If you are a live player or new to poker, you might not know about the popular variant of Holdem that poker players play online. It is called heads up. One player against another one. Both are trying to outplay each other and win money. If you are confused about who posts the blinds and who is the button, then this article will be perfect for you.
If you doubt if heads up poker is beatable, check this article I wrote and keep in mind that the graph in the YouTube video show profits in millions of dollars.
The blinds and button in heads up poker is placed as follows; button will always post the small blind, while the other player will post the big blind. Post flop, the big blind will act first, and the person who posted a small blind (button in our case) will remain in the position. Next hand positions of the blinds and the button will switch. And the player who was big blind before will be small blind and button now.
In Heads Up poker, the button acts first preflop and last postflop. This is quite different from the 6max or full ring tables where small blind will always be first to act postflop, followed by the big blind.
In HU, the player on the button (BTN) will play more hands compared to the button on 6max and full ring games. If we are on the BTN on an HU game, we have already invested half of the blind and can raise to 3 big blinds (bb) total and have a chance to win the pot immediately. Let me remind you that the main goal in poker is to win the pot, and winning only the blinds with a random hand is a great result already. We risk 2.5bb – we already posted 0.5bb as small blind (SB) – to win 1.5bb.
Preflop Heads Up Play
Playing the Button in Heads Up Poker
A button will be first to act and decide whether he wants to raise, fold, or call. Usually, you would want to raise if on the button. Sometimes you might limp a few hands, sometimes none. The very worst hands, you would go ahead and fold.
Depending on the opponent, you might also develop a different strategy where you limp more or play tighter in general. Especially against maniacs that 3bet you almost every hand, you need to consider opening smaller. You can even consider limping, but generally should be avoided as by limping you cannot win preflop. But against an average player raising most hands should be your priority.
Like I mentioned, the standard raise on the BTN is to make it 3x total preflop. And you should be opening around 70% of hands. Stick to opening that much hands on the button: Later, you can adapt depending on the opponent’s play style.
Now it is on the big blind (BB) to decide if he wants to call or 3bet you preflop. In a game of poker, a position is crucial. If you put up two players with the same skill against each other, they will always win on BTN and loose on BB.
If you are deep, 200bb, and more, then the positional advantage is even more important. Deeper, you are the better it is for the guy that has the position. Now I would be opening almost all if not all hands. If I get 3bet, that’s fine, I can defend wide, as we are deep. Plyer out of position will have a much harder time playing in deep pots.
If you play with shallow stacks of around 50bb, then you should also be opening less. Big cards count even more. Don’t rely on hitting too many sneaky straights as there are not many implied odds to ht your draws. With implied odds, I mean how much we are to win when we hit the draw.
Playing the Big Blind in Heads Up Poker
It is very, very hard to win playing out of position in heads up. Primarily we need to consider that we lose 1bb by posting the big blind.
On the BB, we will defend with much fewer hands than we will open on the BTN. The majority of mediocre hands are just folded. With semi playable hands, we can call. With the very best of our range, we will 3bet. In total, I play around 35%-45% of hands on the big blind. This includes my 3bet range. Our 3bet strategy depends a lot, depending on what the opponent calls us with. If we dominate a lot of hands that button defends with, then we can get away with 3betting more. I like to 3bet somewhere in the range of 15% hands.
If you want to know which hands are those, download Equilab from here and put in 15% range of hands. This tool is free. And you download it for free. Go to Poker Tools and scroll to the bottom. It is under free tools. It is an excellent free software to practice your preflop and postflop ranges.
Postflop Heads Up play
The big blind is first to act post-flop. It sucks to play out of position (OOP). We don’t want to build the pot if we missed the flop. If we have a draw, we have a hard decision again.
I could write a few articles just about out of position strategy when playing HU. In general, you want to stick to play straightforward. And avoid huge pots if you don’t have good hands.
If you are a button, then postflop is your bread and butter. You will play in position the rest of the hand. You can either decide to take the pot down by a continuation bet. You can check to keep the pot small and seeing a free turn card. You can make a delayed continuation bet on the turn after checking back the flop. You can mix up your strategy and keep opponents guessing every time how good hand you have.
If an opponent shows weakness, you can put a lot of pressure on him, if you have a read on him. Weak players will often play very straightforward OOP and will basically tell you when they have a good hand or if they missed the board. But remember it is worse if you choose the wrong hands to try and bluff with than play straightforward.
On low stakes, you can get away with playing straightforward OOP and still make money. Firstly focus instead on the preflop game and your button post play. Once you master those, then you start learning OOP strategies.
