much in line with those of a standard Texas Hold’em game. However, there are a few notable exceptions.
Firstly, there’s the aforementioned reduced deck. Crucially, this dramatically alters the probabilities of certain hands occurring. And that’s why in Short Deck poker a flush beats a full house and J-T against A-K is essentially a coin flip situation. We’ll discuss these probability differences in more detail later on in this guide.
Just like in Hold’em, the Ace plays as both a high and low card in Short Deck poker. But since there are no cards ranked 2 through 5, the lowest possible straight looks a little unusual. A nine high straight of 9-8-7-6-A can take some getting used to for a Short Deck beginner!
How to Play Short Deck Hold'em: Rules & Hand Rankings
To play Short Deck Poker, you need a deck of 36 cards instead of 52. As covered, the game is played with all the 2s, 3s, 4s, and 5s removed. Besides this change, an average Short Deck game plays out very similarly to a No-Limit game, where:
Each player receives two hole cards;
There are four betting rounds - the preflop, flop, turn, and river;
Players create hands using both their hole cards and community cards.
To kick off a standard Short Deck poker game, everyone must pay an ante. Whoever has the dealer button in front of them also posts a mandatory second ante, which sets off the pre-flop action. This is known as a “button blind” setup.
It’s possible to play Short Deck poker using a more traditional Small and Big Blind system. But this button blind and ante structure is the most common method.
Short Deck Hand Rankings
Although the Short Deck poker hand rankings are similar to those of Texas Hold’em, there’s a key difference. A flush now beats a straight, since you have fewer cards to hit.
In a standard Texas Hold'em game, if you have two suited hole cards with two more on the table, nine cards in the deck can complete you a flush. In Short Deck, this number is reduced to five cards, making it more difficult to hit a flush.
Additionally, in some Six Plus Hold'em variants, three-of-a-kind beats a straight. That's because there are four cards missing from every suit through 2-5, meaning there's a higher chance of hitting a straight than drawing a three-of-a-kind due to fewer blanks and smaller gaps between the cards.
Here's a breakdown of how various hands rank in Short Deck Hold'em.
|Hand Rankings||Description||Hand Example|
|Straight Flush||A straight and a flush combined. The highest possible is an ace high straight flush, also called a Royal Flush.||Q♣ J♣ T♣ 9♣ 8♣ (Queen high straight flush)|
|Four of a Kind||Four cards all of the same value, plus any additional fifth card.||9♣ 9♥️ 9♦️ 9♠️ K♣ (Four 9s)|
|Flush||Any five cards with matching suits that do not form a straight.||A♥️ J♥️ T♥️ 8♥️ 7♥️ (Ace high flush)|
|Full House||Any three of a kind added to any pair.||J♥️ J♣ J♦️ 7♥️ 7♥️ (Jacks full of 7s)|
|Straight||Any five cards in sequential order that do not make a flush.||9♣ 8♥️ 7♥️ 6♦️ A♣ (Nine high straight)|
|Three of a Kind||Three cards of matching value, plus unpaired fourth and fifth cards.||K♦️ K♣ K♥️ T♣ 8♥️ (Three Kings)|
|Two Pair||Two pairs plus a fifth card.||T♥️ T♦️ 7♣ 7♥️ J♣ (Tens and 7s)|
|One Pair||Any lone pair with three other unpaired cards.||7♠️ 7♦️ A♣ K♠️ T♣ (A pair of 7s)|
|High Card||Five unconnected cards which do not fit into any other category.||K♦️ J♦️ T♣ 7♥️ 6♠️ (King high)|
How A Short Deck Hand Plays Out
Let’s now quickly look at how a single hand plays out in a Short Deck poker game. As said, the gameplay itself doesn't differ much from what you're used to when playing Texas Hold'em.
After the antes are collected, the dealer hands out two hole cards to each participant, just like regular No Limit Hold’em. Whoever is sitting immediately to the left of the dealer (“under the gun”) is first to act. Their options are as follows:
Call. In Short Deck poker, the player with the button must always post a second ante. So in order for the next player to continue in the hand, they need to match this bet.
Fold. If the player doesn’t wish to continue playing, they can throw away their cards. Naturally, they lose their ante.
Raise. When a player likes their hand, they may want to increase the bet size. This forces players behind them to pay more in order to continue. The minimum raise is equal to double the value of the ante.
When the player under the gun has decided what to do, the action passes to the left once more. The next player is also faced with the same three choices of calling, raising or folding. Things continue to progress around the table until everyone has called the largest bet size and we take a flop.
Short Deck poker uses community cards, just like Hold’em or Omaha. The first three are distributed all at once, which is known as the “flop”. A round of betting follows, led by the player to the left of the button.
Since no compulsory bet is made on the flop, this player has the additional option of “checking”. This basically means declining to bet, but remaining in the hand. If everyone checks, we proceed to the turn card. But if someone bets, everyone must call the bet to stay involved.
After the flop betting is complete, a fourth community card is dealt, called the “turn”. Another round of betting follows before we take the fifth and final “river” card. At this point, there is one last round of betting.
If more than one player still remains, they must reveal the contents of their hand, starting with the player to the left of the dealer. This is known as the “showdown”. Whoever has the strongest hand wins the pot. But if two or more players have hands of equal value, the chips will be split equally.
Short Deck Poker Odds
Due to the fact you're playing with fewer cards, it affects how the odds play out in a Short Deck Hold'em. This is something many new Six Plus poker players struggle with at the beginning. For instance, if you hold four to a flush, you no longer have nine outs. There are only five cards that will complete your draw.
That said, let's take a closer look at the most important Short Deck odds and how they differ from what Texas Hold'em players are used to.
