How to Play Short Deck Poker

Poker has many different variants, and most of the modern versions can trace their origins back to early America. These forms of poker were created by altering the ruleset of games of chance brought to the new world by settlers from many different countries. This process has continued well into the current era and has seen many new and exciting games created. One of the latest additions is Short Deck Poker, and this close variation of Texas Hold’em is quickly spreading across the globe.

What is Short Deck Poker?

Sometimes called Six Plus Hold’em, this poker variant has one key difference from its forebearer Texas Hold’em: all the twos, fives and everything between is removed, stripping the deck down from 52 to 36 cards. Relatively new in comparison to its cousins, Short Deck Poker originated in Asia and has been enjoyed by players in Macau, Hong Kong and Manila since at least 2014. Since it was first unveiled, the game has grown exponentially and has quickly gained a following in the west.

Short Deck Poker Rules

Short Deck Poker follows most of the same rules and game structure as Texas Hold’em. Each player receives two cards at the start of play and can use them in combination with the five community cards dealt on the flop, turn and river to create the best five card hand possible. There can be up to ten players on a standard poker table, but due to the reduced deck, most games of Short Deck will have less.

Betting and Blinds

There are four betting rounds in Short Deck Poker, pre-flop, post-flop, the turn and one final wager before the showdown. Like most poker formats, there are options to have blinds and antes that migrate clockwise around the table after each round. The player to the left of the dealer is the small blind, and the next person in sequence is the big blind. Most starting stacks will be the equivalent of between 50 and 100 big blinds.

One of the more popular versions of Short Deck currently being played eliminates the blinds altogether and only focuses on the antes, which is a different type of forced bet. Performing a similar purpose to blinds, the ante requires every player at the table to place a set amount of chips in the middle to play. Each person contributes the ante, and the player with the dealer button contributes double.

Usually the first to act would be the person to the left of the big blind; however, in this variation, the player to the left of the dealer button goes first. Play continues around the table as usual with each player given the option to bet another ante, raise or fold. The blinds and ante structures can vary, but there will always be a forced bet, which will either be the same as the regular Texas Hold’em format or the variation with antes.

Hand Rankings

One of the most significant changes in Short Deck poker is the hand rankings, many versions of poker will use the same rankings, but Short Deck has slightly changed them. A flush beats a full house, and three of a kind beats a straight. The cards are also ranked a little differently, 6 is the lowest, then in ascending order it goes 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King, Ace.

There are still ten hand combinations players can make from the 36-card deck, and from highest to lowest, they are:

Royal Flush—​The Royal Flush is still the only unbeatable hand. It must consist of a 10, Jack, Queen, King and Ace of the same suit. A royal flush is a straight and a flush, with the added condition of being a high straight.

Straight Flush—​A Straight Flush needs to consist of five cards in sequential order that are all the same suit. It is a combination of a straight and a flush. Unlike in Texas Hold’em, ace-6-7-8-9 is considered a low straight with the ace substituting for the five.

Four of A Kind (Quads)​—The third highest hand in both Texas Hold’em and Short Deck Poker consists of four cards of the same denomination; the suits don't matter.

Flush—F​ive cards of the same suit, either diamonds, hearts, spades or clubs. This is the first change in the hand rankings from other types of poker; normally this spot would be held by a full house.

Full House (A Full Book)—​Three cards of the same denomination combined with two of another. It's a combination of three of a kind and a pair. In Short Deck, this hand has been demoted one place on the ladder.

Three Of A Kind (Trips)—T​hree cards of the same denomination. The next highest card, called a kicker, is used to settle a draw. Trips have been promoted in the rankings by one place.

Straight—F​ive cards in sequential order, then suits don't matter. Ace can be counted as lower than a 6, making a low straight ace-6-7-8-9. Ace is the only card that can be used both high and low.

Two Pair—​Two sets of pairs, if players have the same pairs, the highest kicker wins the pot. The rest of the hands occupy the same spots they do in the Hold’em hand rankings.

One Pair—​Two cards of the same denomination, the highest-ranked pair always wins. In the event of a draw, the kicker is used to determine the winner.

High Card—​No combinations, the highest-ranked card determines the strength of the hand. In the event of a draw, kickers are used to determine the winner.

Short Deck Poker Variations

Despite Short Deck being relatively new on the scene, it has already spawned several variations that follow the same basic game structure but have a slight twist on the rules.

Three Cards on the River

Follows the same formula as normal Short Deck, but the river is dealt differently. Instead of putting the fifth and final community card in the middle, each player receives another card, making a total of three. Two of these can be used along with any number of the four already dealt on the flop and turn. This change is similar to the rule set in Omaha Poker.

