Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Ultimate 6-Max Poker Strategy Guide

6-Max poker strategy

6-Max poker has really taken off in popularity in recent years. Full ring games (9 or 10 players) used to be the norm, and actually still are if you play live, but 6-Max now dominates the world of online poker.

You can log on to PokerStars for instance (the biggest online poker room in the world) at any time of the day and look at any stakes from the micros to the nosebleeds. You will typically see twice as many 6max tables running as full ring these days.

Just 5 years ago it was much closer to an even 50/50 split. And 10 years ago full ring dominated online. The times have changed though and people clearly prefer the more action orientated game of 6max over full ring.

What is surprising to me then is that I haven't seen a comprehensive guide to 6-Max poker strategy anywhere online. Most material out there tries to cover both formats. Which is fine in most instances, but there are also some key areas where you need to make adjustments if you truly want to crush 6-Max.

So this article will be my complete guide to 6-Max poker strategy. I will be sharing with you my top tricks and tips that I have learned over the years from playing millions of hands of 6-Max and crushing these games.


1. Play More Hands in 6-Max


The first big adjustment that you have to make if you are coming over from 9 or 10 handed games is to understand that at a 6-Max table you need to open up and play more hands. Let's start off by talking about some exact ranges.

At a full ring table I would typically suggest playing about the top 15% of all hands that are dealt to you. Here is a rough visual representation of what that might look like:

6-Max poker strategy

It is important not to get too wrapped up in the actual hands above. This is just an average selection. You should play less hands than this in the first few seats and more hands in the cutoff and button due to the incredible power of position in poker.

However at a 6-Max poker table, I would typically suggest playing about the top 20% of hands that are dealt to you. Once again here is a rough visual representation of what that might look like.

6max online poker strategy

And again, please don't try to play these exact hands in every situation. This is just an example. You should be playing less hands that this in early position and more hands than this in late position.

The key takeaway here is that whatever hands you are currently playing at a full ring table, you need to add a few of the next worst hands if you decide to start playing 6-Max. 

For instance, by comparing the two charts above you can see that in full ring suited aces down to A5 are selected. However in the 6-Max chart, A4 suited, A3 suited and A2 suited are selected as well. This is what I mean by adding a few of the "next worst hands."


Here is Another Example:

In a full ring game let's say that you currently open raise on the button with KQ, KJ and KT. Well, if you start playing 6-Max it would be a good idea to start raising with K9 and maybe K8 in this spot as well. 

You should make this adjustment for literally all situations in a 6-Max game. This means expanding your blind versus blind opening range, your early position opening range, your 3Bet calling range etc. You should add a few of the next worst hands in every scenario when you play 6-Max.


Why do you actually need to play more hands in 6-Max?

The reason why you need to play more hands in all situations in a 6-Max game is very simple. Less people at the table means there is less of a chance that anybody has anything good.

If you only take one thing from this entire article let it be this: Most of the time in a 6-Max game nobody actually has anything very good at all. 

Also, it is important to remember that the blinds come around a lot faster in a 6-Max game which means that you can't just sit around waiting for the nuts all day like you can in a full ring game. 

So therefore, it is necessary to get in there and start mixing it up with a few more hands in order to keep winning your fair share of the pots. 

I have seen far too many full ring guys at the lower stakes switch over to 6-Max and play the exact same range of hands that they do in a full ring game. And yet they wonder why they aren't winning!

Don't be that guy.


Quick Bonus Tip:

There is actually an even easier way to think about this. When you play in a 6-Max game just pretend that you are playing at a full ring table and the first three seats have been removed (or the first 4 seats if you are used to 10 handed live poker games).

Because in reality, this is all that a 6-Max poker game really is. 

6-Max online poker strategy

So if you are first to act preflop in a 6-Max game, just pretend that you are playing a 9 handed game and three people have already folded before you. 

Play the exact same range of hands that you would from middle position (MP) in a full ring game and so on and so forth from every other position at the table. This will quickly have you playing the right hands in 6-Max.


2. Bet More Often After the Flop in 6-Max

Postflop there are many adjustments to be made when you play 6-Max as well. One of the biggest ones is the necessity to bet more often on all streets after the flop.

And the biggest reason why is because strong hands are harder to come by in 6-Max. People will play more hands overall and therefore their ranges tend to be weaker on all postflop streets. 

So for instance, in 6-Max there is a better chance that your Ace high on the flop is actually still the best hand. Therefore, you don't even need to think of your CBet as a bluff. Since there is a good chance that you have the best hand, it is often actually for value.

