Playing heads-up is the closest you’ll ever get to feeling like you’re playing Russian roulette with Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter. There might not be a gun to your head, but going toe to toe at the poker table is a high pressure situation.
And if you can’t conquer this aspect of the game then there’s no chance that you’ll be able to pull off your dream win, like American Chris Moneymaker.
Moneymaker busted opposition out through a number of online satellite tournament events on his way to winning the World Series of Dewacasino Main Event in Las Vegas in 2003, scooping $3.6 million when he knocked out his last opponent on the final table. Neither Moneymaker nor this year’s winner, Australian Joe Hachem, had played in major US tournaments before but both proved that as well as playing the cards they were skilled at bullying an opponent in single combat.
Heads-up is much like a game of chicken – you don’t need the fastest car or, in this case, the best hand. The nerves to stay on target and not deviate from the line once the pedal has hit the metal are far more important qualities. This kamikaze attitude could get you into trouble if you crash your Route 66 racer into a King Kong pick-up truck, but without it you may as well walk away from the table before you even lay down your first blind.
The most important thing to remember is that you don’t need the best hand to win; it doesn’t matter what cards you get dealt if the other person folds. If they toss in their 10-8 and you’re sitting there with an 8-6 you still pick up the chips. In heads-up you can justifiably contest any pot with just a single court card and almost any pair is worth pumping.
Show some aggressionF**k the flop
When the big blind is called and the flop hits the baize you can’t afford to look at the community cards in the same way as you would during normal play. If you hit a middle pair with a decent kicker during a normal game you’d probably be quite happy about it. In a heads-up this puts you in a very strong position. As a rule of thumb, if you’re on the button never just call – always raise to ensure you get a payout when you get dealt a decent hand. If you don’t know the person you’re playing you may not get many chances to get an insight into their heads-up technique. Watch the pre-flop behaviour to get an understanding of what your opponent’s likely holding, and consider how you feel about any possible hand your opponent may have. If you feel you have the better hand, betting out should be your default position.
Against an inexperienced or noisy opposition you may be able to get away with less assertive raises and raises, whilst at the same time being more careful not to give away free cards. The nature of the game meant you could frequently check and get away with it, although now with more experienced sharks around you’re less likely to get away with this. Ideally you want to build a passive table image – often players have a perception that loose players don’t really bluff – and when you’re strong enough you can use this to your advantage.
If you have a lot of data on your opponents which you hope to use against them, playing as an anonymous counter is a good way to work on your poker strategy. The issue of giving away free cards is drastically reducing your profits however, so I don’t recommend this.