When beginners get introduced to poker, some fail to see significant differences in formats and disciplines. With time, they learn to distinguish between cash games, tournaments, spins, and Sit & Go. They come to realize that the game strategy can shift depending on the number of players at the table.

Let's discuss the definition of 9-max in poker.

In all table sizes, the most profitable positions are CO and BTN

The rules of poker allow for different numbers of players at a table. The two most popular formats are full-ring and short-handed. In the first case, the maximum number of players is 9, while in the second, it's 6. The terms 9-max, full ring, and full table carry the same definition.

In online poker, there’s also a format called "2-max," also known as Heads Up (HU). However, such tables are now mostly found in Sit & Go tabs. Some rooms experiment with the number of players at the table, leading to occasional 4-max or partypoker’s 8-max formats, but players generally show less interest in them.

The key feature of a full-ring game is the additional positions compared to short-handed. On short tables, the role distribution looks like this:

  • Lowjack / UTG (Under the Gun)
  • Hijack / MP (Middle Position)
  • CO (Cut Off)
  • BTN (Button)
  • SB (Small Blind)
  • BB (Big Blind)

In the 9-max format, there are new positions to know. Here’s the full list:

  • UTG
  • UTG+1
  • MP
  • MP+1
  • MP+2
  • CO
  • BTN
  • SB
  • BB

Sometimes, alternative terms are used in books or educational videos. For example, a player in the earliest position may be called "UTG-1" instead of just "UTG." Another difference involves MP+2, sometimes referred to as HJ (Hijack) in some sources.

In the early days of online poker, 9-max dominated the lobbies of most rooms. However, the slow pace of the game and the pursuit of rakeback brought 6-max to the forefront.

Nowadays, 6-max is the standard for online cash games. Larger games like 9-max lost much of their popularity, and are seldom played. A full-fledged 9-max cash game can be found on PokerStars and BetOnline. 9-max tables remain the standard format in MTT (Multi-Table Tournaments). There are also 6-max tournaments, but full ring takes the leading role.

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Full ring is considered the best format for learning poker. Here, players see fewer hands per hour, and blinds have less impact on stacks. Players post small and big blinds less frequently, allowing them to employ a more cautious strategy. In practice, 9-max has these features:

  • Narrow ranges: Some players open 6-7% from early positions and show positive results in the long run.
  • Less complex and stylish plays: Blind theft is an important aspect of poker, but in 9-max, the importance of styles is not as significant. This doesn’t negate the fact that, when applied correctly, exploits and moves can significantly increase the win rate.
  • More tight opponents: In 9-max, there are significantly more tight and nitty opponents. They prefer playing stronger ranges and acting straightforwardly. Bluffs in their strategy are limited to continuation bets. With a good post-flop game, tight opponents can become a stable source of income. Sometimes, cautious opponents make big bluffs— it's important not to call them.
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Automatic profit-making actions are one of the key concepts of 9-max strategy. In many situations, you can make money without considering the actions of opponents. It's enough to bet at the right moment against the right opponent.

One of the classic poker mantras is: "If you raised preflop, in most situations, it’s profitable to make a continuation bet." This advice isn’t meritless. It is based on mathematics, which shows that the majority of opponents fold to continuation bets too often.

A poker tracker will help identify situations with automatic profit. The GipsyTeam Shop offers all modern statistical programs, many with free trials. Huds and other software should be used from the beginning of your career to learn faster and win more.

For cash game beginners, starting with full ring is recommended. The calmer dynamics and slower pace allow you to study:

  • Preflop ranges and refine them in practice.
  • The importance of position.
  • Key statistical indicators in the tracker.
  • How to quickly and accurately take notes on opponents.
  • How to make small bluffs in appropriate situations.
  • How to play at multiple tables.

All of this will be useful at the table in any format and discipline. Short-handed tables take a much more aggressive approach, otherwise, they will never for cover losses from mandatory bets.

More active participation and higher competitiveness imply more complex situations. In the short-handed games, you often find yourself with mediocre hands. Without a good post-flop game, active play can quickly deplete a chip stack. Starting with full ring refines many aspects of poker strategy, shortening the adaptation to short tables.

As your skills increase, you will be able to play wider and wider ranges

As skills grow, you can play increasingly wide ranges profitably.

6-max tables are considered more profitable compared to 9-max. There’s a simple explanation; recreational players prefer a faster pace, so they choose short-handed games.

Another issue with full ring is the table traffic. 9-max cash games are rare. Even where it is in demand, the number of full ring tables significantly decreases as you move up the limits. Thanks to the low traffic, 9-max regulars are forced to switch to 6-max at certain stakes.

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