Poker pro, author and coach Peter “Carroters” Clarke is our guest in this episode of the Red Chip Poker podcast, wherein we tackle everything you ever wanted to know about getting into 6-max poker, and the strategies you’ll need to adjust from full-ring to this more action-packed poker format.
Clarke is a long-time 6-max pro, and literally wrote the book on 6-max. The Grinder’s Manual: A Complete Course in Online No Limit Holdem 6-Max Cash Games is a 500+ tour-de-force of 6-max. It builds from the ground up with a strategic framework specifically tailored to six-handed poker, and goes more in-depth with the format than any book previously released.
One listen to this episode and you’ll be running to the 6-max tables to try out the many specific strategies Clarke shares for dominating opponents with the action is fast and furious.
The Birth of Carroters
Clarke talks about the roots of his poker passion as playing strategy games as a kid. During his college years, he started playing more and more poker, and organically he progressed into professional status, which led to being in demand as a coach. He plays 100NL and sometimes 50NL 6-max online, though now he devotes most of his time to teaching students and creating poker training material in Glasgow, Scotland.
Full Ring to 6-Max
Why make the switch? Well, online poker is nice in general because you can play whenever you want. But you can play so many more hands online. Live, you can do 30-40 hands per hour. Zoom formats on Stars or multitabling puts hundreds and hundreds of hands in front of you per hour.
From a strategic point of view, you get involved in more situations where ranges are large. He sees 6-max as very close to the “pure” essence of poker in the strategic sense.
Clarke talks about the concept of a dynamic open a lot in his book, so we asked him to explain.
The basic idea is that you use your HUD and the information gleaned from your opponents to change your open range and pre-flop behavior. You will be looking to exploit specific frequencies, such as an opponent that overfolds pre-flop, or one that 3-bets frequently.
“The real currency of poker decision-making,” is expected value, says Clarke. He gives a specific and detailed example that clearly illustrates how your decisions in poker must be weighed based on the money you expect to make from them.
“We should only seek to control in poker what we can control,” he says, adding that you can’t be results-oriented, you have to look at your decisions in terms of their expected value given things like pot odds, implied odds, and other estimates of value.
6-max is not different than a full-ring game in which the first 3 or 4 players fold. Clarke notes only slight difference — the issue of reverse blockers. Because the first few players typically won’t have big hands, we can discount the low cards in the deck as a generalization. They’re far more likely to have folded 63o than AQs. It’s an effect that’s very minimal, but it’s an interesting thing to think about.
There’s a common mistake Clarke sees in 6-max beginners where they begin to fall apart when 3-handed. They feel like they have to make adjustments to be more aggressive, but Clarke recommends sticking to a similar strategy you were playing when 6-handed. Exploit the weaknesses of your opponents, and select an open and 3-betting range that is appropriate to playing vs. their specific tendencies.
Clarke sees many beginning players not being aggressive enough, and not stealing enough in 6-max games.
“They play way too tight a range from the cutoff, the button and the small blind in particular, because they’re just not used to fighting it out in those positions,” he says.
He also suggests stealing more to mitigate the “dead money” negative effect your blinds have on your win rate.
Listen Now: Playing From the Blinds
Because they come around far more often, stealing the blinds as well as re-stealing from the blinds will be a necessary part of your strategy to survive at 6-max.
“Almost every spot is a semi-stealing spot,” Clarke says of 6-max.
He suggests defending the blinds “wider than you think you should.”
He recommends defending from the small blind in the big blind in particular, but says defending from the blinds should be a more common occurrence simply due to the money out there already, and the wide range your opponent is likely to have.
Limping C-Betting in 6-Max
In full ring, you might get some limped “family” pots, but in 6-max, you’re unlikely to see much limping at all. And in any case, he recommends against it.
However, c-betting is definitely a topic worth diving into. It takes up 60-70 pages of The Grinder’s Manual!
Clarke explains the first order of business is to distinguish what “poker in a vacuum” constitutes. When you are focused on a specific hand and a specific situation, you are looking at poker in a vacuum. Clarke in his book takes the reader through thinking about c-betting in a vacuum — what to do on dry boards, on monotone boards, when you do or don’t have showdown value, your position, your multi-wayness, etc.
Eventually Clarke leaves the vacuum and thinks about range, and how to balance it is much harder for our opponents to exploit us.
Knowing when an when not to c-bet is critical, Clarke says, because even though the pot is often small, the decision comes up so frequently, getting it consistently right is crucial to a thriving win rate.
Clarke encourages listeners to get familiar with the common stack-to-pot ratio (SPR) situations they will be encountering.
Full-ring poker is likely to generate much smaller SPRs because the pre-flop raises are typically higher than in 6-max, and the pots are likely to go more ways than in 6-max.
For this reason, you often want to amplify your value bets and bet bigger on each street to grow the pot more aggressively in a 6-max game, Clarke says.
Remember to spend some time getting familiar with what it takes to get all the money on the table in 6-max.
“Bluffing is one of these things that is often misapplied,” Clarke says, referencing players that try to bluff to win pots, instead of identifying spots where a bluff makes more strategic sense.
His first tip is to apply more pressure when you have range advantage (as when your opponent’s range is capped). When your hand is typically stronger than theirs, a bluff can make a whole lot more sense.
Another spot to pull off a bluff is when we have some equity potential in backdoor draws or other possibly-good combinations of outs.
Clarke gives some specific advice on how to leverage HUD stats to play exploitative poker for superior profit. VPIP and PFR are the most important stats “by a mile”, he says.
Even at small sample sizes, VPIP and PFR can be used to draw profitable conclusions. For more advanced stats, a larger sample size is needed before those numbers mean anything.
Poker HUD Stats: The Basics for Live Players
“I used to be a total mental game fish when I first started out,” Clarke admitted. While he’s only human and might tilt once in a blue moon, he left tilt behind him a long time ago. And the biggest leak he sees in other players’ mental games is the lack of taking mental game seriously. He says that players ignore mental game at their own peril. It’s the biggest leak he sees in his students.
He recommends keeping a tilt journal, identify your mental game leaks, and make a conscious decision and effort to rewire your subconscious to react in a better way. It’s a long process, but through gradual improvements, you can overcome tilt. And part of that is understanding how different kinds of tilts arise, because not all tilts are created equal.
You can visit Clarke’s Carrot Corner to get the book and more info on his coaching and other offerings.