6 Max Limit Holdem

by Mel Leggett (MellowYellow on the Low Limit Poker Forum)

So you've read up on holdem and have begun perfecting your game. You've built up your bank roll and have begun slowly climbing up the limits and you’ve noticed a new style of table that seems to grow with popularity as you move up. It's 6 Max, same old holdem rules, but with… well, 6 seats per table. 6 Max is popular on many online poker sites, and on some, such as Bovada Poker, you may even find more 6 Max than full tables. So why are people choosing to play them, and what adjustments to your normal strategy need be made.

It's time for some Action

One problem many players encounter in holdem is the boredom factor; folding hand after hand preflop, waiting around for the other players to finish up, finally getting a playable hand, only to fold it on the flop after totally missing, and starting all over again. This can lead to leaks in your game such as playing too many starting hands, or refusing to fold once you finally do get cards worth calling the blinds. However players in 6 Max will get to see more flops, win pots more frequently and generally have more hands per hour simply due to the lower number of players competing in them. This keeps the game more interesting and may actually help you avoid playing too loose.

If only I could read…

Perhaps the most sought after and admired skill of many professionals is their ability to get reads on their opponents and classify their play. Some pros like T.J. Cloutier even claim to be able to observe the way each of his opponents have played in every situation and remember it for later use even at a packed table with side conversations going on throughout the game. However, for those of us less versed in this field it may be asking too much to remember enough to have a general classification of each player at our table while in the midst of a full game. Trying to keep tabs on the style of 8 different players simultaneously can be overwhelming causing you to get inaccurate reads or to simply give up and play based solely on your cards potentially costing you numerous big bets/session.

In 6 Max however you only need to observe 5 opponents making it much easier to keep track of their particular style. Also you generally see them play more hands more often making it quicker and easier to get an accurate read on who you are up against. This is a great way to practice categorizing your opposition and adjusting your play according to what you have observed. Just remember that while at a 6 Max table your opponents will likely have a better read on YOU as well! Getting to know your opponents style is very important in 6 Max because you will be raising more often with a wider variety of hands and it is important to know what type of hand your opponent will 3 bet or cap the betting with pre flop so you can adjust your play accordingly.

Making the necessary adjustments

A common mistake players make in 6 Max is playing almost every hand.

The first thing to adjust when playing at a 6 Max table is your starting hand requirements. The average game you will run into will have about 3 callers per flop. This means that your average drawing hands are not going to be worth while, 6 Max is a high-card game. Hands such as 67s are not going to be profitable long term. They just don’t hit often enough, and when they do there aren’t enough people in the hand paying you off to compensate for all the times you’ve missed. Unlike a loose full table where the winning hand is often a flush or straight, 6 Max hands will be won time and time again by middle pair or top pair with a mediocre kicker. Given this, here are the suggested starting hand groups:

Group 1: AA, KK, QQ, JJ, TT, AK, AQ
Group 2: AJ, KQ, 99, 88, AT, KJ, A9
Group 3: A8, A7, KT, QJ, QT, JT, K9, 77, 66, 55, 44, 33, 22
Group 4: Axs, K8, Q9, J9, T9s, 98s

Group 1 hands should be played with a raise or re raise from all positions. Most times it is correct to cap the betting preflop except for the instances where you have been 3-bet by a player you know would not do so without Aces or Kings.

Group 2 hands should be played from all positions and should come in for a raise in an unraised pot. These hands can be played even in early position in a raised pot, and in late position hands like AJ are even strong enough for a re raise.

Group 3 hands are playable from all positions but are not strong enough to raise in most circumstances. They are strong enough to come into a raised pot from late position but with a lot of action preflop you should strongly consider getting away from these hands in early position.

