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Heads Up SnG Strategy for Texas Holdem
by Randy Ray
Why Write About Heads Up Sit and Go Tournaments?
Lots of poker players are afraid of heads up Texas holdem SnG tournaments. This article is intended to help remove some of that fear by providing a structure and a game plan for the next Texas holdem poker Sit and Go tournament you play in.
The 1st thing to understand about heads up SnG tournaments is that they reward skill over luck. If you're not a good poker player, then it might make sense to avoid these match play type Texas holdem tournaments until you feel like you have some poker skills. This article is aimed at players who have skills but who want to learn how to apply them to headsup games.
Heads up Texas holdem is an action junkie's game. Not only do you get to play a lot of hands, but the format demands that you play a lot of hands. Unlike a full ring game, you can't just wait for a lot of people to get into a pot and then throw a little money in and hope for the best. You'll get paid off that way in ring poker, but waiting for cards won't win a heads up sit and go tournament for you. You'll have to learn how to run without the ball at least some of the time in order to win at match play Texas holdem.
Lots of action junkies suck, because they want to play a lot of hands, but they're too weak to raise a lot. These should be your favorite opponents in heads up Texas holdem.
How to Think Like a Heads Up Texas Holdem Winner
Since heads up poker is so much more skill oriented than regular ring game play, you need to psyche yourself up. You have to play hard in order to win.
Why Skill Matters More in HeadsUp Texas Holdem Tournaments
In a full ring game you've got 8 or 9 other players who could suck out on you at any given time. This increases the luck factor.
When you're playing headsup, you've either got a big advantage over your opponent at any given time, or you don't. Understanding which situation you're in at any given time takes skill.
The ratio of your stack to the blinds also makes skill a bigger factor. Most of the time you'll start with 1500 chips, and the blinds are 10/20. Since you have 75 big blinds to start with, you can afford to be patient and play well. Little pots and little bets don't make much of a difference, because they don't change the balance of power in the match. And lots of hands get dealt online before the blinds go up.
Think like a patient, skillful warrior who's willing to let his skill win out over the course of an entire match. You're not looking to win it by pushing all in with AJ preflop, getting called by KK, and sucking out by hitting an ace on the river.
You can win that way, but not consistently, and you won't win a high enough percentage to profit.
You don't need or want luck to be a factor. You want to win because of your superior poker skills.
Coin Flips, Pot Odds, and Drawing Hands in Heads Up SnG's
A major difference between heads up Texas holdem play and full ring game play is that you never have pot odds to play draws with.
You only have 1 opponent. It's impossible for lots of players to have money in the pot to pay off your draw.
Draws are fine for playing aggressively, but only if you're the aggressor. You shouldn't be calling opponents' bets or raises with drawing hands in heads up Texas holdem.
Avoid coin flip situations preflop. Your goal is to win the tournament by taking advantage of your higher levels of skill and patience. That's done over time, by gradually whittling away at your opponent's stack until you're in a position of power.
You need a better win ratio than 50% to be profitable in heads up poker tournaments.
Heads Up Texas Holdem Situations
In tournaments with full tables, a common way to keep up with how you're doing is to compare the size of your stack with the size of the blinds. This ratio is useful in a heads up match as well, but what's far more important in a match play tournament is the ratio of chips you have compared to your opponent.
You'll start off with a ratio of 1 to 1. Each of you has 1500 chips.
That will gradually start to change as you play, but until 1 of you has 2/3 of the chips and the other has 1/3 of the chips, you're close enough to be considered evenly matched. (Assuming the blinds are low. Which they will be for a LONG time.)
No Limit Texas Holdem Heads Up Strategy When Your Chip Stacks are About Even
Your goal in this stage of the headsup match is to build your chip stack to a point where you have 2/3 of the chips on the table. In a standard heads up tournament, that's 2000 chips. When you get there, your opponent will only have 1000 chips.
While your chip stacks are about even, you're going to fold all of your trash hands preflop. A lot of weak players will limp in from the small blind. When you find an opponent who does this, you're in luck, because then you get to see a flop with no pressure and for free. You don't want to give them the same opportunity though. If you have a decent starting hand, any kind of decent starting hand, you want to raise from the small blind. And if you're in the big blind with a decent starting hand, and your opponent limps in, raise.
You've heard the expression raise or fold? It's never truer than in a heads up Texas holdem tournament.
A single raise is usually fine. You don't have to make huge raises here. Just enough to keep the pressure on and win your share of the blinds.
