Out of all the cash game formats played online, 6-max poker is the most popular one. 6-max or 6-handed poker started replacing full-ring (9-handed games) as the most popular format once the players noticed there’s more action playing short-handed. The more action, the more fun the players are generally having – it’s not hard to see why full-ring games are not that popular online anymore.
Playing a solid short-handed game is pretty much a requirement for anybody who wants to be successful in online cash games. Unless you play only heads-up, most poker games run with 3 to 6 players in both No-Limit Holdem and Pot-Limit Omaha. In recent years also short deck or 6+ Holdem has become quite popular, and it’s played mostly 6-handed. There’s an increasing number of poker tournaments too that are played 6-handed, so it doesn’t hurt to become good in this format even if you’re mostly a tournament player.
Just imagine for a second, if you could make hundreds or even thousands of dollars per month playing poker online. Wouldn’t it feel quite good to pay for a luxury vacation or a powerful laptop with your poker winnings? All this is possible by learning a winning strategy for 6-max. You don’t need to spend years studying complicated math equations before you can start winning. Instead, just get your fundamentals right, and you’re on your way to become a crusher. Our ambassadors at Beasts Of Poker can assure you that making money by outplaying their opponents at poker tables is a feeling like no other – and the best part is, you can do the same!
What this guide covers
If you ask any winning player to quickly sum up how to beat 6-max poker in a few sentences, you’re likely to get an answer along these lines: 6-max Holdem strategy is all about playing tight-aggressive poker with selective aggression. You’re going to play a bit more hands than in full-ring, around 20% of all starting hands, including suited connectors and suited aces. You should be willing to fight for pots more than you’re used to in a 9-handed game, by running multi-street bluffs more frequently and making some thinner call-downs & value bets. As over 90% of winnings still come from weaker players, your strategy should depend on what type of players you’re playing with. With weaker players at the table you should aim to engage in pots with them as often as you can, to exploit their mistakes to the maximum.
Our Champion’s Guide To Crush 6-Max Cash Games gives you an updated outlook on what 6-max poker is all about, what are the main adjustment compared to full-ring, what kind of strategy we should use in the preflop game and how we should approach the most common postflop spots. Lastly, we cover the most beneficial exploitative plays you should have in your game book to win more chips from weak players. You can use the strategies laid out in this guide in both regular 6-max games as well as at Zoom & fastforward tables. Let’s get started!
How 6-max poker works
6-max is a format where you have a maximum of six players at the table instead of 9 players allowed in the more traditional full-ring games. The three first positions to act, UTG (Under the Gun), UTG+1 & UTG+2 don’t exist in 6-max, which means we only have players to act before the two blinds. In practice, 6-max games play looser than full-ring games. There is a higher percentage of players seeing a flop, more hands per hour, and less folding – which is why both elite & recreational players prefer 6-max to full-ring.
The names of the different positions in 6-max are the following:
- Middle position or Lojack (LJ or MP)
- Hijack (HJ or MP+1)
- Cutoff (CO)
- Button (BTN)
- Small Blind (SB)
- Big Blind (BB)
Compared to full-ring, in 6-max you have to pay the blinds every 6 hands instead of every 9 hands, which means you can’t sit back and wait for just premium texas holdem hands to enter the pot. The good news is that there’s also less of a chance of somebody waking up with a strong hand after your open raise. In general, most of the time nobody has a great hand in a 6-max game. Therefore 6-max games can get very aggressive!
The nature of 6-max should not be a surprise in this regard. Aggressive players can take down more than their fair share of pots without the fear of being dominated as often as in full-ring. Therefore the first adjustment to make is opening up your game a bit preflop by adding a few combos of the next worst hands in every position when you play 6max. This leads us to our next topic, which is:
6-max starting hand charts
You’ve probably seen a ton of different hand charts in different guides, so we’ll briefly cover how starting hand charts work. Solid poker players have their preflop hand selections nailed down as close as optimal when they are playing against unknown opponents. Even if the table has a few massive action players, you should mainly stick to playing a solid range of hands. If you’re new to starting hand charts, we recommend quickly re-reading our article about poker hands & poker hand rankings here.
Here’s the 6-handed preflop charts for each position in the game where you can open raise.