Firstly, you will flop flush draws less often in Short Deck poker. And whenever you do, there’s just a 30% chance of completing it by the river. With a flush draw on the turn, the probability of making it by the river is reduced to just 16.6%. In Hold’em, those same situations offer a 35% and 19.5% chance.
What’s more, you’re going to complete any of your draws far more often. In regular Hold’em, you have a 31.5% chance of hitting an open-ended straight draw, for example. But in Short Deck poker, that number rises dramatically to 45.5%.
3-OAK and Sets
You’ll see many more straights than three-of-a-kind hands in Short Deck poker. Some niche variations of the game actually switch their positions in the hand rankings as a result. If holding a pocket pair, you’re going to flop a set 17% of the time, as opposed to 12% in traditional No Limit Hold’em.
Starting Hand Equity
Many of the basic facts we take for granted in Hold’em do not apply in Short Deck poker. We touched on this earlier, but a J-T is basically a coin flip against A-K. If both are suited, the J-T has around 47% equity, compared to 40% in standard Hold’em. If the A-K is unsuited, a suited J-T is almost exactly 50% to win in Short Deck.
With 16 fewer cards in play, Short Deck poker leads to a lot more action in general. To begin with, you’ll find many more starting hands to be playable. A pocket pair appears twice as often in Short Deck when compared to Hold’em, for instance. You’ll also be dealt many more connecting cards, which are even more valuable here than in Hold’em.
Short Deck Poker Strategy Tips
Learning how to play Short Deck Poker is only the beginning. If you want to have some success playing low or high-stakes games, you must also understand how to use various strategies to your advantage. Let's discuss Short Deck Hold’em strategy tips to help you master the game.
As we mentioned previously, starting hand equities are much closer in Short Deck poker than ordinary Hold’em. As such, far fewer holdings are considered premium. For instance, pocket Queens have nowhere near as much value. After all, with fewer cards in the deck, those pesky Aces will hit the board much more frequently.
The only pocket pairs that can be considered premium hands in Short Deck Hold'em are pocket Aces and Kings, as well as A-K suited. But the fact that equities run closer together means you can justify limping in a lot more often. If you draw pocket Aces, Kings, or suited Ace-King, though, play them aggressively.
Open-Limping is Acceptable
Yes, that’s right. It may be a big “no-no” in No Limit Hold’em, but limping is totally justifiable in Short Deck poker. First off, all starting hands are more powerful than in Texas Hold’em anyway, particularly those which are connected.
However, you don’t want to be raising too often with the likes of T-9 suited. Since you’re statistically far more likely to run into a good hand, it makes no sense to risk more chips than necessary. Plus, with many fewer potential hand combinations, balancing out a raising range is harder to do. So limping more often across the board just makes sense.
Use the Rule of 3 and 6
In Short Deck poker, you can quickly approximate your hand’s equity by multiplying your possible outs by 3 and 6. If you have one card left to come, use 3. But use 6 with two cards remaining.
For example, let’s say you have a flush draw on the flop. This means there are five cards to hit. With just 31 cards left in the deck, the percentage chance of you making that flush with the next card is 5 / 31 = 16.13%. But if you need to fudge the numbers quickly, simply multiply the 5 outs by 3 for 15%.
To estimate the chances of making your draw by the river, simply multiply by 6, since you have two chances to hit.
Draws Are Strong
Although flush draws are not as likely to connect in Short Deck poker, they are worth much more when they do. What’s more, you’re considerably more likely to flop an open-ended straight draw in this game. With J-T or T-9 you’ll pick up that straight draw on the flop 19% of the time.
If you do flop an open-ended straight draw, the chances of making it by the river are a little over 45%. So almost half of the time, you’re going to complete a big hand. That makes suited connectors an extremely valuable choice of starting hand.
Don’t Overvalue a Pair
Remember that there is a much better chance of a draw completing in Short Deck poker. As such, your flopped top pair is nowhere near as strong as it would be in Hold’em. Proceed with much more caution than you normally would and don’t go broke with one pair.
Short Deck poker is still a relatively new game and is far from being solved. Strategy discussions like range construction are wide open, with different players holding different opinions.
However, a few elements of the standard Texas Hold’em strategy remain true. For instance, you can raise with a wider range on the button. You can also defend with a wider range when posting the double ante on the button. This is comparable to defending the Big Blind in Hold’em.
In Short Deck, it makes sense to polarise your range more pre-flop. Due to the antes and the increased amount of limping, you’re often going to be pot committed when re-raised all in. So if you’re going to raise, you may as well consider shoving and representing either the nuts or a total bluff.
Variations of Short Deck Poker
Not all Short Deck poker games use the “button blind” method, with a few adopting a traditional Small and Big Blind system. While in some variations of Six Plus, straights are demoted to be worth less than three of a kind.
We’ve described the most common Short Deck poker rules in this guide. But it’s always worth double-checking before sitting down to play a game. The last thing you want to do is join a table and misunderstand the rules!
How To Play Short Deck Poker: Summary
And that's a wrap! As you can see, learning the ropes of Short Deck Poker isn't overly complicated, especially if you already have experience playing Texas Hold'em, Omaha, or other popular poker games.
The vital thing to understand when playing Six Plus Hold'em is how the stripped-down deck affects the odds and hand rankings. The gameplay itself looks exactly the same as in traditional Hold'em, only it's much faster and action-packed.
And with all that out of the way, now is the time to turn theory into practice and play some poker. Here at Natural8, you’ll find a wide range of Short Deck cash games. Antes range from just $0.02 at micro stakes through to $500 on the VIP tables.