In full ring things are a little bit different. This is a game where Nits can still turn a small profit sitting around waiting for AA and sets all day. You simply cannot get away with this in 6-Max and expect to win though. The blinds will eat you alive and the better regs will push you around all day. 


Here's What You Need to Do:

In 6-Max you should be betting the flop and firing additional barrels on the turn and/or river more often than in a full ring game. Your opponents just can't possibly have a hand often enough to call you down every time. 

"Red line" (or non-showdown winnings) are a lot more important in 6max than full ring. A larger share of the pots are won because somebody simply wanted it more, not because they showed down the best hand.

Check out my complete guide to increasing your red line winnings for more.

And furthermore, many players at the lower stakes still haven't made the adjustment in 6-Max to call wider versus aggressive players. They still operate with a full ring mentality where they want to wait for the nuts before putting any significant money in the pot. 

Let's look at an example to help illustrate this all better.


Example Hand

Hero raises to 3x from early position with AJ

Nit Villain calls on the button


Flop:

366

Hero CBets

Villain calls


Turn:

2

Hero???

We raise preflop with a strong suited Ace in early position and get called by a nitty (tight) reg on the button. His range here has a lot of small and middle pairs that he is trying to set mine us with. He will also have a few big Aces and broadways that he was too afraid to 3Bet with.

Villain's Likely Range: (22, 33, 44, 55, 66, 77, 88, 99, TT, AK, AQ, AJ, KQ, KJ) 

We make a standard CBet on this extremely dry flop which should fold out all of his non-pair hands. More specifically a Nit will probably fold all his AK, AQ, AJ, KQ and KJ hands here.

Since this is a paired board the chances that he has a set are very low. But we expect him to hang on with some of his small pairs like 44 or 55 and all of his mid pairs (77, 88, 99, TT) as well.

Now in a full ring game when I get flatted on this flop by a Nit I would often just give up on this total brick turn card. In fact in my article last week I talked about exactly why this is generally a bad card to double barrel on.

But it is a lot closer in 6-Max. I know that it is harder for them to have something to call me with. I also know that this specific type of player is often looking for any excuse to fold. Make sure to check their Went to Showdown numbers (WTSD%) on your HUD for more evidence of this.

It is important to note that if I decide NOT to double barrel this turn, then I am going to bluff plenty of rivers in 6-Max for all of the same reasons. I will be betting any broadway card for instance (T, J, Q, K or A) and possibly some hearts as well.


Bottom Line: Bet more often in 6-Max. It is simply harder for them to have a hand. Many of the weaker regs (Nits and TAGfish in particular) also still fold way too much at the lower stakes. 

Check out my full guide on player types at the lower limits for more on which regulars to target.


3. Float More Often After the Flop in 6-Max


In addition to betting more often in a 6-Max game you should also be floating when they bet quite a bit more often as well.

A float in poker is simply the act of calling a continuation bet after the flop. And preferably in position most of the time because this makes it much easier to take the pot away from them on later streets.

In a full ring game you can often just lay down your Ace high or even bottom pair on the flop. However, it is much more necessary in a 6-Max game to continue with hands like these. 

The reason why? Because once again, most of the time nobody actually has anything!

Also, floating is arguably the very best way to break the Nits in today's small stakes games. This will be a heavy focus of my new book to be released later this year.

So often these days you will encounter regs at the lower limits who have a gap between their Flop CBet% and Turn CBet% of 20 points, 30 points or even more. This is unbelievably exploitable.

Here is an example of a typical tight 6-Max reg at the micros these days.

6max online poker strategy

On my HUD display which you can download and use for yourself for free right here.
  • CBF = CBet Flop 
  • CBT = CBet Turn

*Note the 35 point difference with this reg.

What this means is that he will often fire a continuation bet on the flop, but if he doesn't have much of a hand by the turn (which is the case most of the time), then he will just go into shutdown mode and give up on the pot for the most part.

This gives us tons of opportunities to win easy pots on the turn and/or river by just making a simple bet. Our actual hand becomes almost irrelevant. Red line goes through the roof. Easy game.

Now despite these very basic betting errors that many small stakes players still make we don't want to be floating with just any two cards. We still want to have some standards as I will explain below.

But if you are folding the flop more than about 60% of the time in a 6-Max game, I would say that you are leaving serious money on the table. I would shoot for closer to a 50% fold rate. If you are highly confident in your postflop game, then you can fold even less than this and show a profit at the lower stakes.