The exact opening ranges in the charts for each position are the following:
- Lojack (MP): 16.7%, 222 combos
- Hijack (HJ): 21.1%, 280 combos
- Cutoff (CO): 29.7%, 394 combos
- Button (BTN): 44.5%, 590 combos
- Small Blind (SB): 44.0%, 570 combos
The hand ranges are very similar to how the best 6-max poker AI called Pluribus likes to play preflop, except for the range of Small Blind, for which a raise-only strategy is recommended unless you’re a high-stakes crusher. Very good players can start implementing a mixed strategy with around 50/50 composition of open raises and limps, playing up to 62% of hands. The Big Blind position is missing from these charts on purpose, as we will cover defending your BB later in the guide.
As stated before, you should aim to play around 20% of all starting hands. But, that’s only on average. As you can see in the charts, the closer you’re to the button, the more hands you should open. With positional advantage, you will be able to open more hands compared to positions where you’re likely to play OOP for the rest of the hand. Besides that, you will be more successful in winning the blinds without a fight when there’s less players to act behind you.
When you’re facing a soft competition (which should be often if you table select well), you can deviate from the charts by widening your opening ranges a bit. Likewise, if your table has many strong players, you can tighten up a bit to avoid marginal spots against the good players. You also want to take into account the rake structure of the game. The higher the rake, the less hands you should open. For example in low stakes games you can drop out a few of the worst hands in charts that would otherwise be profitable opens, but due to rake they become slightly losing candidates to play.
Let’s dive a bit further into play from Small Blind, since that position gives trouble even to many experienced players:
Playing from the SB preflop
When the action folds to you in the SB, there’re 1.5 blinds in the pot and you have to win only against one player to win this dead money. The reward here is quite good, and hence we should be willing to risk some chips to pick up the dead money. You should use our SB opening range from the charts as a baseline, but adjust as soon as you notice any of the following:
The player in the BB plays back aggressively by 3-betting a ton: You should tighten your opening range
The player in the BB plays too tight and folds to your steals: You should open raise even wider
Besides the scenario where the action folds to you, you’re often facing a late position steal either from the CO or the BTN. In this situation, you should 3-bet your entire continuing range. This way your postflop positional disadvantage becomes smaller, and you can win the chance without seeing a flop. Your hand range for continuing from the SB against a raiser in late position should be somewhat tight, consisting of medium and high pocket pairs, suited aces and high suited broadways. The earlier the position of the original raise is, the less hands you should continue with from the SB.
Optimal 6-handed open raise size
Your open raise size from each position should be static and not depend on your hand strength. The optimal sizing that doesn’t give too good pot odds for your opponents but doesn’t risk too much either, is somewhere between 2.25 and 3 times the BB. From the Small Bllind you should raise only 3BB and not go for the smaller sizings at all, since BB should defend very loosely due to pot odds and having position on you.
Generally you can use a bit large sizings against weaker players, as you want to build the pot early on when either isolating them or attacking their blinds. That’s because they are going to make a ton of mistakes postflop, translating into more profits for you with bigger pots on average. When strong players have position on you, opening with larger sizing might result in them attacking your opens frequently. Speaking of attacking opens, we can transfer into the next topic, which is crucial for 6-max success:
Crush your opponents by 3-betting
3-betting is one of the most profitable moves you can throw in a 6-max game when applied correctly. To understand why 3-betting is such a powerful weapon to have in your arsenal, let’s take a look at the reasons to bet in poker according to Matthew Janda, a No-Limit Holdem theory expert:
Reason 1 for betting: Building a bigger pot in case you win
Reason 2 for betting: Preventing your opponent(s) from realizing their equity
3-betting achieves both of these objectives at the same time, making your opponents pay if they want to realize their equity and building the pot in case you win the hand. Building the pot is an essential element in poker with your strongest hands. Don’t slow-play your preflop monsters unless you have a very good reason to do so! To keep your range balanced, you must also include some semi-bluffing hands in your 3-betting ranges. With these hands you’re trying to prevent your opponents from realizing their equity, as well as keep them guessing whether they should call or fold against your 3-bets.
