How to Play Heads-Up in Poker

Nov 26 2012 |

play head-up pokerEveryone has a general strategy (whether it's conscious or not) that they use at a full table.

Some players are tight, some loose, and some simply jump from one strategy to another and keep their opponents guessing.

Most players feel confident in their game until they find themselves finishing second in their local tournament. This is because heads-up poker is a completely different game, and seems to be where many players can find the flaws in their game.

To help you from facing second-place, here is an example of a solid heads-up strategy.

Let’s say you are heads-up for the win in a tourney against “Drew.” You've got the button and are dealt a 5-6 of spades. The blinds in the tourney are $200-400 and you make it $800 to play.

Why?

Because you can't just raise with your big hands. You have to mix up your play and raise with a wide variety of hands.

Just be smart about it and use your positioning to your advantage.

Drew calls and the flop hits A – 9 – 3 with no spades. He is 1st to act after the flop and checks. OK, now there is no doubt that you have to fire another bet and represent the ace on the board. You’re sitting on $30,000 in chips and decide to make a bet that isn't going to hurt your stack too much.

You throw out a $1000 bet and Drew mucks his hand immediately. Then, you flip over our 5-6 for him to see. You do this for a few reasons. First, Drew could be the type of player that will play on tilt when he knows that he has been bluffed. Hopefully he is. Second, you will get calls with your real hands now that Drew knows that you are a bluffer. Finally, you’re sending a message to Drew that this is your game and that you are going to control the action.

Just make sure you don't hurt your stack too much when you get caught on one of these bluffs. Even if you do get caught, don't be afraid of showing it. It will pay off later.

Pocket Aces

A few hands later you look down to see a monster: pocket aces. Drew calls the small blind and the action is on you. You pound your fist against the table to check. This isn't a bad strategy in a heads-up game. Your chances of being ran-down are greatly reduced with just the 2 of you. Plus, you have been playing rather aggressively and want to show weakness here...

The flop hits 9 – 2 – K and Drew feels as though he has the upper-hand with his 9-10. He throws out a $1000 bet that you call. The turn is a 3, which doesn't put anything scary on the board. There isn't really a draw out there. Drew is 1st to act again and throws out a $2000 bet. You simply call.

Irish Poker Open playing heads-up poker

You feel as though you have the best hand and are going to let Drew fire away. The river card is an ace, which gives you your trips.

Drew fires a $5000 bet at you. You think for a while and then announce that you are going to raise. You push your entire stack into the middle. You would do this because you’re betting that Drew will call because he has half of his chips invested already. Plus, it looks as though you are bullying again.
Drew is so far off his game right now that it's like taking candy from a baby. In heads up play it is paramount that you mix up your style of play and try to frustrate your opponent. The best phrase for it is psychological warfare. You always have to be on the attacking side of it.
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