So What Hands Should We Float With?

You should of course be calling the flop (or raising) with all of your strong hands like overpairs, top pairs, flush draws, straight draws and two pair or better.

However, you should also be routinely floating the flop in 6-Max with many of your:
  • Middle pairs
  • Bottom pairs
  • Gut shot straight draws
  • Backdoor draws (straight or flush) with over(s)

And just to be clear I want to note that I am only talking about 100 big blind effective stacks and heads up pots here. Versus short stacks or multiple opponents the strategy can change significantly.

But hopefully the point is clear. In a 6-Max game you need to be continuing with a lot more hands after the flop. You can't just sit around waiting for the nuts all day and expect to win. Let's look at an example.


Example Hand

Nit Villain raises to 3x in early position

Hero calls on the button with AJ


Flop:

366

Villain CBets

Hero???


You might notice that this is actually the exact same hand that I discussed before. I just switched the seats and the preflop action around. We are the preflop caller this time and we have position as well.

This nitty regular is almost certainly going to CBet on this dry board. We have two nice overcards and the backdoor nut flush draw. So I am never folding when he bets here. From time to time I will even mix in a raise as well.

The reason why is because I think that a weaker reg like this will give up a lot versus either line. He will fail to make a CBet on the turn a lot of the time or just give up on the flop versus a raise sometimes. 

Even if he gives us action there are tons of turn cards that we can bet or bluff on with plenty of equity.

These are cards like:
  • Any broadway (T, J, Q, K or A)
  • Any diamond

This amounts to half of the deck when you count them all. Also, since we have position we will be able to dictate the pace of the action the rest of the way. We can just check behind on some turns that aren't good for us and bluff some rivers as well.

Basically, there are tons of ways for us to win here. You have to get involved in 6-Max and fight for more pots. In position against the weaker regs is a good place to start mixing it up more. You can make a small fortune at the micros by floating these guys and outplaying them on later streets.


4. Raise More Often After the Flop in 6-Max


Something else that you need to be doing more often in 6-Max compared to full ring is raising after the flop.

I have done a lot of research in Pokertracker 4 about postflop raising ranges for regs at the lower stakes online. Most are only raising around 10% of the time on the flop and this is the street where people are most likely to raise.

This is pretty crazy because if you are only raising the flop 10% of the time this means that you pretty much always have a set or a monster draw. This is almost trivial to exploit. 

I would recommend raising the flop a lot more often than this (as much as double) and more often on the later streets as well. 

You should definitely still keep raising with your sets and monster draws most of the time. But you should also be raising frequently with regular draws (flush and straight) and even sometimes with just two overs and a backdoor draw like we saw in the previous hand. 

Adding these types of hands to your postflop raising range will make you infinitely more difficult to play against because your opponents won't be able to put you on a monster every time and make the easy fold.

Raising more after the flop is also highly effective in 6-Max because they won't have a strong hand to call you with very often. And even if they get stubborn with some sort of pair, a followup bet on the turn and/or river is often enough to turn them into a believer.

Let's look at an example to help illustrate this better.


Example Hand

Nit Villain raises to 2.5x from the button

Hero calls in the big blind with JT


Flop:

39A

Hero checks

Villain CBets

Hero???


A nitty regular raises from the button in this hand. Since he is in a steal position we know that he will be opening with a wide range here, perhaps as much as 30% or even more hands.

It is important to also note the 2.5x the big blind open which is pretty standard these days even at the lower stakes especially from a steal seat (button or cutoff).

Five years ago most people would make it 3x or even more sometimes in this spot which gave you much worse odds to call out of position. Therefore the play was often to either 3Bet or fold. 

But with the smaller open raise sizes in today's games (2x or 2.5x) flatting with a hand like this is certainly an acceptable option as well. 

On the flop there are also multiple lines that we could take with this hand. You could throw in some leads here once in awhile just to mix things up and keep them guessing. I prefer to just check it to the preflop raiser most of the time though and that is what we do here.

After the reg makes his CBet we could just call out of position here. But it doesn't really put us in a great spot on the turn since we will miss our flush 80% of the time and be out of position still with just a draw.


Check/Raise!

So I think it is a good idea to mix in some check/raises in a spot like this more often. We don't need to fear the Ace too much (remember this guy is opening with 30% of hands from the button here). And by raising we also give ourselves a chance to take down the pot unimproved right now or with a followup lead on the turn. 

