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Heads up Poker Strategy Guide

Randy has asked me to make a small stakes heads-up SNG poker guide. As some of you may know, I've been playing these HU SNG's quite often lately, with good success. HU is one of the most important skills any Hold'em player can have, especially tournament players, and especially in 6-max and full ring games. After beating all other players, you only have to beat one more player in order to triple your return or more! That's a huge boost to your ROI if you can master your HU game. I know that when I get heads-up with someone at the poker rooms, I'm a favorite to win in almost every situation because I'm so confident in my HU game. This guide will teach some of the basics of heads-up play.

Practice

First of all, one of the best ways you can hone your HU skills is to play a bunch of HU SNG's. These tournaments are offered all the time at various levels on most sites. I usually play on Full Tilt for now, but Poker Stars also has an excellent assortment of HU SNG's, including standard games (blinds increase every 10 minutes), turbos (blinds increase every 5 minute), no-blind-increase (NBI) tournaments, and deep-stacked games. I encourage you to try a few of each of these, as all of them have their advantages and disadvantages. Then when you have tried a few and are confident in your game, you can apply your newfound skills to your normal 6-max or full-ring tournaments and watch your ROI soar!

Position, position, position

Any player who has played Hold'em for very long knows the power of position when making decisions. When playing heads-up, position is KEY to your success. You should be playing the vast majority of your hands on the button. In addition, you should be coming in for a raise almost every time unless you have a specific reason not to. You are forcing your opponent to play a raised pot out of position for the hand. You are controlling the betting and the pot size. Because you are raising your button so often, he never knows if the flop helped you or not. A broadway flop is therefore just as scary to him as an all rag flop. When he decides to make a stand, because he is out of position, he is always gambling that you have not made a better hand. Remember, you have complete control when you are on the button. The last time he bluff shoves your c-bet is always the time when you flopped the unlikely nuts.

Preflop

I will raise the majority of hands that I decide to play from the button. Against an opponent who is too tight, I will be raising close to 100% of my hands from the button. Against someone who calls too much, I will tighten up a little bit but still raise about the top 60% of hands. Remember that preflop is the least significant street. Your goal is to inflate the pot while you have the advantage (you have the button, remember), and take them to value town when you make a decent hand. Even if you flop nothing, a standard 3/4 pot c-bet very often takes it down. I would venture to say that against most opponents, a standard 3xBB raise combined with a 3/4 pot flop bet is profitable just by itself, *completely ignoring your hand and whether or not you flopped anything at all*!

Since you will be raising so much, your opponent will sometimes get tired of you and begin 3-betting more often "to teach you a lesson". This is great! If I'm raising with junk like normal, I'll generally just fold the first few times. If he does it quite often (greater than about 20% of the time), then I will call with my strongest hands as well as some good drawing hands like suited connectors or one-gap suited connectors, which can be felted if you flop a good draw or even top pair in some cases.

When you are in the BB, you should tighten up considerably. Most players tend to be too weak in the lower buy-ins and will often just complete their button. Many times in such cases I will just check, but you should also raise sometimes, not only with your best hands but also with your mediocre hands to try to get a feel for how he plays in position. When you do raise from the BB, it should generally be a little larger than normal since you will be at a disadvantage and would prefer to take it down preflop. For the most part, 3-betting a button open is not advised unless you have a strong hand or if you have developed a good read for his play. I very rarely 3-bet from the BB without a strong hand.

BB hand guide facing a SB raise

  • Pairs: 3-bet most pairs vs a habitual raiser. Against an infrequent raiser I may just call with 88- but 3-bet everything else.
  • Aces: Usually 3-bet high aces (AJ+). Usually call other aces.
  • High kings (K9+): Usually call. Sometimes 3-bet KJ and KQ.
  • Suited connectors/one-gappers/two-gappers: Usually just call. Once in a while, 3-bet if the raiser is very aggressive.
  • Unsuited connectors/one-gappers: Mix it up between calling and folding.
  • Fold other trash.


Postflop, if I 3-bet, again I'll be coming out with a bet very often. If I just called, I'll be looking to check-raise very often. You should not be donk betting very often unless you flop very strong and your opponent is very aggressive. In this you are betting in the hopes he will raise. Then you can call and check-raise the turn. Another situation is if you flop a pretty good draw. Now you can donk, and when he raises you can shove. In general, you should attempt to avoid check-calling with mediocre hands. You never know where you're at in the hand and you're at the mercy of the button. Wherever possible, you want to put the pressure back on them to make the decision.

Postflop

Postflop is where all the money is made in Hold'em, and heads-up play is no exception. Keep in mind these general tips:

* Most of the time, no one flops anything. In this case, the player who is most aggressive will generally win the pot. This is another reason why position is so key, since you can stab at a huge number of pots with nothing in position after your opponent checks.

* Your c-bet % after raising pre-flop should be at least 75%. Not only will he fold often enough to make it profitable just by itself, when he finally makes a stand you will often hold a very strong hand and can control the betting any way you like.

* Don't bluff just because you can. Most players bluff far too much and in the wrong situations. I myself am still struggling to control the urge to bluff in hopeless pots. Make sure that if you do decide to bluff, it is set up from the beginning and not just a sudden river impulse. A sudden river shove when the board is not very scary and draws missed is very suspicious and you will be looked up very lightly. Remember, most players are still only playing the cards in their hand and do not have the ability to put you on a well-defined range.

* Be patient. You don't have to win every pot. Aim for winning the larger pots and letting the smaller pots go. Attempt to create larger pots when on the button rather than when out of position. Be more willing to give up quickly when out of position rather than calling down to the river only to check-fold.

* Know your opponent! Some opponents are grossly overaggressive and you will have to do little except wait for a hand and let the chips fall your way. Other opponents are so weak and passive that you will need to be doing all the betting and raising. Especially for the first 10 hands or so I will be playing very cautiously, attempting to feel out my opponent, trying various moves with little risk to see how he responds.

Special Heads up situations
BB hand guide facing a SB raise
 
  • Pairs: 3-bet most pairs vs a habitual raiser. Against an infrequent raiser I may just call with 88- but 3-bet everything else.
  • Aces: Usually 3-bet high aces (AJ+). Usually call other aces.
  • High kings (K9+): Usually call. Sometimes 3-bet KJ and KQ.
  • Suited connectors/one-gappers/two-gappers: Usually just call. Once in a while, 3-bet if the raiser is very aggressive.
  • Unsuited connectors/one-gappers: Mix it up between calling and folding.
  • Fold other trash.
Heads up Postflop

If I 3-bet, again I'll be coming out with a bet very often. If I just called, I'll be looking to check-raise very often. You should not be donk betting very often unless you flop very strong and your opponent is very aggressive. In this you are betting in the hopes he will raise. Then you can call and check-raise the turn. Another situation is if you flop a pretty good draw. Now you can donk, and when he raises you can shove. In general, you should attempt to avoid check-calling with mediocre hands. You never know where you're at in the hand and you're at the mercy of the button. Wherever possible, you want to put the pressure back on them to make the decision.

This concludes my basic primer on HU SNG strategy. I encourage you to leave comments and start a discussion on this in the Poker Forum.

 

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