Playing heads-up is the closest you’ll ever get to feeling like you’re playing Russian Pokerrepublik with Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter. There might not be a gun to your head, but going toe to toe at the poker table is a high pressure situation.
And if you can’t conquer this aspect of the game then there’s no chance that you’ll be able to pull off your dream win, like American Chris Moneymaker.
Moneymaker busted opposition out through a number of online satellite tournaments on his way to winning the World Series of Poker Main Event in Las Vegas in 2003, scooping $3.6 million when he knocked out his last opponent on the final table. Neither Moneymaker nor this year’s winner, Australian Joe Hachem, had played in major US tournaments before but both proved that as well as playing the cards they were skilled at bullying an opponent in single combat.
Heads-up is much like a game of chicken – you don’t need the fastest car or, in this case, the best hand. The nerves to stay on target and not deviate from the line once the pedal has hit the metal are far more important qualities. This kamikaze attitude could get you into trouble if you crash your Route 66 racer into a King Kong pick-up truck, but without it you may as well walk away from the poker table before you even lay down your first blind.
The most important thing to remember is that you don’t need the best hand to win; it doesn’t matter what cards you get dealt if the other person folds. If they toss in their 10-8 and you’re sitting there with an 8-6 you still pick up the chips. In heads-up you can justifiably contest any pot with just a single court card and almost any pair. Even if they get through the flop and onto the turn and river with a pair of 4’s you can still get value out of your hand.
Show some aggressi on F**k the flop
When the big blind is called and the flop hits the baize you can’t afford to look at the community cards in the same way as you would during normal play. If you hit a middle pair with a decent kicker during a standard game you’d probably be quite happy about it. In a heads-up this puts you in a very strong position. As a rule of thumb, if you’re on the button never just call – always raise to ensure you get a payout when you get dealt a decent hand. If you don’t know the person you’re playing you may not get many chances to get an insight into their heads-up technique. Watch the pre-flop raises to get an understanding of what your opposite number will bet as a bluff and what is a solid move aimed at pulling you towards a heavy loss. When you get to see cards on their backs make sure you remember the betting practice of that hand. If a similar rhythm emerges later, it’s odds-on they’ll be holding similar hands.
Against an inexperienced, passive opponent you can lay out a 3bet or 4bet with any 2 cards, provided that you have the same reading on your opponent’s cards. If your opponent calls with a wide range of hands than 3bet with any decent cards. As hands get better (and you get closer to your opponent) you should be 3betting more frequently. At this stage we’d also suggest giving up on any weak hands and focusing on strong, competitive hands only.
Against a good player it’s definitely worth it to slow-play, as they’ll probably put you on a strong hand and call your continuation bets on the flop, turn and river. If you’re slow-playing yourself then you can get away with a more maniacal approach and jack up your stack for a more respectable showdown.