Texas Hold ‘em: Strategy by Table Size


In a game of Texas Hold ‘em, the number of people you’re playing with can have just as much of an impact on your strategy as your chip stack or the quality of your opponents. At tables with the maximum amount of players – nine or ten, depending on the room – there will likely be more obstacles to avoid, while tables with fewer players will allow you to open up your game and try more aggressive tactics.

Strategies for a Full Table

At a full or nearly full table, which is the situation you will be in most often, you’re going to want to employ the entire range of strategies. Choosing which ones best suits your game will partly depend on the atmosphere at that table.

If there is heavy action and your tendency is to play tight, you will probably want to lay low and wait for a big hand. That heavy action means the chances of getting paid off, even when people are likely to assume you’re playing the nuts, goes up substantially. It also allows you to avoid making the many difficult decisions that usually come along with getting heavily involved in that style of play.

On the other hand, a loose table gives you the opportunity to make a lot of money very quickly. It also means there are going to be at least a couple players in almost every hand, possibly playing odd combinations of cards and building large pots, so there will be more money to be made.

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A full table is typically considered to be eight players.

At a tighter table, it is usually advisable to loosen up your game a bit. Sometimes, even with nine or ten people at a table, the game can go multiple rounds without any real money entering the pot. That gives you a chance to pick up multiple small pots and build your stack in preparation for the rarer large ones. And by playing at a faster pace than your opponents, you will often force the game to open up, creating more opportunities for bigger money.

Whatever the amount of action at your table, take stock of your game and your opponents’ tendencies to determine the best course of action

Strategies for a Semi-Full Table

As a few players peel off from your table – which might happen because of the time of day if there are too many tables open in the poker room or you are playing online where people tend to sit down and get up again at a rapid pace – you’ll need to slightly modify your game. When there are only six or seven players remaining at your table you’ll want to start opening up your game, playing more starting hands than you would at a completely full table.

Whether you tend to play a tight game, a loose game, or something in between, a smaller table almost forces you to play more starting hands. It should also mean you’re more willing to raise with weaker hands than you might normally.

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A short table makes position more important and can encourage aggressive play.

If you’re the type who only plays premium starting hands, change your approach and look at holdings like king-ten and eight-nine suited as possible starting combinations. With fewer players at the table, it is less likely that your opponents will have powerful holdings, which means the kinds of hands you might normally consider immediately foldable now have more value. With fewer players, if everyone held to the same strategy they employed at a full table, chances are there would hardly be any hands played at all, rendering the fun and excitement of Hold ‘em almost null.

A smaller table also gives you more opportunities to test out aggressive strategies, especially if you’re a tight player. Is there a raising tactic you’ve always wanted to try out, but never had the confidence to test them at a table with eight or nine opponents? Use the smaller table as your lab. Traditional power tactics, like button raising and pre-flop stealing from the small or big blinds are also more appropriate with fewer opponents.

Strategies for a Short Table

It’s four o’clock in the morning, everyone who isn’t a hardcore poker fanatic or an insomniac has gone to bed. It’s down to just you and two or three other people, or maybe you’re even playing head’s up against one opponent. How should your approach change? Well, other than getting some coffee so you don’t fall asleep at the proverbial wheel, you’ll want to continue opening your game up to the point that hands you would never even think about playing become not only viable, but worthy of a raise.

You know that five-seven suited you’ve always had a good feeling about? When you’ve only got a couple of people at the table that hand becomes a monster. It’s just a matter of how you play it. Now, that isn’t to say you should play every hand like it’s pocket aces, especially because the other people you play with will quickly realize you can’t have the goods on all the time, but no matter your normal style, a short table encourages you to play like a maniac.

Position also takes on even more importance than usual at a short table. As the table dwindles, every tiny advantage becomes magnified. You’ll want to use your position, whether you’re on the button or get to act last because other players’ folds have put you there by default, at every opportunity. If you take the initiative with your position at a short table, no matter what hand you’re playing, your opponents will often back down.

Just as you adjust your strategy to suit your own personality, your opponents’ styles and the fortunes bestowed upon you by the poker gods, you’ll want to be able to make changes based on the number of people you’re playing against.