Completely Different Hand Rankings

The royal flush is still the best, and the high card is still the worst, but there can be some more changes in the hand rankings. Three-of-a-kind, flushes and straights are the most common to be swapped around, depending on where you play any of the other hands could have changed spots as well. That's why it's always a good idea to check the house rules before playing either online or at a traditional casino.

Five Easy Strategies for Short Deck Poker

1. Play Suits and Pocket Pairs More Aggressively

Because flushes and three of a kind are more valuable in Short Deck, an easy strategy is to aim for these two hands. If you have pockets or at least one pair, go for three of a kind. If you have two suited cards pre-flop, then try to make a flush. With fewer cards in the deck there is more of a chance to create high-value hands.

2. Play in Position and Steal the Blinds

Playing in position is always a good strategy, regardless of the game type. Play most of your hands when you're last to act; being last means you get to see what everyone else does first and act accordingly. If the betting is weak, make a big wager and try to steal the blinds. Generally, a bet three times the current pot size is enough. Something to keep in mind while trying this strategy is to avoid an overbet, because it will raise suspicions, and someone might call.

3. Discourage Limpers

Nothing is more annoying than losing to a limper who has gone to the river with a pair of twos and is lucky enough to hit a third. When you are dealt high ranking cards, protect them and make sure no limpers sneak in and steal the pot. Raise the bet before the flop and scare these weak hands away before they have a chance to hit the cards they need. Four or five times the blinds is usually enough to scare away all but the boldest.

4. Target Weak Players

There will always be weaker poker players or beginners at the table who will fold every single time the betting gets too high. Identify them and bully them out of pots with a solid bet to score some easy chips. Use this sparingly though, don't get greedy; eventually they are bound to get cards that are too good to fold.

5. Quality Over Quantity

Patience is vital in poker; picking the right hand to risk your chips on is a crucial skill to learn. Avoid playing low ranked long-shot hands and bleeding chips. Play fewer hands and try to maximize your winnings on good hands and minimize losses on weak ones.

Ten General Tips for Short Deck Poker

1. Practice First

Short Deck is quickly becoming more popular around the world and seeing widespread adoption in both online and tradition casino establishments. Most online casinos offer free to play versions of their games, and it's always a good idea to have a few practice hands with no risk before diving into a new poker variant.

2. Don't Play Every Hand

This is always good advice, regardless of which version of poker you're playing. It's impossible to win every hand, and it's a fool's errand to try. Learning to fold is one of the best skills to learn, regardless of your skill level.

3. Always Read the Rules First

Most casinos will follow the regular rules for all poker variants, but some might vary them a little. Sometimes the changes catch on and it becomes a new poker format, other times it remains exclusive to that casino. That's why it's always a good idea to check the house rules before playing, just to make sure you don't get any surprises once you've started playing.

4. Don't Forget Good Poker Fundamentals

Just because it's a new game type, doesn't mean you should forget the basics of poker. Vary your betting and play styles to keep opponents guessing. Fold a few hands, and then make a big wager, being predictable in poker is a sure-fire way to lose. If you are continually changing the way you play, it will be tough for other players to get a read on you.

5. Watch the Game

Even when you're not in the hand, watch everything that happens. Sometimes the best time to gather information on your opponents is after you've folded. Nobody will be paying attention to a player who has folded, giving you a chance to pick up information without them realizing.

6. Manage Your Bankroll

Before starting, it's a good idea to decide how much you can afford to lose and how long you intend to play. Bankroll management is an often-overlooked part of poker, but it is easily one of the most important things to consider before playing.

7. Learn the Odds

Because the deck has been shortened, the odds have all changed from standard poker and the win percentage for creating hands are different. It’s not wildly different, but still worth checking out before sitting down at the table.

8. Play Texas Hold’em First

While it's not a necessity to already know how to play Hold’em before trying Short Deck, it will make playing a lot easier if you already know how to play the game it's based off. Most of the rules are the same.

9. Bluff in Moderation

Bluffing can be a useful tactic for winning big pots when the cards aren't going your way, but overly relying on it can be a bad habit to fall into. Poker is a game of deceit and if your opponent’s figure out you like to bluff because you do it too often, your bets won't be respected anymore, and you'll get lots people re-raising or calling your wagers.

10. Don’t Chase Losses

Last, but by no means least, don't chase your losses under any circumstances. No matter how well you play, there will be losses, doesn’t matter if it's your first game or one-thousandth. Poker is an incredibly volatile and temperamental game that can give good luck and terrible luck in different measures. It's important to realize when the cards aren't going your way and leave before you experience heavy losses.