Playing Head's Up
It’s down to you and another player. The only thing that separates you from victory is your opponent’s chips. No problem! Let’s get those chips!
Although the rules of Texas Hold’em stay the same when you play Heads Up, the way you play the game is much different. Heads up is the time where players will be most aggressive, and this happens for two reasons. First, only two players are left so an average hand when you’re playing against 8 people is a good hand when you’re playing against one. You can take greater risks because only one opponent can defeat you, if they dare to call you! You’ll find that a lot of hands are won at Head’s Up without any of he players having to show their cards. The second reason why aggressive play is important is because by the time you eliminate other players and reach a Head’s Up situation, the blinds are often costly, and they’re only going to get more expensive.
The ability to read your opponent is key when playing heads up. This is the part of the game where there’s usually more bluffs than real good hands so you want to know when to call, when to raise, when to go all in, and when to fold. How you play varies on the size of your stack, on the cost of the blinds, and on the play style of your opponent. A great place to play heads tournaments is at fulltiltpoker.com because of the good traffic this room has.
If you have the Big Stack: Use it!
Don’t let your opponent see a flop for free, no matter what you have in your hands. Always raise on the first betting round. Sometimes, you’ll raise with a hand to back it up, sometimes you’ll raise with a really bad hand. It doesn’t matter. Your opponent knows this. What your opponent doesn’t know however is when you have something and when you don’t. That is why it is imperative to consistently raise, and often raise in the same proportion based on the blinds. I usually like to open with a bet that is three times the amount of the Big Blind. So if the BB is 400, then I bet 1200. Now, your opponent must decide if they will call, fold, or raise. If they are playing super conservative, unless they have cards, they fold 90% of the times. That means you only win the opponent’s blinds. But with conservative players, the strategy is often to gradually take their chips. If you are playing with a supper aggressive player, they’ll often raise you back because they know you don’t have anything half the time. They’ll want to test your nerves. They’ll try to outbid you and steal your chips from you. These are the players you need to worry about the most because they are unpredictable. When they re-raise you, you can either fold, call, or re-raise. Depending on how far ahead you are in terms of chip counts, reraising the opponent by the size of the total pot will usually give the message that you are not fooling around. This puts the pressure back on the opponent. If they had tried to make a move on you, they’ll often fold at this stage. If they call, then they probably have a hand, but not a great hand. If your opponent had a great hand, they would have gone all in at this point. Reading your opponent is done by evaluating the betting patterns. If you’re leading by 5 to 1 or more, meaning you have five times the amount of chips your opponent has, then you can afford to be very aggressive. The worse that can happen is that you go all in and you double up your opponent. If you do, then you’re still in the lead, but you have a lot more work ahead of you. Keep in mind that when the opponent has a short stack, he’ll be more aggressive than usual, especially when the blinds are increasing.
If you have the Small Stack: Attack!
There’s only two ways you’re going to win this game. By bluffing or by having the best hand. If you are the short stack, you want to try and see some flops for free whenever you have a crappy starting hand. However, if you do pick up two nice cards, then raise right away. A good example of when you want to see a flop for free, or for very little, is if you have two suited connectors in your hand, like a 2 and 3 of spades. It doesn’t look like much now, but if you happen to get a straight or a flush on the flop, or at least the possibility of one, then your hand has the potential of causing serious damage. Time to bet! Start with a nice raise (3 times the BB or more) to see how your opponent reacts. There’s no point in going all in just yet. If your opponent folds, then you got some of their chips at least. If they call, then probably fishing for cards. If they re-raise, then they either have something, or they are using the power of the Big Stack to put some pressure on. If you have a descent hand already, then by all means call them down. If you think you have the wining hand, then go all in. If you have nothing, then fold or go all in. There’s no other option. You either give up now, or you fight to the end (and possibly die trying…). This decision is based on your ability to read your opponent. Remember that when you have the Small Stack, you’re only purpose is to double up which can only happen if you go all in. Don’t rely solely on luck. Go all in when you have cards to back it up, or if you feel like you can bluff and get away with it. Beware… If you over do the all in bluff, you’ll get called down eventually when your opponent has the hand to beat you. It’s a super risky tactic, but one that is important to consider any how. If you get to the point where your total stack is about 10 times the size of the blinds, then you’re really in bad shape and it’s time to double up or else the blinds will eat you up fast. As soon as you get an Ace, go all in. It doesn’t matter what the second card is. You probably want to consider going all in with a King-ten or King and something else higher then 10.