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Tournaments: Playing Heads-Up

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…Fishy says, “Never fold from the small blind, and stay aggressive! Even though I’m akin to a goldfish, I still pack a mean heads-up punch.”

For many sit and go buffs, this is a common situation that you should learn to master if you’re sick of second-place finishes. When it’s down to just you and one other opponent, the whole dynamic of the game changes. Every subsequent hand is going to require an action or reaction from you. You can change the pace of the game at any point. When you’re down to heads-up play, you’re going to need to get aggressive. If you’re fortunate enough to have a timid opponent, you can easily manipulate them and take a lot of their stack before they realize what’s going on.

Playing heads-up, you’re always going to be in either the small blind or the big blind. The small blind is the preferable position, as you’re going to act rather than react. You’ll take control of the hand. The odds are that your opponent isn’t going to be holding a decent hand, so you should play aggressively most of the time. Learn what size raise it takes for your opponent to lay down his cards. It’s usually tough for him to call, even if he knows you’re just bluffing at him, because he’s going to be at a disadvantage for the rest of the hand unless he really hits something. If your opponent keeps folding his hands to your raise, why not keep raising? That way, you’ll also know that he probably has something when he decides to stay in the hand or plays back at you.

An aggressive play that I like to make in the big blind is when my opponent just flat-calls from the small blind. He probably doesn’t have much, but figures he can see the flop for cheap. Don’t let him! Try about a pot-sized raise and see if that shakes him. If he stays in and you don’t think the flop helped him, bet at it again. Of course, you’ll be taking a risk that your opponent isn’t slowplaying a big hand, but you need to be taking those kind of risks when you’re playing heads-up.

Hands that I like to raise and even go all-in with preflop include any Ace, any pocket pair, any two face cards, and suited connectors. You put pressure on your opponent when you do this, especially when you have him covered in chips. He knows that he’s got to put everything in to call you, and a lot of players can’t handle that, especially when they’re holding something like 6-2 offsuit. I never recommend folding your small blind in heads-up play, either. That is a timid play that forfeits your positional advantage.

Stay aggressive heads-up, and also consider mixing it up by slowplaying everything once in a while. Did you make the nut flush on the flop? Top pair with top kicker? Just call your opponent down. It’ll really bewilder him when you show it down on the river, and will make him afraid to bluff you in future hands.

General Poker Strategy


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