Heads Up - The Basics
a few years ago, very few players played
heads up very well at all. If you were
one of them, you had a distinct advantage,
and could expect to win in nearly all
of these situations unless you were unlucky.
That's changed, and the main reason why
it has is that more players are getting
more experience playing heads up. Years
ago, you'd have to get to the end of a
long tournament in order to face someone
heads up. Nowadays, there are so many
smaller and one-table tournaments online
that whomever you end up against will
surely have a great deal of experience
playing this unique brand of poker, and
cannot be run over so easily.
forward, I believe that heads-up tournaments
will be the next big thing in poker. These
are tournaments that consist entirely
of heads-up matches, where the winner
advances and the loser goes home, in a
sort of a Final Four bracket scenario.
You are already seeing these tournaments
popping up on online sites, and NBC has
premiered its National Heads-Up Poker
Tournament from the Golden Nugget in Las
Vegas. This show, as well as other final-table
programs which devote a significant time
in their broadcast to heads-up matchups,
will add to the allure of heads up play,
and more importantly, to the skills of
the opponents you will face when you get
into a heads up situation.
it is more important than ever to make
this a strong part of your game, rather
than a weakness. This series of three
articles will cover the ins and outs of
heads-up play in some detail, and will
hopefully add to your skill level in these
spots. There is no substitute for experience,
but the ideas in this series should help
you turn your experience into some wins,
rather than settling for second place.
thing that everybody knows about heads-up
play is that the starting hand requirements
are significantly lower in heads-up play
than in a full ring game or even a short
handed game. You will -- and should --
play hands heads up that you wouldn't
think of playing in a bigger game.
In heads up poker, the average hand is
J-7 offsuit. If you look down at J-7,
you are exactly 50 percent to win against
an unknown hand. So, if you are looking
down at such unremarkable hands as J-9,
Q-3, or K-2, you are looking at better-than-average
hands. These hands should be played heads-up,
even against a small raise, since they
will bring down the pots more often than
only are there more playable hands heads
up, but there are more "monster" starting
hands as well. In a full ring game, there
are about ten hands that you can comfortably
raise with. (If you are very aggressive,
maybe fifteen.) Heads up, you have a monster
if you hold any Ace, any pair, or certain
other hands such as K-Q and Q-J suited.
This gives you a total of 27 hands that
you can assume that you are well ahead
with, and should definitely raise with
these. (There will be times when you would
not raise with an Ace, but we'll discuss
there are also hands that do not hold
up so well in heads up matches, and those
are small suited cards and small connectors.
The chief benefit of these hands is that
they can win a lot of money from a full
ring game if they lead to a straight or
a flush by the river. They can win a great
deal of money in a heads up match too,
but you may not have the odds to draw
to one of the hands on the turn and the
river. In fact, a good opponent will make
sure that you don't. Two unsuited connectors
are - at best - about 38-39% to win against
two unsuited overs, and two small suited
cards are about the same. But the percentages
fall off quickly if you are up against
higher connectors, higher suited cards,
or share a card in common with your opponent.
You can play small suited or connected
cards for variety, or against smaller
stacks, but you need to hit your flop
in order to continue, since speculating
can be costly.
other thing that most everyone knows about
playing heads up is that you must be very
aggressive in order to win. You are usually
better off raising than calling, especially
early in the hand, and you will fold marginal
hands less often.
best scenario in heads up holdem - other
than going all-in with a monster - is
to take down a lot of small uncontested
pots. Both you and your opponent are waiting
for opportunities to cash in with high
pockets or miracle flops. But while you
are doing so, if you are able to win most
of the small, unimportant pots, then you
will have the best of it. And by the time
your opponent finds his pocket aces against
your pocket queens, or flops a set when
you flop two pair, he may not have enough
chips to do much damage.
small pots don't make the TV telecasts,
but any pro will tell you that they are
their primary goal in heads up play. The
way to win them is to keep the pressure
on your opponent, to give him the opportunity
to fold when it is his turn to do so.
When you are the first to bet, bet as
if you have a hand. When your opponent
has bet in front of you, raise as if you
have a better one. The trick is to do
it often enough to win most of the pots,
but not so often that your raises have
no meaning. How often is that? Well, that
is part of the art of heads up play. It
is different in every situation. But if
you find that your opponent is calling
you with less-than-premium hands, it is
a sign that you are raising with a bit
too much. Well talk more about this next
play is even more important when you are
way ahead of your opponent, when you have
at least 75% of the chips in play. Under
these circumstances, you can justify putting
your opponent to the test with every single
bet you make. Even with a decent hand,
he won't want to risk all of his chips
in order to call your bet. So you will
win a lot of these pots uncontested, and
continue chipping away at what he has
he will make a stand and call you with
the better hand. In this case, two things
can happen. He can win and double up through
you, and odds are he will. But he can
also lose, if the cards fall your way.
And it happens more often than you think.
If you push him all in with 7-2 offsuit,
and he calls with A-K, you're way behind.
But you will win the pot and the championship
33% of the time. So, you're not as far
behind as you may think.
the opposite is true, and you are short
stacked heads up, you need to pick a spot
and push all of your chips in. If you
have enough chips, you may get a fold
from your opponent, but you should expect
to be called. The question is what hands
to go in with.
any of the 27 monster hands described
above are good candidates. You may also
think about going in with any King, and
some will go in with any Queen as well.
The shorter your stack becomes, the more
hands you will be willing to push with.
If you have at least nine or ten times
the big blind, you can afford to be more
selective. But if you have only two or
three times the blind, then you cannot
be too choosy. Any face card will have
the flop, you will want to push with any
pair, even bottom pair. With two pair
or better, you may think about checking,
since you will get more of your opponents'
chips this way. If you flop a drawing
hand, you can push if the odds favor you,
or if you think you may get your opponent
to fold. Otherwise, try to preserve some
chips to keep yourself in the tournament
even if your card doesn't come.
leaves situations when you miss completely.
When this happens, you need to swallow
hard and fold most of the time. It is
hard to give up a pot when you have so
few chips left, but your chances of winning
the pot with a bluff, or by catching a
miracle card on the turn or the river
are against you. Give up this one and
wait for a better spot.
month, we'll talk about different playing
styles, and how to defend against each,
and later we'll also talk about changing
gears and confusing your opponent. Until
then, good luck at the heads up tables.
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