3-betting decreases the chances of the pot ending up multiway, which is good for us: Multiway pots are harder to win, and the equity of your hand drops quickly when more than 1 opponent joins the fun by calling preflop. Against weaker players, 3-betting allows you to isolate them for postflop play where they are likely to make big mistakes against you.
What hands to choose for 3-betting
3-betting ranges are heavily dependent on the positions and the tendencies of the open raise. For this reason, it’s not a great approach to stick to static hand charts for 3-betting. You should rather see what hands the raiser is likely opening from the position they’re in, and 3-bet around the top 1/3 of that range. Winning players in 6-max have a 3-bet percentage usually between 5-8%, which is a good number to aim for. Keeping this in mind, your 3-bet range should include hands like:
- Premiums: AA, KK, QQ, JJ TT, AK (you should 3-bet these hands close to 100% of the time)
- Below premiums: AQ, AJ, KQ, 99, 88 (you should 3-bet these hands most of the time)
- Speculative hands: Suited connectors like 98s, suited aces like A5s, small pairs (you should 3-bet these hands from time to time)
The two types of 3-betting ranges
When building your ranges for 3-betting from each position, you can choose hands in those ranges in two ways. The first way is to use a merged or a linear range, where you have the top equity hands including premiums, near premiums and hands with great playability such as big suited connectors. The second way is to use a polarized range, which consists of premium hands and bluffs (hands that are quite not good enough to call).
Here’s some general guidelines on which situations call for a merged range:
- You’re facing an open raise from a strong player who plays back at you postflop
- Your position is not favourable for using any calling ranges: Small Blind, Cutoff and Hijack
- There are loose calling stations behind you who might cold-call your 3-bet
- Situations that call for a polarized range are:
- The open raiser has a high fold to 3bet percentage, and/or continues against you mainly by 4-betting or folding
- You have many hands that would play better as a flat call, for example when you’re on the button
Defending your Big Blind against a raise
While you will have a negative winning rate for both blinds, it’s important to minimize your losses by playing back at open raises with correct frequencies. From the Big Blind you have 1 BB invested in the pot before the action comes to you, which gives you better pot odds against an open raise compared to other positions. You still have to 3-bet a large part of your continuing range, since every hand that goes postflop is raked, and you will be at a positional disadvantage against all other positions than the Small Blind.
How much should you defend then against a steal from the button? Aiming for an about 50% defend is a good starting point when your opponent raises 2.5x. The larger the raise, the less hands you need to defend. You should 3-bet your premium hands and some speculative hands for board coverage, and call with hands that have enough equity to make calling profitable. The worst hands you should call here are weak offsuit aces, weak suited hands with one broadway card, suited gappers down to 64s and offsuit connectors down to 65o. If you’re facing a larger raise size, you can start defending a lot less hands and 3-betting more of those hands.
The most profitable defend situation as BB will occur when facing an open from the SB. You’re granted position for every postflop street, and your pot odds are good. This situation calls for a wide defending range, including a ton of 3-bets with a polarized range as well as flat calls.
How to adjust for multiway pots as the BB
Your defend strategy should change drastically when there are multiple players who have entered the pot before the action comes to you. Here’s two ways to adjust for multiway pots as the BB:
- Defend less hands as it’s harder to realize your equity in multiway pots (don’t be lured into calling just because your pot odds got better!)
- Defend hands that perform well multiway to avoid cooler situations: 54s is a good candidate for defending, K8o is a terrible one!
That’s it for defending your Big Blind. Now we have covered all of the most important preflop strategies, so it’s time to take a look at the most common postflop spots:
6-max postflop strategy
Once you’ve nailed down your preflop ranges, you’re ready to improve your game ‘on the streets’ also known as postflop. In the recent years poker has evolved very quickly thanks to the solutions from gto solvers, which we have covered more in detail in our article Learning No-Limit Holdem With Poker Solvers here. As a result of solver simulations, there’s less guesswork about optimal approaches to the common situations. Let’s take a look at how we should approach those situations:
Playing postflop as the opener: c-betting & double barrelling
Since people play much more hands in 6-max than in full-ring, their postflop ranges are somewhat weaker on all postflop streets. The correct adjustment to make is betting more often on all streets, also known as barrelling. The first barrel is also known as the continuation bet or c-bet, the second barrel is a when you also fire the turn, and firing one last time on the river is called the third barrel. Whereas in full ring many tight players can win by simply waiting to flop the nuts, in 6-max the blinds come around often enough that you need to open up your game if you want to win. Otherwise any savvy opponent will figure out how you’re playing and refuse to pay off your big hands.
