6 Handed vs 9 Handed Poker (Which One is More Profitable?)

6 Handed vs 9 Handed Poker

This article was written by blackrain79.com contributor Fran Ferlan.

Choosing the right game format is essential for your poker success. 

You want to choose the one that fits your preferences and play style. If you opt for the cash games format, you need to choose between the full ring (9-handed) or 6-max (6-handed).

This article will break down the differences between the two and illustrate which one could potentially be more profitable.

The number of players at the table will, in fact, influence your poker strategy. You will need to make adjustments to your game if you switch from full ring to 6-max or vice versa.

Before breaking down the differences between the two, it’s worth mentioning that it’s still essentially the same game. 

You get two hole cards and the goal is making as many chips as possible. The only difference is the number of opponents you’re facing.


1. 9-Handed Tables Are The Best Choice For Beginner Poker Players


If you are a beginner poker player, I would advise you to start playing full ring for a couple of reasons.

First of all, full ring games play slower than 6-max for obvious reasons. The more players involved, the more time it takes for action to reach you. 

This means you have plenty of time to think through your decisions without getting overwhelmed. 

The potential downside, however, is this snail’s pace can make you bored or impatient, which can cause you to get involved in spots you’d do better to avoid altogether.

A lot of beginner poker players play too many hands and stay in them for far too long because boredom makes them crave action, so they get involved just for the sake of it. You can’t win if you don’t play, right?

But the fact is playing too many hands is just about the worst mistake you can make at the poker tables. Most hands miss most flops, so the more hands you play, the more money you lose over the long term. 

This might seem counterintuitive at first, but the cold hard data shows that about 80% of all hands in Texas holdem are actually long term losers.

If you have a tracking software like PokerTracker 4, you can go through your own database and check this yourself.

This brings us to another difference between the game formats, and that is the starting hand selection. 

Since there are more opponents to go through in the full ring, it’s advised to be even more stringent with your starting hand selection, and play only about 15% of all hands dealt to you, especially in the early positions. 

The reason for this is also pretty self explanatory. The more opponents, the more likely it is for someone to have a really strong hand, so you need to have stronger hands on average yourself to have a fighting chance.

So if you are a beginner, a full ring might be a good place to start your poker journey. 

This is where you can learn the basics of the winning tight and aggressive (TAG) strategy, which involves being very selective with your starting hand selection, playing them aggressively (i.e. betting and raising often), and playing in position.

Another reason full ring is preferable to 6-max for many players, especially beginners, is lower variance. This is something that Nathan discussed in a recent video on 6max vs 9max poker profits.

  
In poker, this term shows the difference between how much you expect to earn on average and how much you actually earn in a given period. 

Think about flipping a coin 10 times. Since the chance of winning a coin flip is 50%, you expect to win 5 out of 10 times. 

If you win more than 5 times, you experienced positive variance, and if you lose more than 5 times, you experienced negative variance.

Poker is a game of skill, but it does have a short-term luck element involved. This is what makes it exciting, but it also means you will have prolonged losing periods, even if you do everything right. 

This is arguably the biggest obstacle for many players to overcome. 

Learning the winning poker strategy is not nearly as difficult as coming to terms with the fact that doing the right things won’t always guarantee positive results.

We are humans after all, and dealing with prolonged losing streaks is anything but easy. 

If this is a problem for you, opting for a lower variance format could be a solution. Playing full ring will yield less volatile results, and you can learn to win somewhat consistently quickly.

So if you don’t mind slightly worse, but less volatile results overall, you should play 9-handed poker.

By the way, I have already written the most comprehensive free 9-handed poker strategy guide available online today.


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2. 6-max is a Higher Risk Higher Reward Poker Format


With that being said, 6-max poker is potentially a more profitable format if you can tolerate more risk and handle more variance. 

In 6-max, you don’t really have the luxury of waiting around for nuts all day and counting your money.

There’s fewer players at the table, the pace of action is faster, and you’re often forced to get involved in more marginal situations.

This is discussed in much further detail with dozens of hand examples in The Micro Stakes Playbook. You’ll also need to expand your starting hand selection lest you don’t become overly predictable. 

It’s advised to play around 20% of starting hands, like pocket pairs, broadway hands, suited Aces and suited connectors.

6 Handed vs 9 Handed Poker

Recommended starting hand charts for all poker formats in my free poker cheat sheet.  

It’s also important to keep track of your table image and the metagame to maximize your potential earnings. 

Since there are so few players involved, you can keep track of their general tendencies and exploit their weaknesses. 

You will also need to mix up your game from time to time against more observant opponents. You can’t just hide in the crowd, so to speak.

If you only “just play tight” all the time in a 6-max game, even the fish will pick up on what you’re doing eventually. 

That’s not to say you should abandon the TAG strategy altogether, especially at the lower stakes. It just means you should be willing to expand your comfort zone and get involved in less than ideal circumstances.

For example, pulling off a big bluff or calling down your opponents wide from time to time can work wonders for your table image and allow you to maximize your winnings once you actually do wake up with a monster hand.

All of this makes 6-max a far more dynamic and interesting format in my opinion. It’s also a format that allows you to maximize your skill edge over the competition.

If you are confident you are the best player at your table, you want as many opportunities to get involved with inferior competition without needing to wait around for Aces all day.

With that said, you don’t need to be super loose or make some over the top adjustments to your strategy if you’re transitioning from full ring to 6-max. It’s still the same game.

One mental trick to use is to simply imagine you’re playing full ring, and the first three players folded their hand. 

If you’re playing online, often you won’t even have the luxury of choosing between the two formats. 

For most online poker sites, 6-max tables are the norm, and even if the site offers a full ring table, it’s often a total ghost town. 

By the way, I have already written the most comprehensive free 6max poker strategy guide available today online.


6 Handed vs 9 Handed Poker (Which One is More Profitable?) 


So which poker game format is more profitable? Like with most things poker, it depends.

It’s essentially the same game, the only difference is the number of opponents you’re facing. With that in mind, that number will, in fact, dictate your overall strategy. 

The more opponents, the stronger cards you need on average to continue playing profitably. If you are a beginner poker player, full ring games might be a good place to start.

If you have studied a bit of advanced poker strategy, then 6max might be more up your alley. This is the game that many of the top pros gravitate towards more these days, because there is more action.

There are also tons of good modern poker strategy books available these days to help take your 6max game to the next level as well.

But I still recommend full ring (9max) to total beginners for a couple reasons.

The pace of action is slower and more manageable, and there’s less variance. It’s also the best format to practice proper tight and aggressive strategy, and you can start winning consistently fairly quickly.

If you are confident in your playing abilities, on the other hand, 6-max format is potentially more profitable. It’s a higher variance format, but it also promises a bigger upside.

A faster pace allows for more volume in a shorter time, which means more opportunities to fully manifest your skill edge over your competition. 

Due to few players at the table, details like the metagame and your table image also come into play.

If you’re playing online, however, you will probably end up playing 6-max, as some poker sites don’t even offer full-ring games. And even if they do, there’s not a lot of players there. 

6-max is the norm for online poker, and it’s no wonder. A faster pace of action for the players, and more rake for the poker site. 

There are a ton of other emerging game formats as well. Some are totally gimmicky, but who’s to say which one will become the next big thing?

As far as profitability goes, 6-max sits at the top simply due to the fact that everyone is playing it. You can get action all day, every day.

It’s poker in its purest form, in my opinion, and it’s hardly going away any time soon.

Lastly, to learn my complete strategy for crushing both 6max and 9max games for the highest possible winnings, grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

6 Handed vs 9 Handed Poker (Which One is More Profitable?)