Heads-up poker is becoming more popular in today's online games. Many players are inexperienced in this type of play, and it is a totally different animal than a full ring or 6 handed table. This article will focus on strategy for a No Limit Hold'em heads-up sit-n-go tournament.
In the early rounds when the blinds are small, try to feel out your opponent and get a sense for his style. This is similar to a boxing match where the fighters are sizing each other up. Is he passive, opting to limp into most pots, or is he aggressively open-raising preflop? How does he play middle or bottom pair? Does he check-call, or lead out? Is he betting his draws? What is he raising with preflop? What is he re-raising with pre-flop? Does he tend to bet half the pot, the full pot, or overbet? Is he folding preflop at all? The more of these questions you can answer, the better you’ll be able to formulate the proper strategy to beat him. Often times in the early stages of the match, I’ll even call a smallish bet on the river when I know I’m beat, just to get some information about how my opponent played his hand. Hopefully it will reveal some more broad tendencies.
Some General Tips
In a moment we’ll discuss strategy for specific types of players. First let’s go over some basic tips regardless of who your opponent is.
Rarely fold preflop. When you are first to act, folding is almost always incorrect. Position is so important that even with junk hands, you can often use your position to win the pot. Limp in and see what happens. If you get raised, throw it away. Otherwise look for opportunities to use your positional advantage, or check behind and try to improve your hand. When the blinds increase there will be certain times when folding preflop will be correct, but this is rare. If my opponent is open-folding frequently from the button, I know he is a weak player.
Hands to raise with pre-flop. Raise about 3x the big blind preflop with any pair, any two face cards, any Ace, and most K-x hands. It is important to mix up your play, so you should sometimes limp with an Ace, or raise with suited connectors, or raise with any 2 cards. Try to get a sense for the ebb and flow of the match, and base your preflop raises on that. I don’t want my opponent to think I am raising too much or too little. If I have limped in 3 times in a row, I’ll often raise the 4th time regardless of my cards.
Pay attention to the texture of the flop. A player is typically only going to connect with the flop about one time in three. Frequently you and your opponent will have no hand whatsoever. In many hands, the first player to bet wins. When you see a flop like 228 or JJ6 that is very unlikely to have connected with your opponent’s hand, lead out with a bet regardless of your holding. If you are in position and your opponent checks to you with a paired flop like this, I am betting almost all the time.
Follow the Super System mantra. If you've read Doyle's classic on No Limit Hold'em, he advocates an aggressive style in which he would commonly bet with any pair or any draw, even if it was just a gutshot. While the game has changed since he first published his book and he's had to adjust this strategy, this overall style is very well suited to heads up play.
Aggressive or Passive?
Against a passive opponent who plays predictable poker, you’ll want to raise frequently preflop, and take stabs at a lot of pots. If this type of opponent checks to you, it is generally correct to take a shot. If he checks to you twice, definitely bet at least half the pot. This type of player is your ideal opponent. He’ll let you know when he has a good hand, and you can take advantage of his overly tight play. His game is not well-suited to a heads-up match, because as so often happens in heads-up, nobody flops anything.
Against an aggressive opponent, you’ll want to be more patient, pick your spots, and wait for him to make mistakes so you can use his aggression against him. I am going to let this opponent take his share of pots even though I think he might have nothing. I’ll be more inclined to slowplay against this type of opponent, and trap him by limping in with premium hands. Against a passive opponent, I’d be looking to value bet the river with a hand like middle pair. Against an aggressive player, I’ll be looking to induce bluffs by checking hands like middle or bottom pair on the river, and hoping he’ll make a steal attempt.
Having said that, it is also important not to let an aggressive opponent push you around too much. You’ll definitely want to re-raise him preflop at some point (whether you have a hand or not) to make it known you are not afraid to play back at him. But generally speaking, trying to out-aggress him is not the proper strategy.
Ultimately you have to play a heads-up style that you are comfortable with. If you are new to playing heads-up, hopefully this article will give you a good foundation to build upon and get you thinking about the game the right way.
See you at the tables.
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