Poker is a game of many decisions. In general, the more correct choices you make, the better your results will be. But the first decision is made long before the cards are even dealt. What type of table will you join — shorthanded or a full ring game?
Whether you’re playing online poker or in person, it’s important to choose wisely. In this article, you’ll discover the major differences and learn which suits you best.
Full ring games are played with a maximum of 10 players, though there may only be nine seats. Online poker tournaments use this setup the most.
There are far fewer players in shorthanded games — usually six seats at a table. However, some online casino games can consist of just five players per table.
There’s also a third type of game called heads-up poker, with only two players.
Full Ring vs. Shorthand: Differences
The key difference between the two is the maximum number of players. However, from that seemingly small distinction, plenty of other consequences stem.
Blinds per Hand
The first significant consideration concerns the math of your poker strategy in the long term. No matter how many players are at the table, there’s always one small blind (SB) and one big blind (BB) per round. Why does this matter?
Well, assume you have the maximum number of players at your table. That means six players in a shorthanded poker game and 10 in a full ring poker game. How many blinds will you pay for every 10 hands played?
With a full ring game, the math is easy. You’ll bet one SB and one BB for a total of 1.5x BB per 10 hands. However, that same amount is only enough to cover six hands in shorthanded games. For 10 shorthanded hands, you’ll need to pay an additional two-thirds of both blinds. You’re now spending 2.5x BB per 10 hands.
A difference of one big blind might not seem much. However, even small amounts add up in the long run. That’s especially relevant if you play poker online, where you’ll get through far more hands per hour than in a traditional casino.
It’s clear that you’ll be paying more blinds per hand in shorthanded games. Because of that, you have to be far more aggressive than in full ring games. Why? In short, passive players tend to fold more than aggressive ones.
Passive players will, therefore, gain less value from their blinds over time, making it hard to become a long-term winner in this format. So, if you’re a less aggressive player, it’s better to stick to full ring games.
Since this is relatively common knowledge, you’ll encounter more aggression and riskier plays during shorthand poker games. In turn, you can expect a lot more variance in these games when compared to full ring tables.
Say you’re holding a suited king-10. What are the odds that someone else has a better hand? It’s quite hard to come up with a percentage on the fly. However, you don’t need to be a math genius to realize that, with more opponents, your chances of winning decrease.
The above hand is playable in shorthanded games but becomes quite mediocre as you increase the number of opponents from five to nine. As you can imagine, your preflop ranges must change between full ring and shorthanded games.
As a rule of thumb, you only want to raise with the strongest aces and medium-to-high pocket pairs in full ring games. But in shorthanded games, your range widens a lot. Now you can be happy with ace-10, hands like king-queen or king-jack suited, plus any pair.
This is just a guideline that can and should be modified. Nevertheless, the general idea that your range should be wider in shorthanded games is always true.
Types of Player
As you can see, the two-game formats are quite distinct. So, it shouldn’t surprise you that they attract different personalities. While the following descriptions aren’t true for every player, they apply to the majority.
Shorthanded games tend to see more aggressive patterns of play. Games whizz along at a higher tempo since there’s a maximum of six people to act. Thus, players looking for action will often play at shorthanded tables. They enjoy the high variance aspect of the game and often play loosely.
It’s not hard to imagine that the opposite is true for full ring players. They often want to minimize the variance and typically play tight or ABC poker. Such players are usually more patient and don’t mind hands taking longer to unfold. At the lower levels, such tightness can easily be exploited with timely bluffs, as these people typically fold more than they should.
Bluffing can be especially efficient when you’re on the button, as more information is available. Positional advantage also plays out differently between the two variants.
In full ring games, it’s much riskier to raise preflop from an early position, as more players are still to come. On the other hand, later positions, like the button and cut-off, are even more desirable since you’ll observe much more ahead of you.
Which Format Should You Play?
Given these distinctions, which of the two formats should you play? In the same way that pot limit isn’t necessarily better or worse than no-limit poker, full ring tables are different from shorthanded games. Every individual will have their preference and may perform better in one than the other.
If you enjoy more active games, shorthanded tables are better. The same is true if you’re more skilled than the average opponent. That way, you can exploit the fish by playing more hands against them. If you manage to do that, your win rate can be much higher than in full ring games.
However, if you’d like to minimize the variance, then full ring play is the way to go. You’ll also need to pay fewer blinds per hand. This is great if you’re still learning and improving your poker game. Similarly, whenever you jump to higher stakes, starting out with full ring games is a good idea until you adjust.
One final thing to consider is whether you plan to play in an online poker tournament any time soon. In that case, you’ll want to practice at full ring tables, as that’s the default game mode for most major tournaments.
Pick and Play at BetMGM
Now you understand the differences between full ring and shorthanded poker games. What will you choose? Full ring games with less variance? Or the fast-paced play that comes from games with fewer seats?