As there are a limited number of cards in a deck, there are a limited number of players that can play poker at any one time. Otherwise, there wouldn't be enough cards for everyone! So, what is the maximum number of players in poker?
Therefore there is a maximum number of players that can play at any one time, however, it's very unlikely you'll see a casino offer a table with the max players for poker.
Poker Table Max Player Cap
So if we think about the number of cards in a deck, what is the maximum number of players that can play at any one time? This will depend on the game type but we'll use Texas Hold'em as that's what most people play. There are 5 community cards needed and 3 burn cards, leaving 44 out of a total of 52. This means that a maximum number of 22 people can play Texas Hold'em at one time!
Obviously, this would require a very big table to sit everyone around, or else it would get a bit tight. It also would be tight in the style of play - as there are so many other hands you're up against, the correct strategy would be to play insanely tight from the earliest positions (literally just playing AA/KK from the first position!).
This wouldn't be much fun so there are often player limits on a table to stop games from becoming a nit-fest as it would be with 22 players. The most common maximum you'll see in casinos is 9/10. Not only is this a comfortable number of people to have sat around a table, but it's also a good balance for casinos in terms of space taken up and rake they can take.
Casinos used to have up to 13 players sat at a table, but found that hands would take a long time with so many players and they weren't able to rake as much as they'd like. By splitting say 2 tables of 13 players into 3 tables of 9, 9, and 8 players, they could increase the amount of rake taken.
Online poker sites aren't limited by space and can sit any number of players at a table. It is here that the 6-max format was born.
Popularity of 6-Max Poker Format
6-max poker is, as the name implies, poker with a maximum of 6 players at the table. 6-max was created by online poker sites as a way to try and increase the amount of rake taken from each table, while still providing a format people would enjoy playing. This is similar to when casinos reduced the maximum number of players from 13 to 9.
As online tables are a lot more flexible in terms of the number of players and there are no dealers to pay, poker sites could theoretically seat as many (or as few) players as they want around a table. The fewer players at a table, the more hands are played per hour and the more rake the poker site takes.
With 3 fewer players than a regular 9-handed, the blinds come around a lot quicker, which means you have to steal them more often if you don't want to get blinded down. You will have to be flexible with your poker hand range with this many players.
This creates a lot more action as people are raising more often than they would at a 9 or 13 handed table. As it's correct to raise more often in 6-max compared to 9max, it's often preferred by players as there's a lot less 'waiting for good hands' like you're supposed to do when playing 9-handed.
The fact that it's correct to play more hands preflop draws recreational players to the game, as they won't be punished as much for playing loose as they would be in a 9-handed game. This in turn draws regulars to the games as they follow the easy money.
Now, this isn't to say that there are no recreational players or no regulars at 9-handed tables anymore, but you will find due to the format that these players are a little tighter than the recreationals and regulars that you will find at a 6-max table.
How The Number of Opponents Affects Your Game
The number of players that you're playing against will change the dynamic of your game in various ways which are important to know when choosing what format you're going to play.
This is a tricky one as there are two ways of looking at it. One way is that the more players there are at the table, the more likely it is that the pot goes multiway and therefore increases the size of the pot.
However, the more players there are at the table the tighter you have to play from earlier positions and the tighter you have to play against early position raises so these multiway pots may not happen that often.
The other way of looking at it is that with fewer players at the table, the more you have to fight for the blinds so you're raising, 3-betting, and 4-betting a lot more often at a 6-max table than a 9-handed table.
However, if there are a lot of passive players at your 6-max table then the pots are going to be pretty small unless there's a cooler situation.
Likelihood of a Fish
It stands to reason that the more players there are at a table, the more likely there is going to be a recreational poker player. However, you don't want to think of the absolute number of recreational players, you want to think of the percentage of players at your table that are recreational.
For example, if there is one recreational player at your table then at a 9-handed table they represent 12.5% of your opponents, at a 6-max table they represent 20% of your opponents, and at a heads-up table, they represent 100% of your opponents.
In order to maximize your win rate, you'll want to play in games that have a higher proportion of recreational players. The game format that has the highest proportion of recreational players will be different depending on where you play so it's worth doing your research before deciding to specialize in one format.
Read on Opponents
When there are a lot of players at your table, you have more players that you need to keep tabs on which can be a hard thing to do (see hand range reading). Especially if you're playing multiple tables online. The one upside of there being a lot of players is that you frequently get to see people play hands which will help you pick up reads a lot quicker.
In 6-max games, there are fewer people you need to keep track of which makes it easier to both concentrate on your game and get good reads on your opponents. When playing 6-max you're likely going to be online and most poker sites have a note-taking feature that allows you to write down the reads you have on your opponent in a way you can see them in-game which also makes things easier as you don't have to remember them for each opponent.
Now, the number of players at the table doesn't affect things like how often you're dealt aces preflop or how often you'll make your flush, but the more players you have at the table the less equity your hands have. This is because the more hands that you're up against, the more the equity is split between the remaining players.
If you take a hand like AA, against a random hand it has around 85% equity, but if you put it up against three random hands the equity goes to 64%. This is part of why we play tighter from earlier positions as there are many players behind us that can have a good hand, which is amplified the more players there are at the table.
Even though there won't ever be a table with the max players for poker on it, knowing how the number of players affects the game will help you choose which format you want to play.
This article was published on May 26, 2021, and last updated on May 23, 2022.