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Heads Up Poker Strategy

Heads Up NL Holdem is one of the purest forms of poker. Testing your reading skills to the max and forcing you to play rapaciously, there is literally no other form of poker played with such purity. It’s also no coincidence that the like of Ivey, Dwan (promoted his $1 million heads up challenge last year) and Annie Duke (2010 winner of Heads Up Poker Championship) are the world’s finest heads up players, whilst also being some of the biggest names in poker. Heads up sngs and cash games are extremely profitable too. Adam “Skilled_Sox “ Ewenstein has made over $300k from online HU games at PokerStars. Against weak opponents in micro-low stakes games, you can earn far more in my honest opinion than by playing MTTs or 6 handed cash games. Winning 7/10 games earns you approximately 20% ROI in profits. Even accounting for variance, and suck outs; by losing three games in ten, you’ll still make bank!

Heads Up Strategy

What’s most striking about Heads up games is how aggressive you need to be in pots. Because there are only 2 players in each pot both of you are going to miss the flop 80% of the time. Unlike 6 handed games where you can afford to fold weaker hands and only play your AKs, in HU you constantly need to play into your opponent. By raising pots and bluffing, you actually force your opponent to make difficult decisions whilst also reducing his expected equity in each hand. This means your fold equity for bluffs increases and on average his perceived relative hand strength will be lower than it actually is i.e. he’ll think twice before raising you with 2nd pair.

Aggression & Bluffing

You need to play into weak/passive opponents as often as possible – these are the most profitable players to play against in HU. In position you should be looking to cbet most flops with a half-pot raise. This only needs to work 1/3 of the time to break even and most weakfish players will fold after missing.

Against loose players you need to be more aggressive. Double barrelling and triple barrelling are trademark heads up terms, as is 3betting and sometimes 4betting. Remember that the best cards to double/triple barrel are overcards to the board or ones that make pairs with the board, for example when the turn brings an A or K to a J84 flop. These improve your chances of success bluffing because they reduce your opponent’s hand value; top pair becomes 2nd pair and so on…

Hand Selection

Unlike 6-handed or MTT games, your starting hand selection is pretty basic in HU. You should be pre-flop raising A5+, pocket pairs, high connectors, broadways, suited connectors and face cards. When facing a re-raise, I will normally call with all of these however that also depends how loose or aggressive my opponent is playing. If he’s constantly raising pots then I’ll often 3bet him with marginal hands like suited connectors because they happen to have extremely good implied odds and are great hands for trapping with. If my opponent is letting me limp in cheaply as BB, then I’ll also raise 2.5xBBs with these hands and check/fold junk hands such as 72o.


This is the most important part of a winning HU player. Of course you want to play aggressively, but in order to do this profitably you need to be able to fold hands when you’re behind. You can’t really “teach” how to read opponents in HU per say, as every opponent is different. However, by narrowing down an opponent’s starting hand ranges, 3betting ranges and what sort of hands he’s calling your opening raises with pre-flop, you can begin to “read” your opponent.

Sometimes, you can pick up the most important tells from specific pots early on. You need to be constantly taking notes, for example, if he called your triple barrel bluff did he win the showdown? Does he c-bet the flop and fold to aggression in later streets a lot? Has he check-raised you on the flop, turn or river? These are all questions you need to ask yourself in order to beat and outplay your opponent post-flop. Everyone is different, so you can’t really rely on an introverted 24/7 strategy that doesn’t take into account your player’s history or style. HU strategy requires innovation and exploiting your opponent’s weaknesses. If he’s getting more cocky and aggressive and has already raised 32 suited pre-flop in a previous hand, than you should start trapping him and check-raising the flop in position when you hit a monster.

Value Betting

Value betting is something a lot of players get wrong. When you value bet the river you should be asking yourself “by value betting am I going to earn more chips?” Some tight players don’t value bet enough and likewise loose player value bet too often. As an example, if I’m checked to and then value bet 5h-6d out of position on a board of 7d-2d-10h-Qd-3d, then I’m only really getting called by hands that beat me. It doesn’t make sense to value bet here as I’m not 100% confident that I’m ahead and no one without the flush is going to call. The best possibility is that I take the pot down there and win no more than I would at showdown, and the worst possibility is that I get check-raised or even get called by a slightly better hand!

Mixing it Up

Mixing it up is one of the best rules for heads up play. Slow-play your monsters post-flop once in a while and start 3betting with connectors. It puts your player off and once he’s caught you doing this once, you end up getting better call equity for your monster hands whilst also giving yourself better fold equity when you’re bluffing. For example, if a c-bet a flop like 3-3-7 having been already caught 3betting with hands like J3 then I’ll get much more respect.