Watch Tom Dwan explain short-deck poker, aka 6-Plus Hold’em, the game played by some of the biggest cash game players in the world.
What is 6-Plus Hold’em or short-deck poker, the new poker variant? In this video from Paul Phua Poker, Tom Dwan explains the rules, dynamics, nuances and strategies of the game that has had the poker forums talking for a while now, but which has largely remained a mystery.
The mystery of short-deck poker
Around two years ago, Tom Dwan appeared with Phil Ivey in a short video discussing something called 6-Plus Hold’em, a game very few had heard of beyond the high-stakes cash game poker tables of ‘the Big Game’.
But poker fans were hungry for details and they wanted to know more about the dynamics of this new game.
The forums were alight: Why did the high-stakes cash game players favour it over regular Hold’em? What were the exact rules, and how did they affect the strategy?
Here, Tom Dwan help explains some of the mystery of this new game.
The origin of short-deck poker (6-plus Hold’em)
6-Plus Hold’em (or “short-deck” or “strip-deck” poker) came about because when Paul Phua and his friends fell in love with poker, they invited the very best professional poker players in the world to their game to challenge themselves and to learn from the very best.
Later, they realised that No Limit Hold’em was too skewered towards skill and many of the non-professionals found that they did not have the time to spend to learn and improve their skills to the level of the professional poker players.
The other equally important reason was that some of the non-professional players, as time passed, felt that the regular Hold’em was a “boring” game when it was played according to the optimal strategy – there were just too many starting hands that they were required to fold and they needed patience to wait for a playable hand.
While short-deck poker negated the pros’ edge, to a degree, it also allowed the non-professionals to play more hands and there was a lot more action for everyone.
Thus, 6-Plus Hold’em is more of a high-variance game where luck plays a slightly more important role when compared to regular Texas Hold’em, forcing players to take more risks, while taking the pros out of their comfort zone. There are many more situations where the odds are close to 50-50, and it becomes a flip. There are also more playable starting hands and players get to play almost every other hand – at least to see the flop.
How does short-deck poker work?
In 6-Plus Hold’em, the 2s, 3s, 4s and 5s are removed, leaving a 36-card deck. The basic dynamics of the game are much like regular Texas Hold’em, with a round of betting pre-flop, on the flop, on the turn and on the river.
But one important difference is that an ace also acts as a 5, so that A, 6, 7, 8, 9 makes a straight. As it is often said of regular Texas Hold’em, if you take away the 5s and 10s, then a straight is impossible, so the problem of the missing 5 is solved by having the ace acting also as a 5.
And, of course, with only 36 cards in the deck, some of the odds change dramatically. Straights are more common in short-deck poker, and it is rare to make a flush.
In short-deck poker a flush beats a full house
Full houses are not uncommon either. As Tom Dwan explains in the video, until recently the same hand rankings applied for short-deck poker, as in regular Texas Hold’em, until someone did the maths. Now short-deck poker is played using a hand-ranking system in which a flush beats a full house.
“When you’re playing this new variation,” says Tom Dwan in this Paul Phua Poker video, “all of a sudden two suited cards looks pretty good. Then you can have someone make a full house, think they’ve got the hand all wrapped up, and you just sneak it in there and win a big pot off them.”
As Tom Dwan points out, you find many more flip situations in short-deck or Six Plus poker than in regular Texas Hold‘em. In terms of starting hands, Tom Dwan says, J-10 is just as strong as A-K, because it has a better chance of making a straight than an A-K. And if you get an open ended straight draw on the flop against an opponent with top pair – for instance, where the flop is K, 7, 8 and you hold 9-10 and the other player holds A-K – you’re in a 50-50 situation. In regular Texas Hold’Em, you would only be about 1 in 3 to win.
It makes for a very interesting and fun game, but it is not pure gambling. It is a whole new game with great depth and new strategies needed to succeed.