Adapting to the opponent in heads up games
One vital thing that many low stakes players disregard is adapting to our opponent. Readless, we will do fine by opening 70% of hands and raising to 3bb preflop. Consider making the following adjustments if your opponent doesn’t play as the majority does:
- If you see opponent folding a lot, then it is time to raise more than 70% of hands on the button
- If the opponent is passive and a calling machine, then value bet our stronger hands bigger. With weak hands. It doesn’t make much sense to bluff him, so check back with weak hands and take free turns and rivers.
- If the villain is 3betting a lot, then start opening less than 3bb preflop. It is a good idea also to fold more preflop. Someone who 3bets a lot is usually also aggressive postflop. Against such guys, you can slowplay your good hands and let them bluff.
- If the opponent plays very straightforward and shows weakness, then bluff more on flops turns and rivers.
Let me demonstrate the following case. We are up against a maniac, who 3bets almost every hand. With our QT offsuit we are in a range advantage against him preflop. I gave him a range of 75% of his hands. So our QTo is good enough to defend. My preflop adjustments against such player would usually be:
- Tighten my preflop raising range so that I can protect more vs. his 3bets
- Make smaller preflop raises. 2x or 2.5x. This makes it cheaper for us to fold to a 3bet or keeping the pot smaller when we call the 3bet.
- Someone who is a maniac will bluff a lot postflop. Often we could slowplay our stronger hands. In our case, this wasn’t needed as the opponent made It obvious he wants to commit by betting large on the flop.
The action played as follows. He makes a continuation bet on the flop I make a small raise and opponent shoves. His hand? 79o. And we won a nice 202bb pot, and half of the blind went away because of the rake. If we are smart, then we get a big portion of the rake back. That is called Rakeback.
Let’s have a look at one more example. It is a shallow table with 50bb. Here we hold QQ preflop. And the read on our opponent is that he is passive and a calling station (calls a lot, another term is call machine). We raise to 3x because we want to get value for our good hand.
Flop is perfect for us. It has quite some draws, and the opponent could have a draw or a pair here easily. We value bet and get called. On the turn, the only draw that completes is 56, but there are many more that missed. So our decision with pot-sized bet left is easy; we shove all in. Opponent calls and shows A9 of clubs. The river is a king of diamonds, and we win a nice pot.
Against calling stations, you should focus on getting value with your good hands. Do not bother bluffing as they don’t fold. If they are passive and they start betting, you can be sure they have hit something decent.
Winrate Playing Heads Up
In heads up poker, you can expect to make more money than in 6max or full-ring play. I am a no expert in playing HU, but I am a winner nonetheless. If you are an excellent HU player, then you can expect to make close to a double of my winrate on low stakes.
As you can see from the winnings by position, I am doing good on SB (button) and losing on BB. This is entirely normal and expected. In fact, I should be winning even more on the button. My winrate for the big blind is decent enough.
Just like I told you, I play around 70% of hands on the button. You should cbet a decent amount on flops. I think around 75% is fine if you are not getting check-raised often. My 3bet of 17% is also in the standard range.
How Long Does it Take to Learn Heads Up Poker?
Playing heads up is always beneficial as it helps you understand the game better. You will be a better hand reader if you decide to move to 6max or full ring after.
This answer depends much on your current understanding of the poker game. If you already play professionally, then a month should be enough to beat the games. If you are starting and want to learn heads up, then it takes longer. I would say anywhere from few months up to a year to be able to play professionally. And around 2 to 6 months to be a winning player at lower stakes.
Your time will be reduced dramatically if you find yourself a proven winning heads up poker coach. Instead of losing money at the tables when starting, it makes a lot of sense to join a poker coaching website, like this one. It is not too expensive, and it includes in-depth strategy videos from the guy that has won millions playing heads up poker against the best players.
Now you have everything, from basic strategy to links to resources where you can learn this beautiful game in depth. With enough willingness to learn, you can become a great HU player.
Can you Count Cards in Poker?
It is impossible to count cards in poker in a similar way that it is in blackjack. In poker, a deck is shuffled after every hand. It doesn’t matter which hands you got dealt in the previous hand. In the new hand, you will receive completely random hands. You can, however, count your outs to win the hand.
This means that you roughly know how many percentages you have to win the hand. Let’s say you hold a nut flush draw with no pair on the flop. Your outs are all cards that complete the flush and maybe all of the aces if the opponent has only a pair. So that is 9 outs for the flush and 3 outs for the Ace. This gets you very close to a coin flip. It still depends if the opponent blocks any of your outs. Maybe your opponent has only a 2nd nut flush draw with no pair on the flop. Now you are a big favorite to win the hand.
Those outs might not be always live outs. Let me explain. Let’s say you are holding an open-ended straight draw on the flop (87 on 562 flop). You think you have 8 outs to hit your straight. So about 32% on the flop. If your opponent holds blockers to your hand (pair of nines), then you might have only 6 outs, so you are down to around 24%.