People often complain these days about not getting any action with their big hands like AA or sets. A big part of the reason why is because everybody and their dog knows that they have the nuts when they raise!

If you can show up with hands like this (regular flush draw), or even worse hands on occasion, not only will you get a lot more action when you actually want it, but you will start taking away more pots from the regulars and ultimately winning more.


Bottom Line: In a 6-Max game you have to find more ways to get active postflop because so often nobody really has anything good. Raising more often with decent equity hands like a flush draw is a good way to go about that.


5. Isolate the Recreational Players More Often in 6-Max


The final adjustment that you need to make for 6-Max is to zero in on the fish even more than ever. By this I mean that you should be isolating the recreational players like crazy at the lower stakes. 

As I discuss at length in both of my books, playing against the fish is by far the #1 way to increase your poker winnings. There is no strategy on earth that you will ever learn in any guide, video, book or from any coach that can even come close.

Bad players = $.

And the great thing about the lower stakes games (online or live) is that most of the regs won't fight with you to get in hands with the fish like they will at higher limits. This means that when the recreational player limps into the pot you can often raise it up and get the pot heads up against them pretty easily. 

Even if you are out of position this is still a great opportunity. Recreational players are where the bulk of your profits will come from in this game because they make massive fundamental mistakes all the time. They also tilt like crazy.

So you can and should be taking control of the pot preflop with an even wider range of hands than normal if a fish limps in. 

If I am in position, especially on the button, then I will be raising with nearly half the deck when they limp in. The reason why is that my edge in this spot is simply too big to pass over.


I expect to be able to turn a profit with hands as weak as:

Q7

or 

KT

The other great thing about 6-Max is that since there are less players at the table, you get to play hands against the recreational players way more often. 

You should always be focusing heavily on your poker table selection and playing on easy poker sites in today's games. But I would say that it is even more important in 6-Max. 

If you always have at least one bad player at the table, then it is literally impossible not to win big even if you just play like a complete nit. And at 6-Max, you get to bust them even faster.


Final Thoughts


6-Max poker strategy is not really that complicated. It really just involves expanding your range a little bit in nearly all facets of the game. But it is important not to go too crazy. A 6-Max poker game is still way closer in theory to full ring than to heads up for instance. 

But if you really want to start crushing the lower stakes 6-Max games, then it will be necessary to start shedding a few of your nitty ways. And believe me, as a former massive multi-tabling full ring nit grinder I know all about this!

You need to start playing a few more hands from all positions preflop as well as betting and barreling more postflop. You should be floating and raising more often as well especially against the weaker regs.

In time you will start to think with more of a 6-Max mentality. There are tons of easy pots up for grabs that nobody really wants to fight for. And you don't need to have the nuts in order to start winning more of them!

The other great thing about 6-Max is that you get to play hands more often against the fish. Make sure you are getting involved with them as often as possible and getting their stack before the other regs do.

If you want to know the full strategy I have used to create some of the highest win-rates in online poker history at the micros (both 6-Max and full ring), then make sure to pick up a copy of my free poker ebook. 

6-Max poker strategy

25 comments:

  1. Nathan

    Floating is something I need to do a lot more of.
    I am way too quick to fold the flop when my opponent fires a c-bet.
    I am a little too fit or fold.
    I need to start calling the c-bets with some equity and then fire a bet on the turn when my opponent checks the turn.
    Good stuff.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Breaking these nitty habits took me a long time. I used to play very fit or fold as well. It's something you you learn how to do more in time because you have to if you want to win more pots and really beat the games.

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    2. Ya it is important to not go too far in the other direction either. As I discuss in this article always make sure that you have some sort of reasonable equity. There are lots of times when you have no pair, no draw and these should almost always be folds at the lower limits.

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  2. Nathan did you ever payed taxes for playing poker ? I am not talking about rake .. I am talking about actual taxes like on a normal job ? Pokerstars just emailed me that in my country I have to play taxes now for the entire year of 2016 regarding when I played poker .... they sent me a big ass excel file and I don't understand anything from it ... I keep emailing them back but they didn't manage to explain me properly what is happening here .... Do they take money from my account ? Does somebody come knocking at my door home demanding money for this or what ? lol .... The emails are from the real pokerstars ... they are not fake ... but it still makes no sense to me.

    Did you ever heard or had this happening to you ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Mircea,

      Sorry but I can't give tax advice, I am just a poker player and writer lol. Also, the laws will be different for every country.

