Texas Hold’em Tournament – Playing Heads-Up Takes Nerve, Skill And Bluff Č 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 tournaments on his way to winning the World Series of Poker 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 a couple of bad hands and you’re still in front then go for it, like consider your chances for the hand before you commit your stack.
Playing to win is much easier when you’re heads-up because you can’t see what the other person is holding. You have to guess, and that’s a lot easier than trying to read your opponent. This is called “Kartupoker” because you’re attempting to convince your opponents that you have a better hand than you actually have. Sometimes this can backfire, but more often than not it will pay off.
One of the most difficult skills to master in poker is controlling your own emotions. It’s easy to let your opponent see you get excited, or angry, or try to act uninterested in a hand. If you’re unable to hold these emotions in check from the start you’re likely to end up either losing the hand, or exploding in anger after having the opportunity to actually catch some real cards. If you want to learn how to play heads-up properly it’s going to take a lot of time and practice. Play the game authentically, and you’ll soon be able to reraise your opponent without looking like a fool, or at least looking like a player who is trying to appear non-existent.
More and more players are beginning to understand “the holding them back strategy,” which involves making sure that you’re playing strong hands in position. You don’t want to be sending out weak hands that can get bluffed out of pots. Since you have fewer information to go on with out of position play, you may want to limit the hands you play out of position. The exception to this rule is when you’re within a few hands of a big stack, in which case they’re obviously in position and you’re just throwing money away.
The thing to remember about heads-up poker is that it’s often about the numbers, not the cards. If you have a target in mind for your opponent, good hand, and a weak one, that is usually a good formula for success. However, if you’re short stacked, you’re in trouble regardless of your cards. The fewer the number of opponents in the hand, the easier it is to win with a weak hand.
You’re going to get pushed around yourself as long as you play weak cards in position. Don’t be surprised to see high cards on the flop, because there’s a good chance your opponent has a big hand. The nuts calls you with bottom pair, and the flop is something like 5-8-10. Obviously you can’t afford to give away any information with middle pair, but if you’re playing for first place against a tight, aggressive player, that’s going to spell disaster.
If you can, play in the small blind. Stuck in the small blind with a short stack? No problem. Anything you can push in there will help, whether it’s a small or medium stack. You have little stack risk and can’t really afford to wait for the perfect hand. Once you get your hands, make sure you try to win the pot. It’s perfect if you bet your hand strong, like with a premium hand.