No-limit Texas hold’em has exploded in popularity recently thanks to the broadcasting of live hole cards on television shows like the World Series of Poker (WSOP) or the World Poker Tour (WPT). The game is commonly played with up to 10 players at a single table. Although many new players are used to this style, heads-up is a different breed of poker which can be hard to adjust to for a beginner.
Is Heads-Up Hold ‘Em Right for Me?
Unlike a full table, heads-up hold’em is mono y mono. Your single opponent is your main focus the entire course of a match. At a full table, a player could patiently sit around waiting for good cards without paying too much attention to his opponents. A straightforward, basic strategy could be very profitable. In heads-up play, you will be playing nearly every single hand. As a result, the play is more wild, aggressive, and exciting. Betting, bluffing, and raising all the time results in bigger fluctuations in your bankroll. Only choose heads-up if you are prepared to handle the swings.
Preflop Starting Hands
In heads-up poker, you will always either be the small blind or the big blind. Because you will always have money invested in the hand, it is foolish to fold the small blind. It is worth it to literally call every single hand. In heads-up hold’em, your cards are not the most important thing. Your opponent’s cards should dictate how you play and bet.
You will be seeing a lot of flops heads-up, so be aggressive. Constantly throw out bluffs and bets on the flop, the turn, and the river. By betting, you give your opponent the chance to fold and win the pot. Betting also maximizes value when you have a winning hand and might even encourage a raise. Although aggressive play has many rewards, it is not a free pass to bet all the time. Sometimes you will bluff huge and need to fold because you are beat. Your only goal is to defeat your opponent, not win every pot. The timing of your betting should be governed by your reads.
Reading Your Opponent
This is the single most important thing to master in heads-up. No other game relies on reads so heavily than heads-up no-limit hold’em. Notice how your opponent bets. Does he raise a lot before the flop? Will she bluff twice in a row? Answering questions like these are the key to winning. Also observe your opponent’s reactions to your bets. Bet different amounts until you know how much he will call and fold. Maximize value on winning hands and try to bluff risking the lowest amount of chips.
Turbo or Non-Turbo
Turbo heads-up sit-n-goes (SNG) are a quick, popular way to play heads-up. The blinds increase more rapidly than normal which ends the match sooner. Non-turbo SNGs are longer and a result you see more hands. This allows for more play between opponents. Turbo heads up SNGs are better for experienced players and might overwhelm a novice at first.
Managing Stakes and Bankroll
You can play for virtually any amount of money heads-up with stakes as little as $2 or $5. At least 20 buy-ins are needed to play heads-up. It is not uncommon for profitable poker players to have downswings and lose 5 to 10 games in a row. 20 buy-ins allow for some breathing room, but you can play with a smaller bankroll if you feel comfortable.
Start out at the smallest limits offered or even play for fun. The more hands you play, the better you will be able to react to certain situations. As your skills increase, you might adjust your strategy or try fancier plays. Focus on figuring out and reading your opponent no matter what level you are playing at. Other flaws in your game will improve over time, but the ability to read your opponent separates the winning poker players from the fish.