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6-Max and Full Ring Texas Hold'em Poker
Texas Hold'em Poker has traditionally been a game played full ring, i.e. between 9 and 10 players. 6-handed games have only recently appeared because of the Internet.
In a casino setting, there is a human dealer employed by the house sitting at each table. She distributes hands and orchestrates the game. Because of this fixed cost, it was natural for the casinos to prefer fully occupied tables.
This cost does not exist online, as the dealer is just a piece of code that costs nothing to the online poker sites, once the software is written.
Full Ring versus 6-Max Hold'em: the cost of the blinds
In recent years, 6 max has emerged as a force competing with full ring cash games. The reason is that 6-max is a more rapid type of game with more action, while full ring is a comparatively slower & tighter game without the same level of excitement. This article describes No-Limit Texas Hold'em games. Most facts are also valid in Fixed Limit.
Believe it or not, 6-max and full ring hold'em are two different games. Similarly heads up hold'em is a different poker game.
The main reason for these differences can be attributed to the cost of blinds per hand (I assume no ante). In a ten-handed game, 1.5 big blinds to pay for each orbit of ten hands is equivalent to 0.15 BB per hand. So if you sit there, play extremely tight and fold all your hands for a while, this is going to cost you this amount of 0.15 BB per hand.
To take the other extreme of heads up games, this time one orbit is just two hands, but it costs the same amount of big blinds, i.e. 1.5 BB per orbit or 0.75 BB per hand. The cost is five times higher compared to full ring and if you were to play very tight in such games, you would lose chips very fast, to the tune of 0.75 BB each hand.
6 max is somewhere between full ring and heads up, with a cost of 1.5/6 = 0.25 BB per hand. The difference may seem tiny with full ring, but it is not. 0.10 BB is nothing in itself, but multiplied by thousands if not million of hands, it makes a big difference.
Every hand costs 0.10 BB more to play at a 6-max game compared to a full ring game. You must play looser just to compensate for this cost.
Effectively the blinds are the key determinants in deciding which hands you should play. If you were to play a game of Texas Hold'em poker without any blind or ante, you could just wait for pocket aces and fold all other hands. But everyone will fold whenever you bet, so there would be no action.
The blinds are there to make sure that players take risks, and the higher the blinds, the higher the risk that they must take. This is why 6-max is a looser game with more risk taking than its full ring counterpart.
Full Ring versus 6-Max Hold'em: game comparison
Nowadays there are more players at the 6 max tables, especially at very high stakes or at smaller poker sites. But there is nothing to worry about and there are plenty of both full ring and 6 max games at the major card rooms. Try PartyPoker for free. When I checked the NLHE100 tables at PartyPoker, there were 87 active tables in 6 max and 25 in full ring games.
What are the differences between 6 max and full ring? 6 max games are naturally faster as the button turns around the table faster. If you like a lot of action and want to be involved in plenty of pots and see a lot of hands, then 6-max should be your preferred format. If you have a lot of patience and like a slightly more conservative type of play, full ring will be ideal for you.
The advantages & advantages depend on your personality. It is generally believed that 6-max is a more difficult game and it definitively involves more risk. Because such games are looser, marginal situations with dire consequences occur more frequently. You cannot be afraid of committing your entire stack with non-premium hands if you want to be successful at 6-max.
Full ring is a format where you can play profitably with a rock style of play, nut mining and focusing on implied odds. A so-called autopilot type of play can be efficient at full ring, i.e. playing ABC poker which involves tough decisions only infrequently. This is why some players think that full ring is boring. If you are looking for action & excitement, go for 6 max, not full ring.
In 6 max, moves such as steal & resteal are more frequent. You must play position but you also have to instill fear and respect by letting the other players know that you will not get bullied. The games get more personal as you will clash with specific players more frequently. You can establish patterns faster, target individuals and set them up. And it is easier to isolate the fish.
Full ring games offer the advantage of smaller profit swings than 6-max games. Less variance implies that it is mentally a less tough game. With slower orbit rotations, you will pay the blinds less often and will feel less desperate to make moves. You will need less pain tolerance to withstand the variance.
If you are learning poker, I recommend to play in full ring games at the beginning, as there is no need to burn chips too fast. You can always switch back to 6-max games later. Test your skills and check a card room now.