If patience is your greatest enemy then you might find yourself better suited to playing No-Limit Texas Holdem heads-up. Whereas a 10-handed Texas Holdem table will see you only act occasionally (unless you’re extremely aggressive), heads-up poker has you involved in every hand.
Heads-up is fast and it’s fun, but how does heads-up poker strategy differ from the tactics you’d employ at a full table? Today we’re breaking it down for you with some basic lessons for heads-up poker.
In heads-up the relative strength of your starting hand goes way up since there are fewer people at the table to beat you. For example, pocket aces at a 10-handed table will win 30.8713% of the time assuming everyone plays and sees the river. Not bad. But compare that to 84.93%, which is how often bullets will take down the pot after the river in a heads-up match.
An important hand to make note of in heads-up play is K-4 off-suit. K-4 off-suit will win the showdown in heads-up play about 50.23% of the time. It represents the worst hand you can be dealt where you are still likely to be in the lead in heads-up play. Obviously this doesn’t just mean you should play K-4 and better anytime you get it and not to play anything else. There is so much more to factor into your decisions, especially a little someone called your opponent.
The Power of Position
In heads-up poker position becomes black and white. You’re either on the button and have position or you’re off it and you don’t. Having the advantage of position is great in any game but in heads-up it’s even more important. With less players involved in a hand there are less players who are likely to slow-play you.
If an opponent checks pre-flop and then again after the flop it’s very likely that a raise will take that pot down for you.
Be sure to take advantage of having position. You should be constantly raising from the button pre-flop, almost regardless of your cards. The reasoning behind this is fairly simple.
Not only are you getting fold equity (your opponent may just fold, especially since they would be going into a hand out of position, and you would win outright) but if they do enter the hand you’ll be generally more likely to win since you have position.
When you’re out of position it’s usually not a good idea to simply call a pre-flop raise from the button. Folding or raising are generally the better options since a call will show weakness which will probably be exploited by the button after the flop.
Dealing with Aggression
Any player out there who has read any poker strategy at all will at some point have encountered advice on the importance of aggressive play, particularly when it comes to heads-up poker.
It’s not surprising then that so many of the players you compete against will have the heat turned up and the pressure on. So how do you deal with this type of player?
First of all you’ll need to figure out whether your opponent is actually an aggressive player or just a loose player who doesn’t know their ass from their elbow. The general rule of thumb here is that weak players call with weak hands while aggressive players are looking for fold equity and raise and reraise with weak hands.
If you have a donkey on your hands then pushing with big hands will do the trick. If it’s a skilled aggressive player then you’ll need to deal with them differently.
Firstly, don’t go limping pre-flop with weak hands hoping to get lucky. If they are raising often then you’ll be stuck either folding and losing chips or worse, entering a flop with a large pot and a weak hand. Fold your weak hands and make your opponent pay for trying to push you around when you have the goods.
Reading Your Opponent
One of the great things about heads-up poker is that you can focus all your attention on one person. It’s much easier and quicker to get information on them so it’s crucial to capitalize on this, just as you should with any edge you come across in poker.
You’ll want to be as aggressive as possible but temper this with what you learn about your opponent. If they limp into a hand, raise it and see what they do. If they fold then they are the type of player who is trying to get a cheap shot at catching cards.
If they are determined to raise and re-raise everything then tighten up and set a trap.
Showdowns are crucial since you’ll be able to learn what kind of moves your opponent was making. Showdowns early in the match for small pots are particularly useful since, even if you lose, you’ll be able to get this information for cheap. It’s not a good idea to push-all in or create big pots with anything but monsters when you don’t know much about the person you’re up against.