How to Play Heads Up Poker: Strategy and Tips for Beginners

Heads-up poker is a form of poker that is played between only two players. It might be played during a larger cash game session, where the game is breaking up and only two players remain on the table, or where two players are trying to start a game and playing heads-up while waiting for other opponents. 

A lot of poker players say that how well you play heads-up is the purest indication of your true poker skill. Some pros, in fact, play heads-up poker almost exclusively. And many of the world's top cash players have a standing challenge to play anyone heads-up, any time, for any amount.

Basic Rules

The rules of heads-up poker are the same as in a game with three or more players, except in community card poker, the blinds are usually reversed in order to decrease the positional advantage in matches between two players of similar skill. Therefore, the strategy employed tends to be vastly different from a multi-handed poker game. Since only two players take part in the hand, the chance of having the best hand is much higher than in a multi-handed game. 

Here comes the first strategy:


Stay Aggressive

Aggression is an important part of any form of poker, but with heads-up it's critical. You're in the blinds every hand and hence will have to play LOTS of hands - in some cases 100% of the hands you are dealt.

READ ALSO: What is the Best Poker Playing Style: Aggressive, Passive, Tight, Loose?

When you're playing heads-up, you only have to control one other player. If you're the aggressor in most of all hands dealt, eventually the other player will give in and let you be the overall aggressor in the match.

If you buy-in for $200 for a $1/$2 heads-up match and fold every hand, you will lose half your stack in just 66 hands. In a full ring game, you would have lost $18-$21.

Aside from saving yourself from getting blinded out there are many strategic advantages to playing an aggressive game heads-up. Every aspect of a heads-up game that is covered in what follows is related both directly and indirectly to aggression.

If you pair two players of equal poker skill, the more aggressive of the two will win more sessions in the long run.

Adjusting To Your Opponents

Another key skill in heads up poker is the ability to adjust to your opponent and exploit them. A winning player's heads up poker strategy consists of a malleable game plan ready to go from the onset.

What if the person you're playing against has taken control and is the aggressor? You have two choices to deal with someone taking control of the match:

  • out-aggro them

If you have the read that your opponent is playing a strictly aggro game you have to deduce if the player is willing to back down from a show of greater aggression or not.

  • become a calling station

A calling station is someone who consistently calls bets and rarely (if ever) raises, regardless of the strength of his or her hand. The reason why someone acts like a calling station is that he or she is unable to get a read therefore won’t fold in the face of certain defeat knowing the only two cards they hold.

It’s a pejorative description since it’s always a bad thing at a full table, but in the case of heads-up poker, being a calling station can be a very strong, advanced strategy to deal with an aggressor.

If you can put the other player on a hand and can figure out the odds of that hand versus yours, including letting them see fourth and fifth street, then you can defeat them by calling.

Strategy to Beat a TAG Opponent: 3 Betting

Since you are always in the blinds, it is very important to defend your blind. Part of the HU strategy to defend frequently from the big blind included 3 betting a lot.

READ ALSO: What is 3-Bet? An Ultimate Guide of When and How Much to 3-Bet

A typical strategy might include a mix of:

  • weaker suited hands,
  • premium hands,
  • a mix of suited connectors mostly for board coverage protection.

All at a frequency.

This style makes it really tough for a 'TAG' type of opponent to get into a rhythm as it keeps them constantly under pressure. Their likely response is to attempt to steal less, which has the profitable result of allowing for more walks from the big blind.

Strategy to Beat a Loose Opponent

Loose opponents allow you to be more patient with your offense. Reducing your bluffs whilst increasing your value bets - since your opponent will be doing more calling. 

You can 3 bet wider for value if they aren't folding to reraises preflop. Proceed post-flop by C-betting (READ ALSO: Continuation Bet Explained | How to Make C-Bets in Poker?) less but look for 'thinner' value. Especially on the later streets when you have more accurately identified your opponent’s range.

Floating out of position which works well against tighter opponents, should be used carefully. However loose opponents often call the river with a wide range. So, bluffing in a lot of spots can be a futile play. Stick to solid holdings and contest the pot more aggressively in position.

Positional advantage offers you the opportunity to take more free cards, value bet confidently, and fire small ball bluffs. Remembers a loose opponent’s range will often be wide, so timely bluffs should be an important part of your strategy. 

Attack when their range consists of numerous weak holdings, and the board heavily favors your range. Don't push the aggression but rather look for boards that develop favorably when firing multiple bullet bluffs. Moves like this can be quite risky against a loose opponent.

Summary: Strategical Adjustment is King

Never forget to change your methodology midstream. Implement a mix of open raising from the small blind, conservative checking through the flop and using a three big blind pre-flop raise. Determining if your opponent is an aggressive bulldozer or a tight conservative will allow you to implement any of the strategies above in heads-up poker.

Starting with preflop. Raising more on the button and defending more aggressively from the big blind. Setting the tempo of the match, you will keep your opponent under pressure and will win the majority of the pots.


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