Playing Heads Up Poker is a true test of one's poker skill and ability. Heads-up poker is perhaps one of the single most overlooked aspects of improving your own game especially when you consider that in tournaments the difference in payouts between a first place win and a second place finish can often vary vastly percentage wise with most first place wins rewarding the winner substantially more than all other entrants.
What sparked me into writing this information is I recently won a few T$ at PokerStars and wanted to convert them into real money, so I figured Heads-Up Poker was the way to go as it is quick and basically 50/50 chance of winning, which actually ended up me winning six out of the seven games I played, making made me think about heads up a bit, and that perhaps there is a better way to play the game or some kind of advanced Heads Up Poker Strategy, so with that idea in mind I googled "win playing heads up" and got very few decent search results, I then looked for books on the subject matter and only found one or two books matching the description, apparently Collin Moshman's "Heads-Up No-Limit Hold 'em" is the definitive book on the subject matter, yet I read several reviews that implied it was a bit too basic for advanced players so I decided to give it a skip.
Which lead to me compiling this guide about how to win playing heads up no limit Texas Hold’em and the best strategy to use against your opponents based on the information I have gathered and read with a bit of personal experience added.
Winning at Heads Up Poker No Limit Texas Hold'em
The first step in mastering heads up poker play is too loosen up and call far more frequently than you are accustomed to in regular sit n go's or even shorthanded games.
Queen Seven is the so called computer theorised hand as simulations have proven that this hand wins 51.77% percent at heads up poker vs. a random hand. In this version of the game, playing one on one the smallest of pairs or a single Ace/King can make you the odds on favourite in poker heads up play.
The phrase that rings out the most is "be aggressive" when playing No Limit Texas Hold'em Heads Up Poker, mix your game up often and keep your rival guessing by betting small with big cards for a while and big with weaker cards then suddenly switch gears when you think he's figured out your game plan by betting big with your good cards and vice versa, keep him guessing.
Take advantage of table position by raising from the small blind pre flop and continuation betting through to the flop, according to the legendary authors Sklansky and Malmuth the small blind can gain an odds advantage by raising with every hand, for example a $50 small blind and a $100 big blind ($150 pot), if the small blind raises to $150 he is essentially betting $150 to win $150 if the big blind folds more than half of the time using this play then the small blind turns a profit.
Raising when holding any pair, suited connectors, Ace, King, Queen or Jack coupled with an all in raise holding two picture cards or a picture card with an Ace preflop seems like a pretty basic strategy but it is effective in this form of the game, use the heads up poker odds charts below to calculate your theoretical chances of winning a poker hand.
Heads Up Poker Odds
Playing No Limit Heads-Up Hold’em, continual pressure needs to be asserted on your opponent with every move you make, certainly don't check and give them a chance to see a free flop, the basic rule is either raise or fold from the small blind never check to allow them a chance to even sniff the flop for free.
Judge your opponent and adjust your game accordingly to give you the best chance of winning, if he is loose then trap him if he is playing tight reraise more often but always be alert to the flush and straight draws on the table as they are easily overlooked which can prove to be your downfall.
If you want to take Heads up poker seriously then you should always calculate what the poker room is charging in rake for your stakes, take for instance PokerStars, currently the $2 Heads Up Games are $2+$0.20 to enter which is rather high percentage wise with a hefty 10% rake, you would need to win at least 60% of the tie to break even which can prove challenging, rather opt for slightly higher staked games,like the PokerStars $5 heads-up which offers a $5+$.025 buy in at a greatly reduced rake percentage of 5%, making it much easier to show a profit in the long term.
Practice makes perfect, from time to time hone your poker skills by playing a few heads up matches just in case you hit the final two one day in a huge tournament it could provide you with that little extra edge for destroying your opponent.
Heads-up poker is a vital skill to master in order to become an overall winning poker player it will improve your Sit-N-Go and Multi-Table Tournament results, as well as your ability to read opponents which is magnified in this format of the game.