There are two ways in which you’re going to find yourself in prolonged heads-up play: you’ll either be at the end of a tournament and you’re battling the one person standing between you and victory, or you’re actually engaging in a heads-up tournament. Many poker players and writers feel that heads-up poker play is the most visceral, “true” version of the game, and it’s hard to deny that. Let’s take a look at some things that change when you’re playing in heads-up versus poker against multiple opponents.
First of all: you’re going to need to be more aggressive and broad with your hand selection. Don’t wait for big hands, and do your best to not let the gap between you and your opponent affect your play. Unless you both receive a pair at the same time (and that never happens,) you should have a decent pre-flop chance of winning. Even when you’re behind, the odds are going to let you have a 40% chance when you have the lesser hand.
With preflop domination off the table for the most part, what matters when you’re playing in heads-up play? Two things factor into your pre-flop play: your position and the pot odds. Heads-up produces an odd situation regarding position. The Button is also the Small Blind so the Big Blind is therefore out of position since the Button is always the prime position. However, before the flop, it is the Button who is first to play, being the player immediately to the left of the Big Blind. After the flop, it is the Big Blind who plays first to ensure the Button is last to act.
The importance of position means that if a player is out of position, they should be trying to end the hand with a sizable raise early on if they’ve got reasonable strength, otherwise they’re at the mercy of the button. If you are the button, it’s almost always the right play to at least call the Big Blind regardless of your cards.
Pot odds dictate that it’s going to cast you $X to enter the action and with three times that amount already in the pot, you’re going to be in the right, even if the cards you’re holding wouldn’t ordinarily justify a call on their own.
It’s important that you make sure that you mix up your play as well. You should sometimes call and other times raise with medium to poor hands before the flop. You should sometimes call and other times raise with strong hands before the flop. You have to keep your opponents guessing at all times by mixing up the play.
In the end, a heads-up match is going to be settled when two strong hands meet head-on. This is why many people think that luck is the biggest factor in heads-up play, but the fact is that a lot of maneuvering and strategy goes into every hand that takes place before the final confrontation. Make sure that you’re in the best position possible with good poker strategy.