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Heads Up Poker Tournament Play – Winning When It Matters Most
Who finished 2nd in last year’s Super Bowl?
OK, not everyone keeps track of American football…
So…who came 2nd in last year’s World Cup?
Can’t remember – me either. I’m lucky to remember who won! Most of the time, almost no one remembers the player who comes 2nd in a poker tournament…
Who won the 2003 World Series of Poker? Chris Moneymaker
How about the 2005 WSOP? Greg Raymer
And in 2006? Joe Hachem
Who came 2nd in any of these tournaments? No idea…
And you had to do some homework to find out!
In addition to the notoriety, the bulk of the tournament’s purse goes into the pocket of the Champion – who comes in 1st place. The difference between 1st and 2nd place is also much more than the money.
The champion gets the press, gets talked about in all the blogs, the winner gets his picture on Poker Stars (at least the WSOP winner does!). The winner is who is remembered. No one really cares who comes second in a competitive game or sport…
Well, now it should be clear why understanding how to win at heads-up games is so important. So let’s talk about how to do that and how to win heads-up more consistently.
First, it helps to think about the odds. What are the odds of Player A winning a particular hand vs. does B play when he plays heads-up? Answer: It is even dead! Both players have exactly the same odds – it’s a coin toss… until someone bets!
If you’re familiar with American football, there are two basic types of plays: run plays and pass plays… In a pass play, when the quarterback throws the ball, there are three possible outcomes:
1. The ball is “incomplete”, no one catches it – LOSS
2. The ball is “completed”, the receiver catches it – WIN
3. Ball “intercepted”, defense takes over – LOSE
It’s similar in poker. When you are dealt a hand in poker (any hand), you have three outcomes:
1. Your hand remains “incomplete” and you fold – LOSE
2. Your hand is “beaten” in a showdown – LOSE
3. Your hand is the winning hand – WIN
4. Your hand can be beaten until you bet/bluff – WIN (some %)
In all these cases, you can only win chips IF YOU BET. The thing is, the odds of one of the two heads-up players drawing a strong starting hand aren’t very good, so the odds are good for both of you
has a losing hand at the start.
When you are the first to act and you BET, you force the other player to look at their hand and make a decision – either call that bet with (probably) a crappy hand or just fold and save some chips.
So in heads-up play, you should generally play much more aggressively than you normally would in regular play, realizing that both you and the other player are most likely to have bad hands.
You must use betting as a means to control the action and win as many of what would otherwise be “crap shoots” as you can.
By winning crap shoots (where you both have crap hands), you come out on top and take down maybe 2/3 of the hands – the ones you can win with a great starting hand or actual hand, PLUS
those you win through a successful bet/bluff strategy! This often makes the difference between winning and losing heads-up.
Does it make sense? Is it helpful? (hit “Reply” and let me know what you think and if you have any other heads-up suggestions to share)
So here are the BASIC rules you can use when playing heads-up poker:
1. When in doubt, SAT!
2. Any pocket pair or board pair, SET BIGGER!
3. Given an opportunity to “represent” the board, SAT EVEN BIGGER!
4. When you are in the small blind, fold occasionally to give
other player has the impression that you are playing “fair”
5. When in doubt, SAT!
6. When an opponent calls you all-in, you must fold UNLESS:
one. You have a legitimately strong hand that you can win with
– or –
b. The other player goes all-in as a counter strategy
you regularly – so nail them with any pair or Ace high
hand you are dealt.
In general, in a normal heads-up match you want to avoid calling all-in hands, as most players only go all-in when they have a big, winning hand.
You should go all-in anytime you think you have a winning hand or a good enough hand with some decent outs to improve it.
Now you need to practice playing heads-up BEFORE you find yourself heads-up at the end of a hard-fought tournament.
You can find plenty of heads up action in most online poker rooms – practice makes perfect, so invest some time and money and practice your heads up game. There is no better way to learn than playing heads up a lot.
Trust me, your heads-up game will improve tremendously if you follow the simple strategy I’ve outlined above.
Here are some excerpts from the heads-up chapter of my sit and go e-book:
“When heads-up, you should constantly apply pressure
the other player to make him fold. You can re-raise when you
think you are either beaten badly or your opponent is bluffing. It is
a bit like chess or war games, with attacks, feints, counterattacks,
and graceful retreats. This is part of the “feel” of poker that is difficult
to put into words, but hopefully you get the idea.
Avoid getting into a predictable pattern yourself, and look for it
patterns that your opponent uses and take advantage of it.
Since you are playing against a single player, now is the time to…”
“When you play heads-up, you have to have a feel for how
other player works. If they are still playing tight, loosen up
up and get aggressive with them. If they are aggressive, negotiate
with them as you would with any aggressive player at …”
Playing heads-up is perhaps the most important skill one can develop
and hone as a poker tournament player, but it’s amazing how many
people really fail to practice beforehand.
You can practice heads-up play in several ways:
- Online – Most online poker rooms offer a sit and go tournament format that is only 2 players. This is a great way to get a lot of experience playing heads-up – highly recommended.
- Poker software – there are a number of offline poker software tools that provide good heads-up practice
Be sure to study up and practice your heads up game. You will be surprised how much it will increase your winnings. It will also give you a better chance to become the champion of a poker tournament soon.
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