Online play has revived No Limit Texas Hold’em heads-up poker, a game that has become especially popular among today’s young players. Even I’ve become caught up in this trend.
The correct strategy in heads-up poker is based on identifying and acting upon your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. There are also specific bet-sizing and positional play considerations that will make you more successful in this challenging format.
Get Aggressive on the Button
In poker, position is power. When you’ve got position, play more hands and apply more pressure before the flop.
There’s a misconception that you should always raise three times the big blind. Well, that’s not the case in heads-up play. A raise of that size can actually encourage your opponent to play more conservatively. It may, in fact, force him to fold his marginal hand. That’s bad because you want him to play more pots after the flop – not fewer – when you’re in charge.
Consider this example.
In heads-up play with 10/20 blinds, you’ve got 1,500 chips in front of you and make a huge raise to 500. Your opponent will only call if he’s got a premium hand. More likely, though, if he does have the goods, he’ll move all-in. That would be a disaster for you unless you’ve got a monster hand yourself.
A minimum raise may seem weak, but in heads-up play, it’s actually a decent option when you’ve got position.
Tighten Up Out of Position
If you merely make the minimum raise on the button while your opponent elects to raise three times the blind when it’s his button, it might seem that he has the advantage because he’s playing bigger pots in position. You can offset that perceived advantage, however, by only playing premium hands out of position, and laying down all others.
Yes, it’s true that your opponent will often pick up the blinds before the flop. But on the other hand, he’ll get fewer opportunities to play big pots when he’s in position.
If your opponent chooses to make minimum-sized raises, you’ll probably end up playing a few more hands since the price being laid is less significant.
Play Marginal Hands Cautiously
A heads-up match features plenty of back and forth jabbing. Jab all you want but don’t throw a wild knockout punch that could leave you open to a crippling counterpunch. You don’t want to be all-in on the flop unless you’ve got a monster hand or a monster draw.
Play marginal hands cautiously after the flop by checking or making small bets no larger than 50-65 percent of the pot. If you’re raised, lean towards folding unless you sense a bluff and have a hand that is strong enough to call with.
Don’t Bluff Too Much
The biggest mistake in heads-up play is that players attempt too many pointless bluffs in hopeless situations. Bluffing is most effective when done sporadically; bluff too often and you’ll blow your credibility.
It’s far more effective to try to trap your opponent into making the first big mistake, especially if you’re a better player than he is.
This can be a deadly weapon when playing out of position against an aggressive opponent.
Try checking your strong hand all the way down when facing an aggressive player who’s capable of bluffing a hand to the river. The reasoning is simple. If he has nothing and you bet, he’ll fold. If he has nothing and you check, he may bluff. If he also has a strong hand, well, he’ll do the betting for you.
Once your opponent figures out that you’re using this ploy, you’ll have him tamed. He’ll likely play less aggressively in future hands.
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