When the flop hits, you'll usually make a continuation bet, even if you missed the flop. The idea is that 2/3 of the time or more, your opponent missed the flop too. So if you bet about 2/3 of the pot, you're putting your opponent in a situation where he has to either draw without sufficient pot odds (which is +EV for you), or he has to fold, in which case you pick up a decent sized pot. (The pot is decent because you raised preflop to get some money in there.)
And since you only raise a single bet preflop, a 2/3 size bet into the pot will help you win a lot of pots uncontested, but won't cripple you if your opponent did hit and reraises you.
Just like preflop, you want to be the aggressor here, not the object of aggression. If your opponent is betting into the flop that you completely missed, you're correct to fold here.
Bet or Fold
If you're not the bettor, make damn sure you're not the caller. You want to be driving the bus. You want to be the person forcing your opponent to make hard decisions. When you're faced with a hard decision, just fold.
Eventually this strategy will get you to the point where you have 2/3 of the chips, or if you've been getting a lot of lousy cards and your opponent plays well, you'll get to the point where you have 1/3 of the chips. Your strategies change in those situations.
No Limit Texas Holdem Heads Up Strategy When You Have the Chip Lead
When you've got 2000 chips and your opponent has 1000 chips, you're in control of the tournament. This is your chance to win it. Your goal is to stay in this advantageous position and finish the villain off.
You're going to back off a little bit on the preflop raises here, because now that your foe is short stacked, he's going to be likely to reraise all in when you raise him preflop. Calling that bet is going to be a mistake because it will radically change the balance of power in the match.
2nd rate hands suck at this point. Don't lose your lead here by overplaying them.
If your opponent moves all in preflop, unless you have a big pocket pair, you're wise to fold at this point. Chances are he's going to push in with any pair, no matter how small, in an effort to win a coin flip against your 2 big cards.
Fold that KT when he goes all in, but call that all in with your QQ. At this point, you want to be a 4 to 1 favorite, not a 55% favorite.
You've got lots of chips and lots of time to wait for a hand. Let your opponent steal a few blinds and pots, and don't risk your lead on a coin flip. Eventually you'll wind up with a big enough hand to finish him off, either preflop or on the flop. Preflop all you need is a big pair. On the flop, all you need is a straight when he has 3 of a kind or a pair.
Get aggressive when your opponent tries to limp in from the small blind. He's signaling weakness, so fire back at him with a pot size raise when he tries to limp. Unless he's tricky and trying to trap you, he'll almost always have to fold here. If he doesn't fold, you'll have a better understanding of how tricky he is, which will serve you as the tournament continues.
You can also loosen up and call from the small blind here, hoping to hit a great flop. He can't afford to raise you when you do this. Not much anyway.
Since he's short-stacked, you can even bet into a flop you miss to pick up some more chips from him and increase your lead.
No Limit Texas Holdem Heads Up Strategy When You're Short Stacked
If the advice for when you have a big chip lead in heads up play is to back off a little bit, what do you think the advice for playing heads up when you're short stacked is going to be?
If you said that it's time to make some moves and push all-in, give yourself an A+.
When you have 900 or 1000 chips and the blinds are still small, you can afford to wait to make this move. Get a hand you're comfortable with before going for it. But once you're down to 600 chips or less, or if the blinds are high and you only have 1000, then you've got to be ready to make a move and push those chips out there.
If the villain folds, great. You win the blinds.
If he calls and wins, you've lost. You're going to lose some of the time anyway. That's just poker. Don't worry about it.
If he calls and loses, you're back in the match.
So there are 3 potential outcomes when you push all in when you're shortstacked, and 2 of them favor you, not your opponent. Doesn't make it hard to decide what to do, does it? Wait for a hand, any decent hand at all, and push all-in.
One caveat here: small raises when you're shortstacked don't work. If he reraises and you fold, you're crippled. If he calls, you're going to miss the flop 2/3 of the time, and you'll probably have to fold then too, leaving you crippled. With his superior chip stack, it's doubtful he'll fold to a small raise.
Small raises when you're short stacked lead to crippling blows.
Heads Up Texas Holdem SnG Strategy Tips
Here's a bulleted list of things to remember about playing heads up. This is the "strategy tips" section of the article:
They say that no limit Texas holdem is the Cadillac of poker. If that's true, then heads up Texas holdem is the really long, pimped out, shiny, new Cadillac of poker. Pay attention, be skillful and patient, and you'll win more often than not.
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