Sign Up For Card Player's Newsletter And Free Bi-Monthly Online Magazine

Back to Cash No-Limit Hold'em

Sixhanded games

by Lee H. Jones |  Published: Feb 27, 2008


"Ch-ch-ch-ch … changes"

I started my poker career at the age of 7, perhaps even earlier. My dad would sit with my younger brother and me on the floor of our living room and we'd play five-card draw, using cheap plastic red, white, and blue chips. No money was involved, but I learned not to keep an ace kicker with my pair and to draw three instead. I never drew to an inside straight. I don't remember the betting rules, or if there even were any.

After that, I didn't really play poker for quite a while. I played some in college; if I recall correctly, we probably played seven-card stud variants. What I do recall is that I stayed sober while the other players consumed large quantities of alcohol. So, I'd generally leave the game with a large pizza or two more in my wallet than when I'd arrived. You'd have thought that my buddies would have worked that out and either forced me to drink (not likely to happen) or uninvited me from the game.

Another substantial period of time passed before I got back into poker. This time, it was for keeps. I started playing ace-to-five lowball in San Jose, California. When hold'em arrived in California in the late '80s, I switched to that, and really never looked for another game. Oh, I played a handful of no-limit hold'em tournaments, but I'm mostly a cash player, and when I played cash games, it was limit hold'em. That kept me busy (and fascinated) for more than 20 years.

When I moved to Europe in 2005, I found myself in a home game that featured a fair amount of pot-limit Omaha, and in the last couple of years, that's been my passion.

But it seems that the cash players today - particularly online - are playing no-limit hold'em. I have played some cash no-limit hold'em (hereinafter "NLHE") in my time, but I decided it was time to study the game seriously. I've been reading the books and studying the videos. But I didn't need a book or video to tell me this: The game is very different than the one that I used to play online, and what I still experience in the live games.

First, people love playing sixhanded. There's certainly more action, and you can't wait around for pocket queens before putting money in the pot - as the blinds will eat you alive. Sixhanded play also compresses positional considerations. Think about it: You have the two blinds and the under-the-gun player. That's three. From the button, you have the button and the cutoff (one in front of the button). That's two more. So, there's just one player without a name, and many folks have started to call the player two in front of the button the "hijack" seat. So, you go from the under-the-gun position to the hijack position in one seat. This produces very different tactical considerations than a ninehanded or 10-handed game.

I'm still learning relative hand values for sixhanded play as opposed to the larger fields. Obviously, the fewer the players, the lower the median hand, which means you have to get involved with less value. I just haven't completely worked out what those general ranges should be. But it's a wonderful exercise, and I'm enjoying it.

In fact, I had a hand recently that has me thinking hard about those ranges, the notes that I take, and how to weigh those notes against an otherwise unknown opponent.

I had raised from the button with J-10, and the big blind, call him "Bob," made a minimum reraise ("min-reraise"). There is a certain class of players who min-raise only with very big hands, so I was a bit leery. But I had a playable hand and position, so I called. The flop was J-7-6, giving me top pair. He bet right out, and I called. The turn was a small card, but it put a flush draw out, and he bet again. I don't like calling passively, so I put in a reasonable raise (about three times his bet). This may have been a mistake, given my concern about his preflop min-reraise. Much to my disappointment, he pushed all in for a relatively small extra amount. I called, and was shown aces. Nothing exciting happened on the river, and I doubled him up.

Wanting to get some value from the experience, I made a note on him: "The one time I saw him min-reraise, he had aces."

Twenty minutes later, I got pocket kings in the cutoff position. Everyone folded to me, and I put in a standard raise.

Bob, in the small blind, min-reraised.

Normally, one puts an opponent on a range of hands, and then responds accordingly. For instance, against an unknown opponent, I might decide that he reraises with A-A, K-K, Q-Q, J-J, and A-K, plus some percentage for, "He's totally making a move on me with two random cards." Against such a range, the kings obviously fare extremely well, and I would either reraise or call (and raise on the flop or turn). But now I had that note staring at me: "The one time I saw him min-reraise, he had aces."

Well, I had to give more weight to him having aces. But should I double it? Could I possibly fold the kings? That seemed crazy; to make that fold correct, I'd have to give him a substantially better than even chance of having aces. One option would be to re-reraise ("three-bet," in the vernacular) and then fold if he "four-bet" me. There's an old saying that the fourth raise is always aces, but that saying originated in a time long before the fourth raise was put in by clicking a mouse. People four-bet now without aces.

I decided to just call and see how the flop looked. I gave him pretty much the range that I described above, but weighted the aces more heavily. If my situation looked poor against such a range after the flop (something like A-Q-X), I'd seriously consider abandoning ship.

The flop was 4-3-3 rainbow. He made a substantial bet. At this point, I felt committed. Against his range, even with the heavier weight for aces, I was well in front. Furthermore, nothing about that flop would scare hands such as Q-Q or J-J; he'd have every reason to believe he was in great shape.

I put in a healthy raise, and he promptly pushed all in. I had already decided that I was going with the hand, so I called.

He had aces.

The note now reads, "The two times I saw him min-reraise, he had aces." I'm still not exactly sure how to weight that note, but you can bet that I'm going to proceed gingerly if Bob ever min-reraises me.

Every time I thought I'd got it made, it seemed the taste was not so sweet.

Lee Jones is the executive host for the European Poker Tour, and the author of the best-selling book Winning Low Limit Hold'em.