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Heads up Poker Strategy: A Beginner’s Guide

So, what game plan do you follow while playing poker? Are you the one that calculates probability? Or do you turn into a psychologist reading every minor frown and body language of the opponent? Or are you a shrewd player that plays by poker strategies? If you believe in exploiting all the three combinations to your advantage and have the upper hand on a poker strategy, then heads up poker is for you. So, how do you play heads up poker? Heads up poker is played between only two opponents and, therefore, can deliver a whopping 50-50 chance at winning. An intricate heads up poker strategy is a neat combination that can beat even the most skilled of opponents in heads up poker rounds. It is preferably played in sit-and-go (SNG) formats, online heads-up poker tournaments, or even played as a tie-breaker in community card poker games.

The most played poker variant, Texas hold’em and heads up poker, have similar rules. But, in heads up poker, the dealer places an ante to begin the round, so it evens out the leverage of the players’ position. And this is then followed by a big blind from an opponent, and the game ensues. Secondly, the dealer is the first to deal with pre-flop, so this format maintains fairness. Otherwise, either one of the two players would get the positional benefit. So, after the dealer places an ante, the player with a bigger blind gets dealt with the first card. Another rule of the game suggests that the player with the big blind goes first after the flop. In case the dealer folds, it calls for the next round of hands. And if the dealer calls, then the player with the big hand gets to decide whether to raise or not.

The game has many variants, yet, the rules for heads up poker remain the same (you must know how to play heads up with every variant). Since heads up poker involves only two players including all rules of heads up variants, it is best played with an aggressive strategy. The chances of winning here are far better than winning at community card poker games. Also, it is easier to bluff in heads up poker. Because if you have a stronger hand, the probability of the other opponent having a weaker hand is higher, unlike in multi-handed poker, which is a tricky business to judge. 

Here are some golden tips to play heads up poker : 

  1. Beast mode on: The best strategy of this high-tension game is to adopt an aggressive style. Because each player has to play the blind every round and even raise in consecutive rounds, the opponent will judge you by the number of times you bluff and raise. And one stands a chance at winning if they have a high card or a pair because chances of flushes and straights are nil, at least in the early stages of the game. Simply put, raise aggressively when you have strong hands and don’t think twice before placing bigger blinds if your competitor deals with higher raises pre-flop.
  2. Probability: If the opponent goes all guerrilla on you, then declare war on them. You can do this by gauging their range of hands by calculating the ratio between value to bluff. It simply means you track the number of times the other player bluffed v/s number of times they bet. This aids in making a further move to call the bluff or not.
  3. Bluff catching: Daniel Negreanu, the professional poker player, mentions that his personal favorite is Bluff-catching strategy while playing poker heads up (all rights reserved). Poker players should risk this move only if they wish to attack the opponent’s bluffing range, so pull this off when you are sure that the other player is indeed bluffing.
  4. Position: As you stand a fifty percent chance at winning heads up play, position plays a vital role. You can exploit this by contemplating the opponent’s consecutive move while you are still on the button. In heads up poker, you can use this to your benefit when you have a face-card or a decent pair, as it puts you in a position to confront the other player in a pre-flop. Another way to use the position to your advantage is by observing the number of times the other player prefers to c-bet and, if the player does this too often, then your best heads up strategy would be to float. Lastly, if you are on the button, don’t shy away from placing a raise while gauging the opponent’s range of hands too.
  5. Any Ace: In heads up poker, having a hand with an ace is a golden opportunity to play “any ace strategy” to your benefit because there will be a chance for a blind in every hand. If you have any ace, the chances of getting a better hand are far better, simply because there are only two players on the table.
  6. Pot control: This heads-up strategy focuses on increasing the size of the pot by raising the blind when you have winning hands, face cards, or marginal hands. This way, you hold the key to relish a bigger pot with minimum risk. The lesser the risk, the bigger the raise should be. And you can even put on a bluff to corner your opponent, you know, just saying.
  7. Read but be unreadable: You should be able to determine the type of game your opponent would opt for. Would they corner you with monster hands at the start or lock you with a flush in the later stage of the game. At the same time, you can act unpredictably by playing different sizes of blinds every round. And by taking a random amount of time during each round to confuse the opponent.
  8. Adapting: Adapting to your competitor’s choice of the game will give you an added advantage to design your gameplay. You can do this by exerting a certain amount of pressure if they get defensive and eventually call.
  9. Bluffing: Bluffing is an integral part of poker, and everybody bluffs their way through poker. However, in heads up poker, the best move to bluff would be a flop. If the flop turns out in your favor, put a raise and play aggressively.
  10. Know when to back down: It is wise to fold if you have a poor hand and let go of a small pot if you sense that your opponent may take you down.

Pot odds in heads up play

It is important to calculate pot odds in heads up play as important as it is in poker. You can look at it as a proportion between the size of the pot to the amount you are ready to call. Let’s say, the pot has 200$, and you call for 20$; then, the ratio would be 200:20. As the game progresses, this part can be challenging for most players because the calculations can get difficult in the next rounds. While playing heads up poker, the probability leans towards your side by seventy percent because your chances of getting dealt with winning hands are higher. Rules also suggest not to fold small blind during the pre-flop stage in heads up play rounds. If you have read into the opponent and notice that the opponent is placing average blinds even while you opt for small blinds, you may give pot odds a pass. However, if the opponent is playing aggressively by placing a big blind on the table, you have to up the ante by dropping the hands of lesser value. Since calculating the probability can get overwhelming for a few poker players, it is wise to use poker calculators online.

So, if you want to be a proficient heads up poker player, play by the strategies in the beginning.

You will get better with time only if you are ready to learn from each game. So, analyze the game and learn which moves to avoid. Eventually, you will learn what works best for you, and you will be able to design your own strategies.

Xiang Han

Xiang Han is a journalist at CapitalBay.News and has hands-on experience in the poker industry. He frequently plays online poker games and serves as a tournament consultant for popular online poker rooms.

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