      Delete
  3. Nice one Nathan, I moved from fullring to 6max in the last months of 2015 and I'm still looking to adjust to this day. In general I do enjoy far more this tables and found it easier to find good seats against the fish. Didn't know you were working on a new book, what are you going to talk about on this one if you don't mind me asking. Always nice to read your blog, take care!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Jorge! My new book will be based around small stakes poker strategy again. It is still far from finished though so I don't want to say too much more :)

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  4. Great guide a usual !

    In our french room (winamax.fr) there is only 5-max.

    Is there some different strategy apart from the fact that you need to open your range a bit more than 6-max ?

    I mean, I've applied your 6-max strategy to the 5-max for about 6 month and im running 7bb/100. That's why I was wondering if maybe I had some leaks due to this 1-person difference that I don't take in consideration.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks kerouas! 5-Max is a slightly different game but I think a 6-Max strategy like I discuss in this article will still work fine. It isn't really until you get to 3 handed and heads up that the strategy starts to change significantly.

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  5. Nice article Nathan, I only play 6 max and reading all this tips for adaptation from full ring opened my eyes how to exploit better people doing this transition.

    In almost all yout articles there is a sentence like "I played millions of hand on those stakes"... I really like your straightforward approach to micro stakes and I'd really like to know what you actually have been playing (sites, numbers of simultaneous tables, stakes, hands per month, winning rates) and how it is going. I know that for most of it you have your recommendations (e.g. which site to play), but it is very nice to "see" what you have been doing. This sort of engagement I have with other pro poker players and is very nice :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Tiago! From time to time I will post updates on my poker career but mostly on social media. On this blog I just post strategy articles for the lower stakes.

      Delete
  6. Thanks for article could you send us your PT report to compare with ours at 6 max microstakes? Thank you again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad you enjoyed it. Sorry but I don't share all of my personal PT info on a public blog like this. I do however include some of this information in my books.

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  7. Great article as usual Nathan.

    I've got back into poker again, an ex-Full Ring nit turned 6-max player. It's definitely hard initially to open up and break old habits, but I'm also of the opinion that having to play wider ranges both pre- and post-flop, as well as needing to extract thinner value, is already improving my skills quite significantly compared to my old auto-pilot style in FR. And that's after only 5,000 hands.

    The other counter-intuitive thing about opening up is that I reckon it's reduced my variance, probably showing how much value I missed previously. It's also nice not having to rely on a good run in terms of showdown winnings.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Gez. I agree 100% that playing with less people makes you a better poker player as well.

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  8. Awesome article Nathan. This might be a really stupid question. But I am really doing everything I can to pursue the dream of going pro in some years.

    Your first book CTM is all that stuff still relevant for today? The player types you mentioned in a post from 2013. Are they still the same?

    And lastly is 888Poker still the best place to play micro?

    Thanks a lot. I hope you will keep making great articles and some more YouTube videos.

    I really love the idea of 6-max and want to make money this way rather than FR if possible.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks CaFa. Everything that I put out (blog posts and books) is all digital. This means that I can make edits at any time. So with both of my books, and all of my most important blog posts, I regularly update them with new information as the games and the poker environment changes.

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    2. Thanks for the hyper quick response. Awesome!

      I will definitely buy it all whenever the monthly paycheck gets here ;)

      Thanks man!

      Delete
    3. Uhh, and one more last thing. Whenever I buy CTM (I will start here), do I then get the updated version or how does it work out?

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    4. Hey CaFa, yes you will receive the latest version. This is the advantage of a digital book over a traditional print book. I can update it any time and then all new purchasers will receive it.

      Delete
    5. Hey,

      I've been desperately trying to get hold of your book but I cannot get it. Please can you advise where I could get it from
      Thanks Mike

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    6. Hi Mike,

      I have two books.

      Crushing the Microstakes is for the lowest limits online or live. You can pick it up right here

      Modern Small Stakes is a bit more advanced for higher limits. You can pick it up right here

      Delete
  9. Thank for that. So I have started reading and really enjoying it. However I'm slightly concerned as the book was written a long time ago in poker terms. It often mentions how much poker has changed up to the point of writing. I'm wondering how relevant is it in today's game ?
    Thank you Mike

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Mike,

      I am one of the few poker authors (perhaps the only?) who does not release my books in paperback. They are in digital form only. There is one HUGE advantage to this. I can edit and update my books any time I want. So with both books, I regularly make small changes when I see differences in the way that the games are played. Also, both of my books are aimed at the lower stakes where the pace of change is the slowest anyways.

      Delete