Tips for Playing Heads Up Poker

Playing heads up poker successfully is a useful skill, especially if you have any real ambitions as a player. To win an MTT or sit'n'go tournament, you're likely going to have to get past the final player. The player who has the best heads up skills is likely going to come out the winner. This guide looks at how to play 1 against 1 and more importantly, win.

Maximising your chances of winning heads up

This is poker in its purest form.  When you’re in a head-to-head battle for chips and glory, you don’t have the luxury of waiting around for premium hands and it takes bottle to take K5 off-suit into battle. First and foremost you will need to relax you're starting hand requirements. You won't have time to wait around for quality hands.

Here are some tips to help you get the better of your opponent.

Be aggressive

Limping is for wieners.  When you’re heads-up, you have to put pressure on your opponent with every move you make.  That’s not going to happen if all they have to do is raise and you fold. You also don't want to be limping into pots. You should be looking to raise most hands. You will likely pick up your fair share of blind steals. They will likely be raising a good number of hands. You need to stay competitive. If you are waiting for the perfect hand to ensure you win, you will likely lose.

Exploit position

Your opponent (and you) will miss the flop the vast majority of the time. You should still be looking to continuation bet more than you would normally in a full ring game. Exploit table position by raising from the small blind pre flop and continuing your aggression on the flop.  It will be difficult for your opponent to continue playing without a real hand when you’ve shown so much strength. Very often it's the first person to take a stab at the pot who will take it down.

Adjust Your game according to their game

You’ll learn more about your opponent’s playing style in 5 minutes of heads-up than in 5 hours of full ring play. As you start to understand their game, vary your game so that you exploit their weaknesses. If they’re passive, raise more often. If they’re loose aggressive, trap with your monsters. You will tend to encounter these two styles more than any other playing heads up.

If you come out firing and you quickly learn they don't fold to bets much, you should be trying to get in with stronger hands. If they are super aggressive, it's fine that you are folding a little more than you would like. Hit a big hand and call them down. You will want to test the water as you play. If you call them down, do they fire a single shot. How often are they double barrelling? This information can all be used when you hit a hand.

Don't be predictable

The worst thing you can be playing heads up is predictable. Take a weak line with some of your big hands.  Take a strong line with your weak hands. Keep them guessing. Then once your opponent thinks that they have your style pegged, switch and start playing a slightly different game.  Then switch back.  Keeping them off balance will induce mistakes.

It is also key to watch your bet sizing. Any tells will be more obvious to your opponent as they are focused on you. Make sure what your opponents think they have learnt from you proves to be their undoing.

Don't hit the panic button too early

I see more money lost in heads up play through reckless play. Players hitting the panic button far too early. Don't worry about losing some of your stack. If you start at 1500 chips, the panic button should be down at the 3-400 mark. Even at that point it's a couple of double ups. Sitting a couple of hundred of chips down isn't the justification to push all in with a very marginal hand just to get back to level pegging. The aim is to win. There's no prize for winning in the shortest amount of time.

Don't bet more than the pot. The principles of poker still apply. Take the level of risk that provides the right level of reward.

Don't go into a shell when the blinds increase

As the blinds increase, there is more opportunity to pick up free chips. Your stack will be getting hit harder on every steal. It's very easy to give your opponent the upper hand by going into your shell - and fast. You need to keep the aggression up and be prepared to get it in with a premium hand. Remember, 3 or 4 steals where the blinds are high can kill off a stack.


Important Beginners Guides..

Read this no nonsense guide on how to play poker - covering the basics and game play. Perfect for those starting out.

A no nonsense guide on how to play poker. Ideal for beginners looking to learn how to play Texas Hold'em.

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