As you certainly know if you’ve been playing poker for a while, there are three variants that you can choose to play: You have Full Ring, Six Max and Heads Up. This article’s aim is to talk about the last. I’m not looking to teach you an infallible strategy to beat HU. Instead, I’ll try to explain how you should approach the game in order to be successful.
Some people love Heads Up, others don’t. Some people just seem to have a natural ability in a Heads Up match, while others struggle to make a profit. I’ll tell you why: you can’t hide in a HU match. You are forced to play. If you approach an HU match in the same frame of thinking you approach a Full Ring or a Six Max game, you are in for a painful time. Can you guess why? Well, because you’re always either in the small or big blind! You’re always putting money in the pot, even before you receive your hand. If you choose only to play your premium hands, like you do on other variants, you will have to fold nearly 80% of the time. That doesn’t seem right, doesn’t it?
Ok, so we already know that we need to play a large number of hands in order to be competitive, since we’re putting money in the pot pre-flop every hand. We also need to fight for pots more often, and with worse holdings. Consequently, we will flop good hands less often, and in spite of that, we need to win a considerable amount of times. This is the reason why most of beginners fail at HU. They usually fold when they don’t have much, and only continue when they have some kind of made hand or draw. They are not comfortable making big plays without a hand, and since they don’t have too much experience, they tend to make costly mistakes.
So, what’s the best strategy to be used in a Heads Up match? Well, like so many things in life, it depends. There isn’t a perfect strategy to play HU. What I mean by this statement is that you can’t play a plain or static strategy. You must adapt yourself to your opponent’s tendencies. You need to develop reads and figure on your opponent’s betting patterns as early as you can, and then build a good counter-strategy in order to profit from their way of playing. For instance, if you figured out that your opponent is c-betting the flop 80-90% of time, consider folding less often to his c-bets simply because he can’t have a hand 80-90% of the time. Therefore, he HAS to be bluffing some percentage of the time. And you can counteract this by check-calling or check-raising more often. Like this particular situation, there are many others during a Heads match. You have players that like to open up a lot of hands, players that are very fond of 3betting, others that will call you down with 3rd pair all the way to the river… There are countless situations. My advice to you is: Be aware of every different situation you can recognize, realize what your opponent is doing on those situations, and finally, adapt your own way of playing so that you can profit from their actions.
Obviously, things aren’t as easy as I describe them. HU is the purest and most difficult poker variant to master, just because you need to have deeper poker knowledge in order to play it correctly. You really have to understand what your opponent is doing, how he approaches and thinks on certain situations, his betting patterns, his willingness to fold, his opening ranges, etc… And then, you must have the brain and knowledge to immediately build a somewhat good counter-strategy to profit from their tendencies. And that is the beauty of HU; if you keep one step ahead of your opponent, and always make a careful thought decision based on what you know about his style and tendencies, you put yourself in an excellent position to benefit from his mistakes and therefore win more money than him. It’s just you and him, my friend, nothing else matters.
Color Up Poker Blog also posted How to Play Heads-Up in Poker if you would like to continue improving your heads up game.