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The Ante-Only Structure, Positional Considerations, And The Impact On Preflop Strategies

by Kevin Haney |  Published: May 08, 2019

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Short Deck Hold’em utilizes a very unique structure that helps facilitate action while also allowing for a multitude of different, yet successful strategies for the opening round of betting.

In the ante-only structure, everyone except the button antes once while the button is forced to make a double ante. The preflop action starts to the left of the button and that person has the option to fold, put in one more ante, or raise to any amount they wish. Each person in turn then has the option to fold, match the current bet, or raise or re-raise. The first person to limp is getting a tremendous 7:1 on their money while the odds and position get better for each player in succession.

For example, suppose it is the 1,000-ante level in a six-handed game. Everyone antes 1,000 except for the button who antes 2,000. The UTG player then has the option to fold, put in another 1,000 or make a raise. The action moves around the table with the button acting last on the first round. If there have been some callers but no raise the button has the option to check or raise to any amount.

In the Triton High Roller events each entry gave players three 100,000 “tokens” that they could allocate however they chose. For example, they had the option to start with 100,000, 200,000, or 300,000. If they chose to sit with less than the full amount, they had the ability to add on at any time or when they busted. Most, if not all of the participants, chose to start with just $100,000. This allowed them to gamble in order to try and build and stack, and if it failed they could just redeem another 100,000 in chips.

One hundred thousand in the structure described above translates to 100 antes which sounds relatively deep, but in reality is a somewhat shallow stack. Before the action starts there is 7,000 in every pot, thus at the onset, everyone has approximately 14 rounds of play, otherwise known as M, which was first coined by Dan Harrington in Harrington on Hold’em: Volume I. For comparison purposes, someone with 100,000 in the 300 ante 1,000-2,000 level in a six-handed $1500 event would have an approximate M of 22.

So, 100 antes is actually a shallower stack than 50 big blinds. 100 antes would roughly be equivalent to a 32-big blind stack. When attempting to translate between antes to big blinds a good approximation is simply to divide by three. For example, this means it’s really not a massive over bet to just open jam with 45,000 even if the button ante is just 2,000. It’s somewhat equivalent to pushing with a stack of 15 big blinds.

Position is much more desired in Short Deck due to the fact that equities run much closer and turns and rivers are scarier as the “deuce of stars” and other blanks are taken out of the deck. In essence most flops are “wet” in that future board cards will often present possible strong holdings and if not will usually improve your opponent one way or another. Remember on the river the board will either be paired or there will be at least one straight possible.

So, position is much more highly valued and the player with the most forced money invested at the start of the hand is residing on the button. Facing an open raise to 3x the double ante, the button is getting 3:1 on his money to see the flop. Against a 4x the double ante raise, the button is getting around 2.3:1. These are good odds and with the benefit of position the button should be defending with many hands including those previously identified as marginal holdings.

It does not happen often in Short Deck but suppose the action folds around to the cutoff who makes a 4x the double button ante raise. In a six-handed game, the button is risking 7,000 to win the 7,000 currently in the pot. In theory the button needs to defend in some manner with at least 50 percent of his holdings in order to prevent the cutoff from profiting with any two cards.

When effective stacks are often 100 antes or less in tournament situations, many players have adopted a limp-only strategy particularly from the early positions. When many players are limping with their entire range the button is less encouraged to try and steal with two napkins as he could easily be jammed on be a player holding A-K or a big pair or maybe even a premium suited connector especially since people could just reload or re-enter.

However, some world class aggressive players were employing either a raise-only strategy or some mixed strategy incorporating both limping and open-raising. Andrew Robl is an experienced Short Deck player and he seemed to incorporate a mixed strategy at the 2018 Poker Masters $10,000 Short Deck final table.

Early on in the 30,000 ante level he raised to 150,000 (a 2.5x of double ante raise) with K-Q offsuit and the action folded around to Maurice Hawkins in the cutoff. Hawkins was the effective stack with around 2.8 million (approximately 93 antes) and folded 10-9 suited. The table was currently seven-handed, thus Hawkins was getting 3:1 odds to call in position with one of the best hands in the game.

Robl was the most experienced player at the table and Cary Katz had posted the button with a somewhat short stack that could easily be jammed, however, those conditions aside, this is a hand that you simply cannot fold. 10-9 suited was almost a virtual coin flip against Robl’s actual holding and is around 40 percent against pocket aces.