Group 4 hands are borderline at best. These are only playable in late position and under perfect circumstances. For these hands you want about 4 limpers in the pot before you. Also you don’t want to play these hands when the person to act after you is the type that is very likely to raise preflop. The weaker Kings and Queens are playable in this circumstance because if your hand is dominated there would have likely been a raise, also with 4 limpers in the pot you are getting better odds to play the better drawing hands like T9s. There are more people in the hand to pay you off if you hit and if not T9 may be capable of taking down a pot simply by pairing up, however like any time you play marginal hands such as these you have to be ready to get away from them without a perfect flop when there is lots of action.

A common mistake players make in 6 Max is playing almost every hand. They realize there are fewer players and therefore their 2 cards have a better chance of taking down pots. However this isn’t just a slot machine, taking any two cards and pulling the lever hoping for a winner. The adjustments to be successful are to play higher cards stronger and get away from most drawing hands, you will be surprised what hands your opponents will play at this table but by playing the cards listed above and letting everyone else play any two cards you will OFTEN find your top pair getting called down by someone’s pair of 3s, and that is a great place to be in.

The Game Play

The main difference in 6 Max post flop play is the degree at which you must hit the flop to continue. In a full table with 7 people seeing the flop you probably wouldn’t dream of raising with bottom pair let alone with Ace high. However with only approximately 3 people seeing each flop often times that is all it will take to win the hand. That is why aggression is so important. When you have a premium hand and have raised PF unless a very scary flop emerges it is almost always correct to proceed betting to the river until you have reason to believe you are beat.

There are three reasons for this:

  1. You don’t want to give anyone a free card to allow their Q9 to hit a 9 on the turn and beat your AK.
  2. When the flop is rags your opponents will not put you on a pair and you will be surprised how often they will call you down with King high and you don’t want to miss out on bets when they make this mistake.
  3. If you are consistent it will be hard for them to get a read on you and the next time when you are raising down to the river with QQ they will give you lots of action assuming you have nothing but ace high.

You should also realize that your opponents are likely playing a similar style. So it is important to play your middle pair hands aggressively. If player 1 has raised PF and follows up with a bet on the flop, you should be raising with your middle pair and even if he 3-bets, you should usually call down to the river until you are shown that this particular player will only raise with a made hand. In short handed games middle and lower pairs gain strength and need to be played accordingly.

Another issue that can be somewhat dismissed is the idea of being out kicked. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t happen, especially when aces are involved, but due to the smaller table it doesn’t happen nearly as often. Therefore, if you flop top pair you should be raising or even re raising, And unless you are up against an absolute rock you would NEVER want to fold top pair, even a hand like Q3 that pairs its queen for top pair should be calling down to the river unless you are getting multiple re raises. If you find that you are being out kicked on a regular basis by a certain player you need to tighten up your starting hands when faced by a raise from him.

One final issue to be wary of, when choosing a table, be sure it is truly a 6 Max table. If you find that nearly everyone is seeing the flop then you are basically at a full table. The starting hand chart and strategy on this site was written for tables where 5-6 people are seeing every flop, and if this is happening at a 6 Max table then your strategy should be more like playing against very loose players at a full table.

When you find yourself at this style of table it’s not a bad idea to find another, the suckouts are going to drive you insane, and this style of table isn’t really why you started playing 6 Max to being with. However if you decide to stay, keep in mind that on tables like this, aggressiveness is not going to get you as far. The players are not going to fold to your bets even when they have nothing, and are going to call to the river waiting for their 6 to pair up. You are going to be truly up against 5 random hands every time making it impossible to put them on any hand. In these situations you need to be extremely aggressive pre flop, raising as much as possible with your premium, and even mediocre hands, making them pay as much as possible to see the flops with their Q5o etc. This does NOT mean that you should loosen up on what hands you play!! When you do flop your top pair, again, you have to make them pay as much as possible to see the next card to try and suck out on you, but if you flop nothing you have to be prepared to drop it, as bluffing will get you nowhere against these players. It’s not necessarily a bad idea to play at tables such as this. They are definitely beatable and for people who prefer full tables over 6 Max, at the very least playing at loose tables like this will help you perfect your ability to read your opponents quicker and more accurately. Then once you feel comfortable with your ability to classify your opponents you can make the transition to a full table with ease.