Basic Heads-up Strategy

Chris Wheeler | September 19, 2011

Heads-Up StrategyRegardless of whether it’s cash game poker we’re talking about or you’ve made it down to the final two out of a tournament field of hundreds, heads up poker is vastly different to the full ring or six handed game.

For one thing, you’re in the blinds every single hand. When you play full ring you’ll play from the blinds twice per round – twice every ten hands. In heads up play you are always either the small blind or the big blind.

The other major differentiation between heads up and full ring poker is that with only two players involved in each hand, the calibre of hand needed to win a pot drops drastically to that required when facing off against 10 opponents.

Up the Ante when it comes to Aggression

Considering you’re being slammed relentlessly by the blinds every hand, there is always some sort of pressure on your stack in heads up play. With this said it should go without saying that you’re going to need to step up your aggression when you step into the heads up arena – if for no other reason than the get back the money you’re putting into the pot each hand.

You can’t afford to wait around for a premium hand when you’re playing heads up poker – period. You’re going to go broke. To break it down simply, if you intend to sit there and fold to your opponent while you wait for a hand like As Ks or Qc Qd, you’ll be folding your blinds to your opponent the vast majority of the time. When, (or if), you do finally wake up to a strong hand you’re still going to have to play for the pot, and there’s going to be a number of times, albeit a small percentage, when you are going to lose that hand.

If you want to succeed in heads up poker, up the aggression. You’re going to need to open up the range of hands you are willing to enter a pot with.

Playing from the Small Blind

When playing heads up, the small blind is the button. This means you’ll have position from the flop onwards so you should be looking to raise a good percentage of the time. You should be prepared to fire in raises with hands like 9s Ts, Ks Jc and 5d 5c.

Remember, you’re opening up your starting range so with hands like 6d 7s which isn’t necessarily strong but does have potential; you should be looking to limp a lot of the time – unless you’re playing a maniac. If you’re opposition is intent on pushing all in on every flop it makes no sense to limp in with a hand like this.

Useless hands like 2d 7h still get ditched – we’re not getting that aggressive.

Playing from the Big Blind

Sure, you’ve got more in the pot than you will have playing from the small blind, but you’re also going to be out of position on the flop – you’re going to need to play a little tighter here.

If you’re looking down at a mediocre to reasonable hand and your opponent limps, you’re best off checking to see the flop – that’s easy. When you have a strong hand you’re going to want to go ahead and raise most of the time, unless you’re going to attempt to trap your opponent. That’s simple.

It’s when you find yourself in the big blind facing a raise that things start to get a little bit more complex. If your opposition is constantly raising your big blind over and over again, you’re going to need to adjust your game to make sure you don’t fold away all your chips.

At the Showdown


In heads up play, the range of hands with showdown value is far greater. On the flop, you should feel comfortable about betting out with middle or bottom pair unless you feel you have a great read on your opposing player, simply based on odds which would suggest that your opponent probably hasn’t hit any stronger than you.

In fact, if you have hit a pair on the flop you should almost always bet out. Sure, if you’ve flopped a monster hand you might want to draw things out and attempt to extract maximum value from your adversary, but if you’ve hit something reasonable but not great – like middle pair, you’re going to want to take the pot there and then and avoid a suckout on the turn or the river.

When you do end up flopping a big hand you’re going to have to mix up the way you choose to play it – or else you’re going to become predictable. Remember – sometimes betting hard at your made hand can be as profitable as slow playing it.