Giving advice for playing heads up poker is one of the difficult things to do since heads up poker and the strategies you should use are almost entirely based on your opponent. Very loose and aggressive opponents will play much differently than a normally conservative opponent shifting gears. Knowing your opponent can, and should, dictate how you play them.
That being said, there are some basic strategies and considerations that can always be applied in a head up game.
- Aces and Kings are almost ALWAYS worth a raise
- Always raise on the button
- Always raise a pocket pair pre flop
- Be prepared to re-raise pre flop
When these actions become second nature heads up so you don’t even have to think about it when you’re one on one with your opponent, then you know you’re on the right track to becoming a strong heads up poker player. Since aces are rare, and are the highest cards, they are always worth a raise, and since aces are also rarely dealt out, kings are also strong enough to always demand a raise. If you have K-8, that’s not a great hand, but heads up it’s pretty good, and has a slight edge over Q-10, which plenty of people will play heads up (and it is a good heads up hand).
It should go without saying that pocket pairs are always worth a pre flop raise. For re-raises, remember that your opponent should also know to play aggressively, so that early raise pre flop could be for a pair of 3’s or J-10 off suit. If you have a very strong hand, like a high pocket pair, or big slick suited, then don’t be scared off by the initial bet. Your re-raise may take down the pot, or it may throw more chips into the pot for the flop, which you’re supposed to want anyway if you have the superior starting hand. A re-raise also lets you jump into a continuation bet if your opponent checks.
In heads up play, the aggressive player always has an advantage. That being said, DO NOT go all in every single hand. Yes, this counts as aggressive, but poker maniacs are aggressive and they get busted all the time. If you go in all the time, then that one time your opponent gets A-A, A-K, K-K, or Q-Q, you will double them up and wipe out all those gains you made stealing blinds.
Being too conservative works against you, too. Suppose we were playing heads up, twenty thousand chips total, I have thirteen, you have seven. The blinds are 300/600 and I raise to 1,200 every hand, and you fold five straight times. I raise again, and you have A-A, so do you raise or call? Problem is, if you raise, I’ll fold and that’s all you get. If you check, unless I flop a high flush, nuts straight, or high trips, I’m going to check or fold. You’re not getting any more chips out of me, and then the moment you show weakness again, I’m coming after you. But had you been aggressive back, I may have re raised you and called another re raise, because the aggressive play sets up the trap. By trap, never slow play unless you have the nuts. Too often this lets an opponent catches a hand that can bust you when you should be able to hammer your opponent into folding. Practice your heads up game at low stakes, and when you are being dominated, watch how the other player runs the table, and learn to tweak your game accordingly.