By Rick Braddy
Who came in 2nd place in last year’s Super Bowl?
OK, not everyone keeps track of American football…
So…who came in 2nd place in last year’s World Cup?
Can’t remember – me either. I’m lucky to remember who won! For the most part, almost nobody remembers the player who comes in 2nd place in a poker tournament, either…
Who won the 2003 World Series of Poker? Chris Moneymaker
How about the 2005 WSOP? Greg Raymer
And in 2006? Joe Hachem
Who came in 2nd place in any of those tournaments? No idea…
And you’d have to do some homework to figure that out!
In addition to the notoriety, the bulk of the tournament purse money goes into the pocket of the Champion – who comes in 1st place. The difference between 1st and 2nd place is much more than the money, too.
The Champion gets the press, gets talked about in all the blogs, the winner gets their picture on Poker Stars (at least the WSOP winner does!). The winner is who gets remembered. Nobody really cares much for who comes in 2nd place in any competitive game or sport…
Well, now it should be clear why understanding how to win at heads-up play is so important. So, let’s talk about how to do it, 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. Player B when playing heads-up? Answer: It’s dead even! Both of the players have the exact same odds – it’s a coin toss…until someone bets!
If you’re familiar with American football, there are two types of basic plays: running plays and passing plays… In a passing play, when the quarterback throws the ball, there are three possible outcomes:
1. Ball is “incomplete”, nobody catches it – LOSE
2. Ball is “complete”, receiver catches it – WIN
3. Ball is “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 could be beaten, until you bet/bluff – WIN (some %)
In all of these cases, you can only win chips IF YOU BET. The thing is, the odds of either of the two heads up player drawing a strong starting hand aren’t very good, so chances are excellent you both
have a loser hand at the outset.
When you are first to act and you BET, you force the other player to look at their hand and make a decision – to either call that bet with (likely) a lousy hand or just fold and save some chips.
So, in heads-up play, you should generally play much more aggressively than you would normally in regular play, realizing that both you and the other player are most likely to have crap hands.
You need to use betting as a means of controlling the action and winning as many of what would otherwise be “crap shoots” as you can.
By winning the crap shoots (where you both have crap hands), you come out on top, and take down perhaps 2/3 of the hands – the ones you can win with a great starting hand or actual hand, PLUS
the ones you win through a successful bet/bluff strategy! This often makes the difference between winning and losing heads-up.
Does that make sense? Is it helpful? (hit “Reply” and let me know what you think, and if you have some other heads-up suggestions to share)
So, here are the BASIC rules you can use when playing heads-up poker:
1. When in doubt, BET!
2. Any pocket pair or board pair, BET BIGGER!
3. Given an option to “represent” the board, BET BIGGER YET!
4. When you’re the small blind, fold occasionally to give the
other player the impression that you’re playing “honestly”
5. When in doubt, BET!
6. Whenever an opponent calls you all-in, fold UNLESS:
a. You’re holding a legitimate strong hand you can win with
– or –
b. The other player is going all-in as a strategy against
you regularly – then nail them with any pair or Ace-high
hand you get.
Generally speaking, in a normal heads-up match, you want to avoid calling all-in hands, since most players only go all-in when they have a big, winning hand.
You should go all-in anytime you believe you have a winning hand or good enough hand w/ some decent outs for improving it.
Now, you need to practice playing heads-up BEFORE you find yourself heads-up at the end of a hard-fought tourney.
You can find plenty of heads-up action at most online poker rooms – practice makes perfect, so invest some time and money and practice your heads up play. There’s no way to learn better than actually playing heads up a lot.
Trust me, your heads-up play will improve immensely if you follow the simple strategy I’ve provided above.
Here’s some excerpts from the heads-up chapter of my sit and go e-book:
“When heads-up, you should be constantly applying pressure to
the other player to make him fold. You may re-raise when you
think you’re either beaten badly or your opponent is bluffing. It’s
a bit like chess or war games, with attacks, feints, counterattacks,
and graceful retreats. This is part of the “feel” of poker that’s hard
to put into words, but hopefully you get the idea.
Avoid getting into a predictable pattern yourself, and look for
patterns that your opponent uses and take advantage of it.
Since you’re playing against a single player, now’s the time to …”
“When playing heads-up, you need to get a sense for how the
other player is operating. If they are still playing tight, then loosen
up and get aggressive with them. If they’re aggressive, then deal
with them like you would any aggressive player by …”
Playing heads-up is perhaps the most important skills one can develop
and hone as a poker tournament player, yet it’s amazing how many
people fail to really practice ahead of time.
You can practice heads-up play in a number of ways:
- Online – most online poker rooms offer a sit and go tournament format that’s just 2 players. This is a great way to get a lot of experience playing heads-up – highly recommened.
- Poker Software – there are a number of offline poker software tools that provide great heads-up practice capabilities
Be sure to study up and practice your heads up play. You’ll be amazed at how much it’ll increase your winnings. It’ll also give you a better chance of emerging as the champion in a poker tournament sometime soon.
Rick Braddy’s poker websites, books and software helps thousands around the world win more Texas Hold’em poker games. You can take his heads up poker skills test to measure your heads up and other poker skills, read his sit and go poker tournament e-book to get the full heads up play strategy and playbook, and watch his sit and go poker videos [http://www.SitAndGoVideo.com/] to learn how to win more sit and go poker tournaments.
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