How to Play Poker With 2 to 4 People

By Daniel Quinn

Poker games with four players or less are smaller than average, and as such offer opportunities to experiment with different ways of playing. Because smaller games move faster, you can explore lengthier games, such as seven-card stud and razz. And your strategy, especially in a one-on-one game--referred to in poker slang as "heads-up"--will have to be tailored to the habits of your opponent.

Setup

Before setting the table, make sure you have someone to act as a full-time dealer. Have your dealer shuffle one deck of cards while the other is in play, which will cut the wait time between hands. If you absolutely cannot find anyone to act as dealer, agree before the start of the game that the first player eliminated will deal.

When setting your table for the poker game, be sure to include a dealer chip. The dealer chip, a marker included with most poker chip sets, shows which player is considered the dealer. The dealer position is critical because the two players to the left of the dealer must post the blinds, which are antes made prior to the deal. In a smaller game, hands are dealt and end quickly, and without a dealer chip, you're likely to forget who owes a blind. If you don't have a special chip, any object can be a substitute.

Agree with the other players what poker games you will be playing over the course of play. Consider games with longer hand cycles: "triple draw" games such as two to seven lowball or badugi or seven-card games such as stud or razz.

Strategy

Throughout the game, play conservatively. Don't call another player's bet unless you consider yourself to have a better than 50 percent chance of winning the hand. In small games, players tend to be more aggressive in their betting.

When you do have a strong hand, such as a high pocket pair in Texas hold 'em, lead with a bet that's at least 15 percent of your stack. If you are re-raised, promptly put all of your chips in.

With three or four players, if you have a strong hand and are "short-stacked" (meaning you have the smallest amount of chips at the table), move all-in immediately. You have a good chance of taking the blind and ante money, and a reasonable chance of beating anyone who calls you.

Do your best to study the playing habits of each player. Unless you are knocked out early, one of those players will be playing against you heads-up shortly. You'll want to know what their body language and different bets mean.