Online Poker Cash Games: Full Ring vs. Shorthanded

You’ll find an abundance of cash games to choose from when you play poker online. There are cash games for nearly all variations of poker, from micro-stakes to nosebleed stakes. Regardless of the game type or limit, online poker rooms usually offer the option to play full ring (FR) or shorthanded (SH).

FR vs SH

The difference between a full ring and a shorthanded cash game involves the number of players. Full ring is essentially a standard poker game where nine or ten players are seated. While some online poker rooms offer a maximum of five seats in their shorthanded cash games, most are usually limited to six seats, and are commonly referred to as “6-max” cash tables.

The 6-max cash game formats are hugely popular, particularly in no-limit hold’em. Some poker players prefer shorthanded cash games simply because they prefer playing against fewer opponents, and like to see more hands. Others prefer the standard full ring cash games, perhaps because they’re more like the cash games you’d find in a live poker venue. Even though the difference between the two formats is the variation in table size, they play very differently.

What’s the main difference between full ring and shorthanded cash games? Well, the one word answer would be ACTION! But let’s expand upon this and focus on some of the key strategy differences full ring and shorthanded cash games. Hopefully this will help you decide which type of cash game format is best suited for you.

Starting Hand Selection

One of the biggest strategy differences between a full ring and a shorthanded cash game is your starting hand selection. At a 6-max table you’re less likely to encounter a player who is holding a premium starting hand pre-flop, simply because there are fewer hands dealt. In a full ring game players can get away with holding out and only committing when a strong hand comes their way, whereas shorthanded players are more likely to mix it up and play more non-premium hands.

Positional Considerations

If you’ve followed our poker lessons then you’ll be well aware of the importance of position. In a full ring game the disadvantage of entering a pot out of position is greatly magnified, since there are more opponents who can enter the hand after you’ve acted. However this doesn’t mean your table position should be disregarded when playing shorthanded. Players are more likely to miss the flop in 6-max games compared to full ring cash games. Because of this, your position becomes very valuable and you’ll have more opportunities to exploit your opponent’s position by stealing pots when others miss the flop.

Aggression Adjustment

Without a doubt, one of the most important separations between a full ring and a shorthanded game is the level of aggression. As already mentioned, full ring games allow players to play tight by being conservative with their moves and only making pushes when they have a premium starting hand. Since the blinds are paid more frequently in shorthanded games, one must maximize the ability to play and win with marginal and lighter holdings. This does not immediately relegate the more traditional full ring conservative players, but playing too tight can count against you. In the same vein, shorthanded games may attract players to become too aggressive by playing too many weak hands, which can lead to their downfall.

Increased Opportunities

Shorthanded games can be more profitable for skilled poker players. If you’re at a table with inferior opponents (which is always a good thing!) then you’ll be involved in more pots with them. If you’re sat next to a weak player then you can exploit your edge over them far more than you could in a full ring game, where you’d be competing with more players who might get in the way. The skilled poker player also benefits from playing 6-max games because of the wider range of hands that are played, and the knowledge of how to play these hands against weaker opponents who may lack the experience / skill set that’s required.

Higher Variance

There’ll be larger swings in shorthanded games than in full ring games. This is because players will be involved in more pots with weaker hands, and betting them more aggressively. If there is greater variance in shorthanded games, then it stands to reason that handling the highs and lows will require a larger than normal bankroll than full ring games.

What Should You Play?

This will depend on your style of poker and your thirst for action. As discussed so far, there are many benefits to short-handed cash games, but also some disadvantages too – particularly if you’re a beginner to cash game poker. If you’re starting out then it’s advisable that you begin by playing full ring games and progress to shorthanded play when you’ve gained the necessary experience and skills. Or you could try several full ring and shorthanded games to get a feel for what kind of mixture of patience and aggression that best suits your playing style for both game formats.