How To Play

Learn how to play poker in minutes with our guide to the basics

Short Deck Overview

Short Deck (or strip deck/6+) hold'em follows the rules of no limit hold'em, but increases the number of hands - and actions - by removing all deuces, treys, fours and fives from the deck. In a 36-card deck, the order of poker hands is altered so that a flush is higher than a full house.
In Short Deck hold’em, a flush beats a full house.
Aces always play the role of high and low card for straights (in addition to being the highest card), so the lowest straight they can complete is a straight from ace to nine (A-6-7-8-8-9) ;
Once you know these essential differences from normal hold'em, it's easy to learn how to play short-game poker. If you'd like to familiarize yourself with the game of hold'em, read our comprehensive beginner's guide to playing Texas hold'em.

Short Deck Hold’em Rules

Like classic hold'em, Short Deck features four rounds of betting, with each player drawing his best five-card hand from any combination of his two hole cards and his five community cards.

First Betting Round (Preflop):

Instead of small and large blinds, each player pays an ante and the button pays an even larger ante (live). Moving clockwise from the button, each player has the option of calling (calling the previous bet), raising (increasing the bet) or folding (laying down his cards and waiting for the next hand to start).

When all players have acted (if more than one player is active), the flop is dealt - three open community cards.

Second Betting Round

Betting starts with the first active player to the left of the button, and players can check (decline to bet, take action), bet, raise the previous bet or take their turn. The remaining players move on to the tournament, the fourth community card. If all players pass, the turn card is dealt free of charge.

Third Betting Round

The remaining players play again in order. If more than one player remains after the third betting round, the river card is dealt.

Fourth Betting Round

Once the five community cards have been dealt, the final round of betting takes place. If more than one player remains in the game at the end, their cards are revealed (showdown) and the player with the best hand wins the pot.

Hand Rankings

The hand rankings for Short Deck Hold’em (highest to lowest):

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Royal Flush

A straight flush, ten to ace

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Straight Flush

Five consecutive cards of the same suit

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Four of a Kind

Four cards of the same rank

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Flush

Five cards of the same suit

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Full House

Three cards of the same rank, plus a pair

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Straight

Five cards of consecutive rank

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Three of a Kind

Three cards of the same rank

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Two Pair

Two pairs of matching ranked cards

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One Pair

Two cards of matching rank

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High Card

Five unpaired cards

Short Deck Hold’em Odds

Removing sixteen low cards (2 to 5) changes the chances of obtaining different starting hands in a short game. The total number of possible starting hands is halved (there are now only 630 different starting hands with flushes and 81 without flushes). The four possible sets that make up pocket pairs are no longer available, so there are now nine potential pairs available, and you'll get one of them with an ace about 1% of the time. That's about twice as often as in Texas Hold'em with a full deck.

With fewer cards in the deck, it's easier to complete sequences, while balancing them is more difficult. With linked cards, you're more likely to get a straight, and with an open straight, you need to get eight cards out of 31 (the remaining cards in the deck), instead of eight cards out of 47. The old "two and four" rule for estimating the probability of getting a straight in this variant is therefore not accurate; instead, it's a matter of multiplying the outs by three for a hit on the turn and by six for a hit on the turn and river. This means that a flopped open-ender has a 48% chance (eight outs x 6) of getting a straight on the river.

Although the probability of receiving Aces increases in the Short Deck, the probability of winning them against any random distribution decreases. The probability of winning against an underpair also decreases; the lowest pair, six, against preflop aces, will win in the Short Deck almost a quarter of the time. Similarly, overcards against pairs are increasingly balanced, and hands like ace-king against ten jacks are almost toss-ups.

Short Deck Hold’em Strategy for Beginners

In addition to the basic rules (remember that a flush beats a full house and that the lowest straight runs from ace to nine), you need to calibrate the strength of your own cards and draws when playing with a short deck. The best pairs are always strong, although pairs considered very strong in normal hold'em (jacks, tens) lose their advantage. Weaker pairs can cause problems; overcards are more common, as are straights. Pairs are more likely to turn into series, and the chances of success are almost one in five (in normal hold'em, they are about one in eight).

As with the transition from Omaha to Hold'em, it's wise to adopt a "tight is right" strategy at the start, even if you have stronger cards on average. The risks of costly encounters with peanuts or peanut draws are higher. However, the mechanics of the game are the same, and a good understanding of positional strength and how to make the most of valuable hands will help you. Playing with a wider range on the button, defending the big blind (most Short Deck games are played bare-handed) and avoiding passive play are tips that can be taken from normal Hold'em.

Hands like 9-T or T-J are much stronger than in the traditional game (these hands appear on the flop with an open-ended straight almost one in five times). However, the top pair flop (or overpair for a showdown) is not as strong in Short Deck, and if you're not improved on the river, especially against multiple opponents, chances are you'll be beaten.

Finally, although the flushes are now higher, there are fewer flushes left in the game. If you get a flush on the flop, you'll only hit it on the river 30% of the time. So it will be more profitable to play higher, consistent flushes, with the possibility of more draws, than low, inconsistent flushes. Other players will push with flopped sets and strong draws, and overall, hand strength in a showdown will be higher than in a full-play game.

Where to Play Short Deck Texas Hold’em

Short-game poker first took High Roller tournaments by storm, and the reduced number of cards meant bigger hands and faster, more exciting play. It quickly spread to cash games and festivals around the world. In 2019, the WSOP included a $10,000 Short Deck Hold'em bracelet tournament for the first time. Today, 6+ hold'em is as likely to occur online as live, whether in ring games or tournaments.

The WPT Global features short-stack Texas Hold'em tables at levels ranging from microstakes to the highest, making it quick and easy to try your hand at this action-packed format and learn how the theory of playing with a more compact deck works in practice.