Ever heard of the game chicken? A game of chicken occurs when there are two or more players, and the last player to blink wins the pot. In poker this means that nobody flopped huge, so it’s only about who is the last one to give up the pot. This scenario occurs much more often in 6-max compared to full-ring, and being the aggressor will give you a significant edge over any opponents who play fit-or-fold. Pots won this way increase your ‘red line’ winnings, also known as non-showdown winnings.
Here’s an example of c-betting and barrelling:
NL100 6-max, 100bb effective stacks
Hero is dealt A♣5♣ on the button
Hero raises to 2.5bb, BB calls
Flop: K♥3♦2♣ (pot 5.5BB)
Here we can c-bet to deny equity from hands like 98 and JT, which have around 22-24% equity against our hand.
BB checks, Hero bets 1.8BB, BB calls
Turn: 8♣ (pot 9.1BB)
This turn gives us additional equity against pairs, and we should bet big again. This time we decide to go for an overbet to get maximum fold equity.
Hero bets 12BB, BB folds
This hand example illustrates three important concepts of barrelling:
- When you bet small, you can bet with a higher frequency on dry flops with pretty much your whole range.
- When you go for a big bet, you should do so with a lower frequency and polarize your range into big hands & bluffs that have some equity if called
- Good candidates for betting all three streets are backdoor draws, as they have a chance to improve into very strong hands on the river after a favourable turn
But hey, should you just blindly follow this barrelling strategy no matter who I’m up against? This is a valid question, and the answer is no. You should barrel less in these spots in following situations:
- You’re up against a calling station
- The board is wet and coordinated, such as 9♥7♥6♦
In these situations, it’s better to check and give up some of those bluffs you would otherwise bet, unless you improve significantly on the turn of the river. You will find better spots to attack your opponents!
Check-raising the flop as the Big Blind
While you should play rather tight postflop in multi-way pots as a caller from BB, check-raising the flop and barrelling on favourable turn & river cards should be one of your standard moves in HU pots. There’s two routes that we can take if our hand strength allows us to continue against a c-bet from the in-position player:
- For medium-strength hands that have sufficient equity to continue against a bet but are not strong enough to check-raise, the correct way to continue is to check-call
- For the strongest part of our range and our bluff candidates, it’s best to start building the pot and denying villain’s equity by going for a check-raise
The second route is important especially vs. small flop c-bets that are common in modern 6-max poker online.
Here’s an example of check-raising the flop as BB:
NL100 6-max, 100bb effective stacks
Hero is dealt T♦8♦ on the BB
Button raises to 2.5bb, Hero calls
Flop: 7♥6♥5♦ (pot 5.5BB)
Hero checks, Button bets 2.75BB, Hero raises to 8.5BB
If Button calls our check-raise, we can keep up the aggression on most turns as we have the blocker to the straight + good equity against villain’s range on any non-pairing turn. A diamond would also be a great card to keep barrelling on the turn.
Other postflop scenarios
While all the possible postflop scenarios cannot be covered in a normal book, let alone an internet article, there are certain rules of thumb you can follow to navigate after the flop. Even if you have the near-perfect 6-max holdem strategy, you will sometimes encounter situations that you haven’t seen before. What you need is an overall plan that is profitably on average across all the different scenarios you might face at the tables. There’s no substitute for playing a ton of hands to gain experience, but you can follow these principles when in doubt:
Principle 1: When your raw equity combined with fold equity against villain’s estimated range is more than what you have to risk to play on, you should bet, raise or call
Principle 2: When the combined equity is too small to justify the risk, you should check or fold
Principle 3: Your hand strength is always relative, so don’t overcommit to small pots
Principle 4: Build big pots with big hands
Principle 5: Don’t make hero-calls or hero-folds unless you have an extremely good read on your opponent
Principle 6: When you notice glaring leaks in your opponent’s postflop play, start adjusting to their play where you can. For example: Villain calls another player down with 3rd pair no kicker. The correct adjustment here is to value bet them thinly.
