Heads-Up Play – Be Aggressive Or Be Eliminated

If there is one aspect of your poker game that will always need improvement it’s your heads-up game. Unfortunately, the majority of us do not get enough practice with the mano a mano situation and when we reach that elusive stage in the tournament, we seem to forget the most crucial aspect of playing heads up: be aggressive.

In heads-up play your starting hand requirements diminish drastically and suddenly any two cards are good enough to raise. The reason behind this logic is pretty straightforward; if you have a mediocre hand there is an 80% chance that your opponent does as well. That is why it is important to take control of the betting. Of course, there will be times when your opponent has a premium hand preflop, or made a hand on the flop, but you will find that the majority of hands in heads up play poker are determined before the flop is dealt.

In heads up play your position at the poker table is still one of the most important aspects of your play. Only both positions now have their distinct advantages. Pre-flop being in the dealer position means that you are first to act which is when you want to take control of the betting and not give your opponent a chance to push you off your hand. On the other hand, if you both agree to see a flop being in the BB gives you the chance to take back control of the betting. Let’s look at an example to illustrate.

You are sitting in the dealer position with K♣ 3♥. (In heads up any K or A regardless of your kicker is an excellent starting hand because it reduces the odds of your opponent holding one in their hand.) This is definitely a raising hand and you should raise three times the big blind.

Your opponent calls and the flop come:

  • 9♦
  • 9♥ Q♣

You didn’t connect and you’re now holding K high. Your opponent bets ¼ of the pot.

Based on the flop you know the odds of your opponent holding a 9 is approximately 2% so it’s safe to say you’re not up against three of a kind. The odds that he has a Q is approximately 10%. You figure that your K must be good at this point and you reraise the pot, and your opponent folds.

In heads up poker you should always raise the pot on the first hand regardless of what two cards you’re holding. This will give you very useful insight about your opponent. If your opponent immediately releases his hand, you should note that he is reluctant to call with any random cards. Alternatively, if you raise a pot and your opponent constantly re-raises you must tread carefully and pick your spots.

Remember the key to successful heads-up poker is to be aggressive. 8-% of the hands you are dealt neither of you will be holding a premium hand and the odds of connecting with the flop are about 60%. Most of the time the player who raises first will take down the pot uncontested.