When it comes to multi-table and sit and go tournament play, most good players have spent many hours developing their game by reading books, blogs, forums, and watching poker on television.
Fortunately for you, most of your opponents have spent little time developing their heads-up game. That's fortunate for you because the simple fact that you're reading this article proves your desire to improve in this ultra important game situation.
Why is heads-up play so important?
First, there is more money to make between second and first place than any other point of a tournament. In multi-table tournaments, the difference can be staggering.
In most large-field tournaments, first place pays nearly twice as much as second place. You may have to beat hundreds or even thousands of players to get to second place. However, you can typically double your winnings by beating just one more player.
In a ten player $10 sit and go tournament, first place typically pays $50 while second pays only $30. While many players see second place as tripling their money, those who want to become top players should view second as a $20 loss. Often players, even experienced & otherwise highly skilled players make statements such as "heads-up play is all luck, whoever gets the cards will win". That is not correct. Comments like that are used as an excuse for players without the proper knowledge it takes to consistently win at heads-up play.
Heads-up poker tournaments offer constant action and it requires creativity to win them consistently. This article will show you some new ways of thinking about heads-up strategy and start taking first place more often.
Lets start with some general rules of thumb that players should employ when starting a heads-up match.
First of all, there are no other players to wait out, which means that your game needs to open up dramatically. No longer are you making strategic folds in first position hoping that other players will battle with each other and someone will get knocked out. At this point it's just you and the other guy.
So, a change of gears is always necessary once heads-up play begins. One major change most players need to make is to realize that heads-up play, more than any other form of poker is really not about the cards you are dealt. Going back to some people claiming heads-up is all about luck and getting the cards, real heads-up players know that heads-up poker has very little to do with the actual cards, and much more to do with strategy and creative play making.
Do you play differently when you hold pocket aces versus when you hold 9, 4? Most players play those hands differently and in heads-up (especially in the early stages of the game) you should not.
Your opponent doesn't know what you have, and since most hands never see a river anyway, why does it matter what cards you have? For the most part it really doesn't, so stop thinking about your actual hand strength and learn to convince yourself that 9, 4 is as good as aces. In the later stages when there are more chips at risk you obviously don't want to commit a large portion of your chips with 9, 4, but in the early and middle stages it's important to demonstrate dominance and instill fear into your opponents.
Another general rule to think about is that throughout your entire heads-up match you absolutely must make some unconventional moves to keep your opponent from figuring you out.
If you always raise with an ace or flat call with 2 rags, you are giving away too much information that your opponents can use against you later. Keep your opponents thinking. When discussing heads-up play you'll often hear people say that you should play the opposite style of your opponent. That's correct, but only after you've attempted to be the aggressor.
If your opponent simply will not allow you to be the aggressor and is constantly raising you no matter what the situation, then it's wise to back off and let them steal the smaller pots. In turn, you should tighten up, or at least give your opponent the impression that you're tightening up. Then, when you do go after a pot he'll be more likely to fold to you thinking you actually have a hand.
While the blinds are small, don't worry too much about losing a bunch of small pots. But you must play the heads-up early stages correctly. Often times the aggressor will get overly confident that he can get you to fold at will and overbet his hands. When you do make a big hand, let him step into his own mess by giving him the opportunity to make big bluffs at the pot. It's very common for one player to steal 10 pots for 20 chips apiece, then lose 400 chips in one single hand giving you back the chip lead. So, try to be the aggressor with lots of small bets, but if it doesn't work, back off and let your opponent get himself into his own trouble.
Another important part of heads-up play is to remember not to overbet when you hold a weak or unmade hand.
Many players will donk off huge portions of their stack simply because they don't think enough about making properly sized bluff bets.
On the other side of the coin, when you make a huge hand you may want to make some oversized bets of your own. It's also not uncommon for players to call big bets when they're big dogs to win. It's not often that you'll make a full house or flop a set, so when you do you have to at least try to get paid well for them. Often times your opponent will have nothing anyways, so he'll fold for even a small bet.
Instead, overbet the pot and hope that one of two things happens. If you make second or bottom set on the flop, you opponent may have top pair. If so, he'll generally pay off a large bet or even come over the top for a big raise. The second thing you're hoping for is that your opponent may put you on a bluff thinking "if his hand was that strong he'd bet smaller and try to get paid off with his hand". If that's the case, they'll often come over the top of you trying to resteal it.
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