From Holdem to Short Deck: What to Know Before Making the Switch

From Holdem to Short Deck: What to Know Before Making the Switch

Texas Holdem is by far the most popular way to play poker in the world. Most poker players get introduced to the game with Holdem, and it’s easy to see why. The rules are simple, yet there’s so much you can learn beneath the surface. Holdem’s also action-packed, making it incredibly fun to watch and play.ย 

However, no matter how fun Holdem is, it can get boring if you’ve played too much. Thankfully, there are countless other variations of poker you can try. One of the best choices for Holdem players is Short Deck. It’s similar enough to Holdem that you can pick it up quickly but different enough to make playing it a breath of fresh air. In this poker guide, we’ll help you transition from Holdem to Short Deck by telling you what you need to know regarding strategy.

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What is Short Deck?

Short Deck poker is a poker variant originating from Asia in 2018. Invented by businessmen and poker players Paul Phua and Richard Yong, it’s rapidly becoming one of the most popular ways to play poker. It’s been featured in the high roller tournaments of the Triton Poker Series and has recently been introduced to the United States and Europe.

Game mechanics: The shortened deck

Short Deck is almost the same as Holdem but with two key differences. The first is the titular shortened deck the game uses. Holdem uses the standard 52-card French deck most other poker variants use; Short Deck trims it down to 36 cards. Short Deck cuts all twos, threes, fours, and fives, which is also why it’s sometimes known as 6-up poker.

Game mechanics: Antes instead of blinds

The other big difference between Short Deck and Holdem is the forced bet structure. Both games have forced bets to discourage hyper-conservative play and ensure money is always in the pot.

 Holdem uses blinds, which are forced bets two players must pay before seeing their cards. The blinds change, rotating around the table with every hand. 

In contrast, Short Deck uses antes. These are a type of forced bet that everyone at the table pays. All players pay one, except the button, who acts as the last pre-flop and pays two.  

Game mechanics: Hand changes

Short Deck also has a few adjustments to hand combinations and rankings because of the trimmed deck. Aces can now be used as a low card, acting as a five for a straight. For example, 10-J-Q-K-A is a straight with the ace as a high card, and A-6-7-8-9 is a straight with the ace as a low card.

In Short Deck, flushes are also commonly ranked above full houses. Making a full house is much easier since there are four fewer card ranks to worry about. Some places also have a house rule of three-of-kind beating straights; this highly depends on where you play, so check out the room’s rules. 

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Strategic differences: Change which hands you value

With the bottom four cards cut, it’s no surprise that hands are much closer in relative strength. Some Holdem premium hands like JJ are simply decent in Short Deck. While there are many premium hands in Holdem, only four are considered top-tier in Short Deck: AA, AK, KK, and, debatably, AQ. 

Short Deck also places far less emphasis on pocket pairs than Holdem, preferring straights and flushes since straights are easier to complete and flushes are stronger. Thus, low-ranked pocket pairs like 66 or 77 are not worth playing, while hands like 89s are better than you might think.

Strategic differences: Start limping

Coming from Holdem, you may be surprised to hear limping even being considered. Well, in Short Deck, limping isn’t just considered; it’s the default strategy in many situations. 


Limping is a lot more viable in Short Deck for several reasons. The first is the ante betting structure, which puts more guaranteed money in the pot. Since all players must bet pre-flop, you have better odds to call, incentivizing a limp to save instead of raising. 

Limping is also more common because of Short Deck’s smaller stack sizes. Raises are usually around a tenth of your overall stack size. So, if you get 3-bet after raising in Short Deck, you get forced to commit since a large portion of your bankroll is already in the pot. Limping ensures this doesn’t happen and effectively disguises your range. If you choose to raise, you’ll need to raise frequently to ensure you aren’t only raising with one kind of hand, which is terrible from an early position. 

Strategic differences: Bluff less

Bluffing is a key part of Texas Holdem. It leads to the game’s most exciting moments and allows you to win even without a strong hand. However, it’s far less pronounced in Short Deck. Hands are much closer to each other in strength, so players are naturally more reluctant to fold. Smaller stack sizes discourage aggressive action even further, since the risk usually outweighs the reward with the relative hand strength changes.

Strategic differences: Bet bigger

While bluffing and pre-flop action may not be as prominent in Short Deck, post-flop action is abundant. One of the key parts of Short Deck poker strategy post-flop is to overbet, making a bet above the size of the pot. 

Overbetting can make sense regardless of what kind of hand you have. With strong hands that are vulnerable to getting outdrawn, you’ll want to overbet to protect them by preventing your opponent from seeing future rounds. With a strong drawing hand, overbetting can be justified due to your increased odds.

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Conclusion: Why choose Short Deck?

Now that you know how to play Short Deck, you may wonder why you should choose it as an alternative to Holdem. Short Deck has two main selling points: More consistency and increased action. The cut cards make it easier to get a strong hand, so if you want the game to feel less dependent on luck, Short Deck is the way to go.ย 
Additionally, Short Deck has more action since there’s a lot of incentive to join the pot. This is perfect for those who dislike folding and want to take the pace of Holdem to the next level. If either of these appeals to you, we recommend playing Short Deck through online poker since the format is less common outside of Asian casinos.

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