How To Play
Learn how to play poker in minutes with our guide to the basics
Short Deck Overview
The game of Short Deck (or strip deck/6+) hold’em follows the rules of no limit hold’em but boosts hands – and action – by removing every 2, 3, 4, and 5 from the deck. Playing with 36 cards alters the poker hand rankings so that a flush beats a full house.
In Short Deck hold’em, a flush beats a full house.
Aces still play high and low for straights (as well as being the high card), so the low straight they complete is one that runs ace to nine (A-6-7-8-9).
Now that you know these crucial differences from regular hold’em, learning how to play short deck poker is easy. For an intro to hold’em, please refer to our full beginners’ guide, how to play Texas hold’em.
Short Deck Hold’em Rules
Just like regular hold’em, in Short Deck there are four betting rounds, and every player makes their best five-card hand from any combination of their two hole cards and five community cards.
First Betting Round (Preflop):
Instead of small and big blinds, every player posts an ante, and the button posts a second larger (live) ante. Moving clockwise from the button, every player has the option to call (match a previous bet), raise (increase the bet) or fold (throw their hole cards away and wait for the next hand to start).
When all players have acted (if more than one remains active), the flop – three face-up community cards – is dealt.
Second Betting Round
Betting starts with the first active player to the left of the button, and players act in turn to check (decline to bet, passing the action on), bet, raise a previous bet or fold. Remaining players move on to the turn, a fourth community card. If all players check, the turn card is dealt for free.
Third Betting Round
Remaining players again act in turn. If more than one player remains after the third betting round, the river card is dealt.
Fourth Betting Round
When all five community cards have been dealt, there’s a final betting round. If there is more than one player left in the hand at the end, the hole cards are revealed (the showdown), and the player with the best hand wins the pot.
The hand rankings for Short Deck Hold’em (highest to lowest):
A straight flush, ten to ace
Five consecutive cards of the same suit
Four of a Kind
Four cards of the same rank
Five cards of the same suit
Three cards of the same rank, plus a pair
Five cards of consecutive rank
Three of a Kind
Three cards of the same rank
Two pairs of matching ranked cards
Two cards of matching rank
Five unpaired cards
Short Deck Hold’em Odds
The removal of the sixteen low cards (2 through 5) changes the odds of being dealt different starting hands in Short Deck. The total number of possible starting combinations is halved (there are only 630 distinct starting hands, taking into account suits, and 81 without). Four possible ranks that make up pocket pairs are no longer available, so there are now nine potential pairs and you’ll be dealt any specific one of them aces included around 1% of the time. This is roughly double the frequency in full-deck Texas hold’em.
With fewer cards in the deck, straight draws fill more easily, and flush draws less so. With connected cards, you will flop straight draws more frequently, and an open-ended straight draw has eight outs out of 31 (remaining cards in the deck) to hit, as opposed to eight out of 47. This makes the old “rule of two and four” when estimating the likelihood of making your straight inaccurate in this variant; it is closer to multiply your outs by three to hit on the turn and six to hit over the turn and river. This means that a flopped open-ender has a 48% chance (eight outs x6) of making the straight by the river.
Though your odds of getting dealt aces go up in Short Deck, their likelihood of winning against any random hand overall goes down. Their likelihood of winning against an underpair, too drops; the lowest pair, sixes, all in against aces preflop, will win almost a quarter of the time in Short Deck. Similarly, overcards vs pocket pairs get closer in equity and hands like ace-king vs. ten-jack are almost a coinflip.
Short Deck Hold’em Strategy for Beginners
Apart from the absolute basics (remembering that a flush beats a full house, and that the lowest straight runs ace to nine), playing short deck involves recalibrating the strength of your hole cards and your draws. The top pocket pairs are still strong, even though pairs that would be considered very strong in regular hold’em (jacks, tens) lose their edge. Weaker pairs can spell trouble; overcards hit more often and straight draws do, too. Pairs become sets more often, with your chances to hit being nearly one in five (in regular hold’em it’s about one in eight).
As when switching to Omaha from hold’em, it is generally considered wise to adopt more of a “tight is right” strategy at first, even though you will be dealt stronger hands on average. The chance for expensive run-ins with the nuts, or draws to the nuts, is increased. However, the mechanics of the game remain the same, and a solid understanding of the power of position and how to make the most of value hands will stand you in good stead. Playing a wider range on the button, defending the big blind (most Short Deck is played short-handed) and avoiding passive play are tips that transfer well from regular hold’em.
Middle connected hands like 9-T or T-J are much stronger than in the traditional game (these hands will flop an open-ended straight draw almost one in five times). Meanwhile, flopping top pair (or holding just an overpair heading towards showdown) is less strong in Short Deck, and if you find yourself on the river unimproved, especially against multiple opponents, there’s a good chance this will be beaten.
Finally, although flushes are now ranked higher, there are fewer of each suit left in the deck to hit. Flopping a flush draw, you will hit it by the river just 30% of the time, and so playing higher, connected, suited cards, with the possibility of flopping multiple draws, is going to be more profitable than unconnected and low suited cards. Other players will be pushing the action with flopped sets and strong draws themselves, and overall the strength of hands at showdown will be higher than in the full-deck game.
Where to Play Short Deck Texas Hold’em
Short deck poker initially took the high roller tournament circuit by storm, with its reduced number of cards leading to bigger hands and a fast-paced, exciting game. It soon spread to cash games and festivals worldwide. In 2019, the WSOP added a $10,000 Short Deck Hold’em bracelet event to the schedule for the first time, and now 6+ hold’em is as likely to be found online as live in both ring game and tournament format.
WPT Global provides Short Deck Texas Hold’em tables at levels from microstakes up, making it quick and easy to practise this action-inducing format and get used to how the theory of playing with the more compact deck works out in practice.