One of the biggest reasons for poker’s widespread appeal is the number of ways there are to play. There are countless different variations on the game, with their own unique mechanics and rules.
Each of these variants brings something new to the table, allowing players to always find a form of poker they enjoy.
If you like simple mechanics, rich strategy, and an emphasis on aggression, Texas Holdem is the gold standard. If you want more methodical games that focus on draws and post-flop play, Omaha is for you.
This guide will cover one poker variant that’s become increasingly popular as an alternative to Holdem: Short Deck Poker. We’ll explain the mechanics, and the strategic considerations that differ between the two.
What is Short Deck?
Short Deck poker is a variation of Texas Holdem with two key differences. As the name implies, the first is a trimmed or shortened deck.
The deck consists of 36 cards instead of the usual 52, cutting every two, three, four, and five. This is why it’s sometimes called “six-plus” poker.
The other primary difference between Holdem and Short Deck is the forced bet structure. These bets both do the same thing: Discourage hyper-conservative play and ensure there’s always money in the pot.
Holdem uses blinds, which are forced bets two players must pay before seeing their cards. The players designated the small and big blind pay, with the small blind paying half the big blind’s amount. The blinds rotate after every hand, ensuring everyone plays from the blinds equally. If you’re not a blind, you can fold to blind bets and leave the pot without committing any money.
Short deck, on the other hand, uses antes. This forced bet is one every player must pay, and the player on the button – the “dealer” position that acts third-last pre-flop and last post-flop – must pay two to offset their positional advantage.
Short Deck hand rankings
Starting hand rankings in Holdem are easy to understand. The top dogs are always high-ranked pocket pairs like AA, KK, QQ, and JJ. High-ranked suited connectors are weaker than pocket pairs, but the best ones, like AK, are still in the top five starting hands.
In Short Deck, there are a few differences in hand rankings. Aces can be used as the low card in straights, becoming a five; A-6-7-8-9 is a straight. The 36 cards also change the probabilities of making certain poker hands, which means flushes are usually ranked above full houses since the latter is easier to complete. Finally, some Short Deck games have a rule that puts three-of-a-kinds above straights. This is heavily dependent on where you play, so make sure to check it beforehand.
Besides the new hand rankings, there are also changes to pre-flop hand strength. In Texas Holdem, there are huge gaps between the strongest and weakest hands. In Short Deck, all the bottom four cards are cut. This makes relative hand strength much closer. As a result, only four hands are “premium” in Short Deck: AA, AK, KK, and AQ (debatably).
Suited connectors are ranked higher than in Holdem since straights are more common and flushes are stronger than full houses. It’s common to play weak pocket pairs in Holdem, but this is heavily discouraged in Short Deck as it’s unlikely a pocket pair will win the pot alone.
Bluffing and aggression in Short Deck
Aggression and bluffing are two of the defining characteristics of Texas Holdem strategy. It’s generally always better to be aggressive than passive, particularly pre-flop, to try and take control of the hand. Depending on the player, you may even see hyper-aggressive bluffs with total air (a weak hand that cannot improve).
Bluffing and aggressive betting pre-flop is much less common in Short Deck. Making large bets is too risky since all hands are much closer to each other in relative strength.
Post-flop is where most of the action happens. Now that players have had a chance to see how their hand connects to the flop, large bets are commonplace. Short Deck frequently uses overbets, which are a rare sight in Holdem. They are when you make a bet bigger than the pot’s current size.
Players overbet more often in Short Deck for two reasons. Those with strong hands that risk getting outdrawn, like AA on a flop of 8-9-10, need to bet big to stop other players from making it to the next round and potentially completing a draw.
For players with drawing hands themselves, overbetting can actually be justified as a semi-bluff since you have a higher chance of hitting your draw. This is when you bluff with a drawing hand, allowing you to fall back on the chance of hitting your draw if your bluff is called.
Limping in Short Deck
Finally, one of the most surprising differences between Short Deck and Holdem strategy is the prevalence of limping in Short Deck.
In Holdem, limping is seen as an egregious mistake. It gives up pre-flop pot control and accomplishes essentially nothing besides making it easier for your opponents to outdraw you.
In Short Deck, however, limping is the default course of action pre-flop. As mentioned before, aggressive action is too risky without knowing what the flop will bring. You also aren’t able to force people to fold pre-flop the way you can in Holdem since drawing hands are less likely to miss.
Those factors, combined with the average pot size being larger pre-flop thanks to antes, means limping is a generally good idea. It works well to mask your hand strength and ensure that if your opponent raises, you aren’t stuck in a terrible position.
Practice Short Deck online!
In conclusion, Short Deck is a nice breath of fresh air for Texas Holdem poker players. While most mechanics are the same, the trimmed deck changes strategy significantly. The best way to learn Short Deck is the hands-on approach. Short Deck is incredibly popular online, so you can find it on multiple sites. The faster pace of online will allow you to learn the game and build experience quicker.