Short deck poker has emerged as the talk of the poker world in 2018 thanks to high stakes events across the globe adopting a tournament format of the game.
The poker variant first emerged in 2014 coming out of the high stakes cash game scene in Macau, China, and Manila, Philippines. A place where top pros take on legendary Asian whales in some of the biggest poker games on the planet.
Players on this side of the world first began to take notice of the game when Phil Ivey and Tom Dwan appeared in a video in 2015 promoting a version of short deck called Six-Plus Hold’em. Both players said the game was fun, but dangerous, with obviously increased variance and smaller edges.
High-stakes short deck tournaments
A tournament version of the game first made an appearance in the Triton Super High Roller Series Montenegro in May 2018. Ivey won an HK$ 250,000 buy-in short deck event at the series. West Virginia’s Jason Koon won the other HK$ 1,000,000 buy-in short deck event on the schedule.
The format also appeared at the Triton Poker Super High Roller Series Jeju in South Korea this past July. After that, the first high stakes short deck event held on US soil was put on by ARIA Resort & Casino as part of its Poker Masters series in September 2018.
The $10,000 buy-in event drew a field of 55 entries. Isaac Haxton booked a win.
ARIA has further plans to hold $10,000 short deck events on Oct. 5 and Nov. 2. Plus, it will host a $25,000 buy-in short deck event Nov. 4.
The game is even finding popularity at lower limits. In August 2018, bestbet Jacksonville in Florida hosted a $240 short deck tournament that drew more than 80 players.
Short deck poker rules
The aptly named short deck poker is played with a deck where the deuces through fives have been pulled out. That leaves just 36 cards from a traditional 52-card deck in play.
However, the number of cards aren’t the only thing that changes. Hand rankings, game dynamics, and optimal strategy are all greatly affected as well.
The alternative six-plus hold’em name comes from the fact the six is the lowest card in the deck. However, any ace can be played as a five to help make a straight to the nine.
There are also a few hand ranking changes players should be aware of. Because there are only nine cards of each suit left in the deck, a flush beats a full house. It’s mathematically easier to make a full house with the 36-card deck.
Most of the time, three of a kind beats a straight, as well. Although, the opposite was true at the Triton events and the rule seems to vary from poker room to poker room.
Straights come in much more often with smaller gaps between the cards left in the deck. Therefore, it’s easier to make a straight than a set or trips.
However, pocket pair’s still hit sets more often, with players are drawing to two out of 34 cards as opposed to two out of 50.
Short deck strategy
In terms of strategy, players need to be aware that most draws are much more likely to hit, and equities are even closer than they are in traditional no limit hold’em.
The one draw a player is less likely to hit is that of a flush draw. In traditional Hold’em, you have nine outs to make your flush when you flop a flush draw. In short deck, you only have five outs.
Straight draws may come in more often, but players need to be aware they are drawing dead against sets in most poker rooms.
Removing low cards from the deck actually tightens the equities between all connected Broadway cards, because the number cards that don’t connect with either hand is diminished.
Hands like top pair with a decent kicker have less value on later streets where opponents can catch up a lot easier. As a result, the value of most hands played goes up in an effort to adjust.
The good news is that with fewer cards in the deck, and the same number of aces, you’ll see pocket aces more often. It happens once every 221 hands on average in hold’em, but approximately once every 100 hands on average in short deck. However, the bad news is even pocket aces are less of a favorite against other hands as well.
Pros who play claim the fact no hand is a huge favorite is what makes short deck so attractive. There’s more gambling and most players enjoy at kind of action.
It’s about more than just high stakes games in Asia. Short deck is quickly becoming all the rage all over. In fact, all signs point to it becoming a big part of poker’s future.