The Growing Popularity of Shorthanded Poker

by Lou on June 13, 2005

It seems to me that online poker may be changing the game in some very fundamental ways, ways that no one ever gave much thought to way back when online poker was in its inception. Back then I imagine most players thought that Internet poker would merely replicate the game we play in land-based casinos, but that just wasn’t to be.

Online poker is probably as responsible as television for a revitalization of no-limit hold’em, a phenomenon that’s been widely documented by poker columnists, bloggers, players, casino execs, and TV commentators alike. Another outgrowth of online poker’s influence on the game, but one that hasn’t attracted as much attention, is the growing popularity of short handed games.

Six handed games were never very popular in casinos, and many of those who play exclusively in land-based casinos don’t like the idea of short handed games, which is one of the reasons casinos have traditionally hired proposition players. Props keep short handed games from breaking, and keep the customers sitting in full or nearly full games that may otherwise have died if management wasn’t able to run a few players into games that are on the verge of dissipating in the wee small hours, or using them to prop up games that are just getting started early in the day.

But online players are an entirely different breed of cat. Many, if not most, prefer playing six-handed games, and playing two or three games — or even more — at once.

A quick check of Poker Stars at 10:00 AM California time today showed two full $3-$6 games and six that were six-handed. The same thing was true in the $5-$10 games: Two were full tables; six were short-handed. When I checked the $10-$20 games, all three were six-handed.

Thinking it might be unique to Poker Stars, I made a quick tour of Royal Vegas Poker and found this:

$50-$100 One short-handed table, no full games.
$20-$40 One full game; three short-handed games.
$15-$30 Three short-handed tables.
$10-$20 One full table; three short handed.
$5-$10 Three full games, three short-handed.

In tallying up the games, I counted table size, not the number of players at the table. So if a 10-handed table had only five players, I counted it as a full table. Short handed tables were those that accommodated six players or fewer. And while it was morning here in California, it was evening in Europe, which is where Royal Vegas Poker draws many of its players from. So these stats are not the result at taking a look at things only during some odd hour; it was prime time for many of these players and the vast majority of them seem to prefer playing six handed games instead of full games with nine or ten players.

Maybe it’s no surprise that the World Series of Poker introduced a six-handed, no-limit game this year. The organizers clearly had their finger on poker’s pulse when they decided to offer at least one tournament event that looked for all the world like an online event, except for the fact that players were sitting across a physical table from each other instead of a virtual one, and they could only play in one game instead of a multitude of them. But who knows. Maybe future WSOP’s will allow players to sit in one event with a laptop by their side, so they can play in two or three events simultaneously. If nothing else, it’ll make the online crowd feel right at home.

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