Principle 6 is a very important one, since in poker the source of your profits is mistakes of other players. Speaking of that, let’s talk about how you should adjust to weak players:
Exploiting weak players
In online poker, +90% of all profit of winnings players come from recreational players. Another source of profit is tilting players. The rest is usually just coolers, or small mistakes that everyone makes now and then. The richest players in the world are extremely good at two things: table selecting games where their edge is huge and exploiting bad players. Here’s 4 commandments for you to get started on the right track:
Isolate & 3-bet more in position
Playing pots against the bad players, preferably in position, is the most profitable action you can take to win more in poker. Here’s the simple formula to keep in mind regarding that:
Bad player limping or raising + isolation raise or 3-bet in position = $$$
Capitalizing on the fundamental mistakes of weak players should be your number 1 job at the poker table – and if you can’t spot the sucker at your first half hour at the table, just know that somebody else at the table is looking to play pots with you!
Value bet them relentlessly & thinly
When you’re facing a maniac that fires every street all the time, you can just call them to death in position. But most bad players are simply too loose and too passive, and dealing with them is another story. They love calling you down with weak hands, so value bet them all day in every spot you get. Slow-playing is not effective against them, so keep you game straight-forward against them. When you would normally go for a smaller bet, you can go for a big one against calling stations.
Leave big river calls to the stations
Aggression on the river is almost always a reliable sign of strength, especially if it’s a big bet or a river raise. A good adjustment to make against passive players is over-folding the river, as their range is going to be pretty nutted when they fire huge.
Extra commandment: Stick to your bankroll management rules
If poker was more like chess or some other game with perfect information, bad players would likely quit the game or try to improve their game. The luck factor is what keeps poker going, as anybody can win in the short-term. In the long-run, pure skill will dominate the results, and the best players will end up with most of the money.
That being said, you want to make sure you’re still around long-term! If you go broke in good games, you lose not only your bankroll but also the future expected profits. Losing days, weeks and even months come around even for the best players. Therefore we recommend you to keep at least 30-40 buy-ins as bankroll for your regular stakes. This will cover pretty nasty downswings and keep you relatively safe, if you play poker part-time. For full-time professionals, having +100 buy-ins as your bankroll can be recommended, as going broke will be very expensive if you have no other source of income!
Extra: Winner’s philosophy & approach to mental side of 6-max poker
We’ve covered most of the technical aspects that you need to master on your way to crush 6-max poker cash games at micro stakes and higher. One aspect that is often overlooked by many players, is the philosophy of the game that winning players have. Trust me when I say it: Winners approach the game in a whole different way than losing players do. To demonstrate this concept, here’s a short story of an inner dialogue a winning 6-max player might have:
‘’I’m playing every day with regulars and recreational players alike. Most of those recreational players fail at poker because they don’t recognize that poker is a skill game. Sure, in the short-term luck is king. But in the long-term, luck has very little to do with your results as a 6-max cash game player.
Why do many of the regulars fail then? They don’t fail because they didn’t study the exact percentages for check-raising the flop or 3-betting from the Small Bland. Missing a sick overbet bluff spot or river reraise with the nut blocker isn’t the reason either.
Most of them fail to reach their potential simply because they let their emotions cloud their judgement. In 6-max poker, you’re facing borderline decisions all the time, and cannot afford to play while thinking with your emotions. No poker player on earth is immune to tilt – some just learn to recognize their’s and try to make peace with it. Do what other successful players have done before you: Tame your tilt, and bring your fresh mind to the tables to play your A-game.’’
For further reading on the topic of tacking the mental side of poker, check out Tommy Angelo’s books here.
6-max poker is an action-packed game where aggressive style of barrelling and pre-flop 3-betting is the key to success. The strategy of 6-max doesn’t really have to be that complicated, but you should learn the basic opening charts for each position. Build your 3-bet ranges according to tendencies of your villains at your table, and play aggressively postflop.
There will be plenty of pots that are for you to grab if you want them – but don’t go on overdrive or your opponents will catch up to that! The best advantage of 6-max compared to full-ring is that you get to play more hands versus recreational players. You’d better take their stacks before the other regular players – best of luck at the 6-max tables!