Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Shorthanded B.S.

Beware the people who say you should play shorthanded limit hold 'em! For most players, shorthanded limit isn't a good game choice.

Shorthanded play may be all the rage in online play, but in my experience, it's not an effective way to make money.

I write this because I see these games only growing in popularity. There are more shorthanded limit games available than full ring games at almost any site these days. For the record, I am a slight winner in shorthanded games, but I find they aren't as profitable for me as full ring.

Then I saw this recent 2+2 post advocating shorthanded games. I feel like the post is misleading.

First of all, let me acknowledge that the players in these games tend to be pretty bad. It's not unusual to find tables with several players with VP$IPs over 40 or more.

Secondly, these games are beatable.

Additionally, learning to play shorthanded limit hold 'em is an invaluable skill for full ring games. You get lots of experience in stealing and defending blinds, in playing hands out of position, and in contesting heads-up pots.

But consider this:

The variance is so high that recommended bankroll requirements range from 500 to 1,000 bets. Even good players have severe downswings in these games. If you think there are a lot of suckouts in full ring limit hold 'em, you won't be prepared for shorthanded play.

With these kinds of swings, you could go for months without showing a profit, even if you're a solid player. You could go bust.

Think about it: Do you really want to wait until you have a $10,000 bankroll (1,000 bets) before you play $5/$10? That means that you have to have $10,000 saved up, in hopes that you can make 2 bets/100 hands ($20) in the long run. Even if you only go with a 500 bet roll, you'll only get $40/100 hands playing $10/$20 on a $10,000 roll. Compared to full ring, you could be playing $15/$30 with that kind of bankroll, trying to average $60/100 hands. The typical recommended bankroll for full ring games is 300 bets.

And if you say, "Well, I don't need a 500-1,000 bet bankroll because I can beat the game," then you may be setting yourself up a downfall. Seriously.

I don't mind if you want to go broke, but don't think that you can beat the odds. Even the best players on earth are still subject to the whims of fortune. They have bad months or bad years, but I like to think that they're smart enough to bankroll themselves.

Still interested in shorthanded games?

How would you like to have nothing to show for your efforts after weeks or months of play? Would you still be able to believe in yourself and your game? Would you still have the guts to keep at it? How would you even know that you were playing well?

And consider this: the loose fish with high VP$IPs that we all love are playing closer to correctly in shorthanded games because the structure requires that you play more hands preflop. If you just wait for premium hands, you will be destroyed by the blinds, which come around much quicker in 5- or 6-max games than in full ring.

I believe that the potential profitability of shorthanded games is probably close to equal that of full ring games. But the higher variance and the less pronounced preflop advantage of a tight player makes me question whether these games are worth the trouble.

To win in shorthanded games you have to play for the long run to withstand the swings, and I don't have that much patience.


PokerSweetHome said...


While I will agree that shorthanded can have very high variance, I think you are off the mark as far as profit potential goes. There are two simple reasons why shorthanded should be much more profitable than the full ring.

1. You see more hands with the same players in a shorter period of time.

2. Because you are in the blinds one in three hands, you must be willing to play some marginal hands aggressively to break even or win. If you hold out for the nuts, you will slowly go broke. As we all know, most of the money is made or lost after the flop/turn/river, so bad play after the flop will be accentuated in shorthanded ('cause the VP$IPs are correctly higher). That's a long winded way of saying that you have more opportunity to exploit weak players on the expensive streets in shorthanded.

Ultimately, I think that over the long haul shorthanded has greater profit potential than full ring, but it is a very different game with very differert strategy.

Mark said...

Shorthanded play certainly may be better for some players than full ring. But I haven't seen any indication that even a very good player can sustain a winrate of much above 2 BB/100 hands in the long run. Let me know if I'm wrong.

Sean Landis said...

I don't see how the 2+2 post you linked to is misleading. W. Deranged focuses on the educational, not financial, benefits of short-handed play. He, too, warns of the higher variance. But his main point is that short-handed tables are good places to learn skills (such as value raising with marginal hands) that are invaluable at higher limits. (He adds as an aside that Party's short-handed tables are easier than usual right now).

I take his suggestion to be that, after consistently beating a certain limit full ring, one should play the short-handed tables at that limit before jumping up to a higher limit full ring. If you disagree with that, fine. But you don't compare short-handed games with higher-limit full games in your post. And, to me, this is a more interesting debate. Does fear of variance outweigh the potential of being outplayed at higher limits?

Victor_Enriq said...

Hey Mark!
Its been a long time! I've been busy, hopefully I'll start this week on the poker arena.
I'd like to know if you have any advice about coming back to the table after long time away from it?