How To Play Short Deck Poker

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Black and gold playing cards.
BetMGM Oct 10, 2022, 3:15 AM

Short deck poker is the latest variation to captivate the poker community – it’s fast and exciting. It’s also, as the name suggests, shorter than other poker variants. Poker isn’t alone in this – recent years have seen other sports adopt shorter formats in a bid to create a thrilling alternative, with Arena Football and Big3 being two notable cases.

With short deck poker having entered the scene in 2014, it didn’t take long before gamblers gravitated to this new and tantalizing variation. In 2018, Triton Poker hosted the first televised short deck poker tournament, with the winner coming home with $617,000. This was just the beginning. In 2019, the World Series of Poker added it to their schedule, suggesting an exciting future. Outside of land-based casinos, it has proven a popular way to play online poker. We provide an insight into the rules and strategies of this poker variant.

How is it different to other poker variations?

The most notable difference in this variation (also known as Short Deck Hold’em or Six Plus Hold’em,) the most notable difference in this version is the number of cards in a deck. The game removes cards – 2, 3, 4 and 5 – from the deck, leaving dealers with a 36-card deck in which 6 is the lowest number.

Along with the drastic change in deck cards, this game sees considerable adjustments to the rules and strength of hands. It’s crucial to understand the strategies of how to play this poker variation, which we discuss in full below.

What are the rules?

So, what is short deck poker? It’s essentially a variation of Texas Hold’em poker that uses the fundamentals of the traditional game while incorporating its own twist. For example, like the traditional format, each player must be dealt two cards. The aim is to create the best five-card combination from the seven available. Each game then includes four rounds of betting: pre-flop, flop, turn and river.

The twist lies in the hand rankings and strategy. The number of cards in a deck is crucial to the probability of a hand occurring; the higher the chance, the lower the ranking.

Due to the reduced deck, it is statistically harder to make a flush than a full house. Moreover, the rankings are different, with the flush now being a stronger hand than the full house. The table below showcases the rankings in Short Deck Hold’em vs. Texas Hold’em, from highest to lowest.

Short Deck Hold’em (36 cards) Texas Hold’em (52 cards)
Royal Flush Royal Flush
Straight Flush Straight Flush
Four-of-a-Kind Four-of-a-Kind
Flush Full House
Full House Flush
Three-of-a-Kind Straight
Straight Three-of-a-Kind
Two Pair Two Pair
One Pair One Pair
High Card High Card

As you can see, a straight vs. three-of-a-kind is another difference in the rankings. However, it’s important to note that not every online and brick-and-mortar casino adopts this exact ranking. Make sure you acquaint yourself with their house rules to increase your chances of success.


As you can imagine, a short deck poker strategy requires a different thought process than a 52-card game. Removing 16 cards from the deck means you’ve got to look at hands differently. Moreover, the removal of the four lowest cards means there is a higher probability of receiving higher-value cards.

The reduced number of cards increases the chances of a two pair, suggesting a one pair with a strong kicker no longer amasses to the same strength. A kicker is when a player has a pair and a high card (the kicker.) For example, if you hold an ace, queen, with the flop being a 5, queen, jack, then you have a queen pair and an ace kicker. It’s important to note that players around you have a good probability of having a two pair – if you’re holding a low two pair, it would be smart to fold, as your chances for success are low.

Furthermore, the number of cards available affects the chances of being dealt certain hands. For example, you’re twice as likely to get pocket aces in Short Deck Hold’em than Texas Hold’em. Also, straights and full houses happen on a more regular basis. This means it’s important to understand the probability of other hands counteracting yours.

Another difference is the importance of post-flop cards. The cards placed down by the dealer hold more importance, as the chances of strong hands are slimmer with regular Texas Hold’em. Six Plus Hold’em consists of high-valued cards, suggesting that your opponents will be dealt a strong hand. A great strategy is semi-bluffing. This is when a player has a weak-to-medium hand that has the potential to become strong, such as a full house or straight. Bluffing isn’t as effective due to the regularity of opponents receiving strong cards.

Test your skills on BetMGM

Short deck poker is an incredibly quick and enthralling way to play online poker. The lack of weak cards means you’re bound to hold a strong hand – considerably more than a 52-card game. The intensity is fun and often includes high-stake rounds. Register today to find out more and unlock our endless range of live dealer casino games, online slots, and so much more.

BetMGM hosts an array of poker games and online poker tournaments in various formats and buy-in amounts that can be played anytime, anywhere on mobile, tablet, and computer.

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.