Suggested Preflop Ranges with 100 Ante Effective Stacks

No matter what strategy we choose to ultimately implement, we need to first establish a reasonable set of opening standards by position. Then if we choose to implement a mixed strategy, we would then allocate the various holdings between limp and raise, however, in the case of a raise-only strategy we may need to tighten up our range slightly.

With five or more players left to act we should tend to play any hand previously classified as either “Premium” or “Very Good.”

Premium Very Good
A-A 1.0% J-J 1.0%
K-K 1.0% 10-10 1.0%
Q-Q 1.0% A-K 1.9%
J-10 suited 0.6% A-Q suited 0.6%
J-10 1.9% A-J suited 0.6%
A-K suited 0.6% A-10 suited 0.6%
Q-J suited 0.6% Q-J 1.9%
9-8 suited 0.6% 9-8 1.9%
10-9 suited 0.6% 10-9 1.9%
7.9% K-Q suited 0.6%
K-J suited 0.6%
K-10 suited 0.6%
J-9 suited 0.6%
14.0%

With three or four players left to act we can add the “Good Hands.”

Good

9-9 1.0%
A-Q 1.9%
A-J 1.9%
A-10 1.9%
K-Q 1.9%
K-J 1.9%
K-10 1.9%
J-9 1.9%
10-8 suited 0.6%
10-8 1.9%
9-7 suited 0.6%
17.5%

From the hijack and cutoff positions any of the “Marginal Hands” are worth playing.

Marginal

8-8, 7-7, 6-6 2.9%
9-7 1.9%
8-7 suited 0.6%
A-9 suited, A-8 suited, A-7 suited 1.9%
8-7 1.9%
Q-9 suited 0.6%
9-6 suited, 8-6 suited, 7-6 suited 1.9%
J-8 suited 0.6%
A-9, A-8, A-7 5.7%
10-7 suited 0.6%
Q-9 1.9%
9-6, 8-6, 7-6 5.7%
A-6 suited 0.6%
K-9 suited 0.6%
27.6%

It’s somewhat rare that the action will fold to the hijack or cutoff so most of the time you are over-limping. In the rare occasions it is folded to you in these positions you should often open for a raise particularly if the button appears to be under defending. However, given the tremendous pot odds it is acceptable to just open-limp but keep in mind if your limping range is such that you always fold to a raise behind you then you can be easily exploitable.

These are just guidelines as stack sizes, playing style of the table, and the aggression level of the button facing limps should impact your decision making. And also at this point these are just estimated guesses based on our analysis of equities, straight potential, and playability of the various holdings.

If one wants to implement a more advanced mixed strategy you should tend to simply raise the better hands based upon your position and limp the remainder. To help protect your limping range you can hold a few hands back that would play well as a limp re-raise.

For example, suppose you are UTG in a six-handed game. You could choose to hold back two black aces, two black kings, A-K offsuit, and a few suited connectors such as 9-8 suited and J-9 suited. As previously discussed 9-8 suited is a good hand to hold back as it has higher equity versus K-K and Q-Q than J-10 suited does because fewer of its straights are blocked.

From the cutoff or hijack you should tend to raise many of the “Premium” or “Very Good” hands and limp in with the rest. However, good hands should be held back that can be defended vigorously. That way, your limps will not always be attacked.

If no one else has entered the pot the raises should be sized three to four times the double ante. If there have been limpers this sizing should be increased, however you do not need to increase this amount but a full double ante added for each limper. Raising limpers gets full value for your premium hands, possibly buys you last position, and can cause some limpers to fold and thus relinquish their equity share.

As in all forms of poker, playing bigger pots in position with your better holdings are your bread and butter situations. Next issue we begin to discuss post-flop play starting with a discussion on analyzing flop textures and your corresponding relative hand strength. ♠

Kevin Haney is a former actuary of MetLife but left the corporate job to focus on his passions for poker and fitness. He is co-owner of Elite Fitness Club in Oceanport, NJ and is a certified personal trainer. With regards to poker he got his start way back in 2003 and particularly enjoys taking new players interested in mixed games under his wing and quickly making them proficient in all variants. His new mixed games website www.countingouts.com is a great starting resource for a plethora of games ranging from the traditional to the exotic. He can be reached at haneyk612@gmail.com.