Thursday, February 03, 2005

Your Game: Aggression on the Button

Please read “Your Game: Position” before you read this post. The tactics explained below are a product how crucial position is in heads up play. This post is divided up into two parts: “On the Button” and “Out of Position.” (Disclaimer: The only heads up blind structure I will discuss is like that found on Ultimatebet. This is where the button is the small-blind as well as first to act pre-flop. The out of position player starts the hand as the big blind and acts after the button pre-flop, but then must act first the rest of the hand.) These two parts will describe a solid heads up procedural game plan. However it is important to realize that changes should be made according to your opponent.

On the Button
Forget everything you learned about being tight in ring games. If you don’t get aggressive on the button, and I mean AGGRESSIVE, you won’t be a successful heads up player. What do I mean by aggressive? I mean you should be raising pre-flop with any pairs (ex. AA-22), any two big cards (AK-JT), any connected cards (AK-23), and even with any two gap suited cards (ex. Jh8h). How much should you raise? It depends both on your opponent and what you feel comfortable doing. However it should either be pot or min. Also, once you decide on an amount you should keep it consistent. Don’t raise pot with AA but min with 23 as most players will pick up on it.
If your opponent calls you should bet anywhere from 50 to 100 percent of the pot on the flop more than half the time. If you are unsure when to bet, do it 1) anytime you hit the flop 2) anytime you have a draw including a gut-shot straight draw, 3) anytime you have 2 over cards, 4) or anytime you think your opponent didn’t hit (ex. flop comes AJK and your opponent usually re-raises you pre-flop with big cards). While this is a general rule, don’t bet if you think your opponent likely hit or if you if you have a bad feeling (a lot of the moves I make at the table come from feel, don’t be afraid to trust your gut.)
You will probably pick up most pots after your bet on the flop but if you get called, play the rest of the hand out according to your hand strength (ex. call re-raises only if you are getting pot odds or think you have the best hand). If you pick up a read on your opponent, bluffs are also very effective since you have position. However, if you bluff, bet pot. You want to make your opponent think twice about calling your river bet with second pair.
A quick note about hand strength in heads up compared to a ten person ring game. Obviously everything goes up in value when you are playing heads up but not in big pots! Make sure if you go all in you put your opponent on a hand just like in a full ring game. For example, if you hold QJ and the flop comes TTJ do you really think your opponent would call an all in with something that couldn’t beat QJ? Don’t overvalue two low pairs and especially don’t overvalue one pair!

Out of Position
Be careful! If you break even on the hands you are out of position, consider it a win. If the rule when on the button pre-flop is raise instead of call, out of position the rule is call or fold instead of raise. Immediately start noting what type of hands your opponent is raising with on the button and adjust accordingly. For example, if your opponent only raises pre-flop one out of thirty hands on the button, you can safely fold JT. Now while you should call instead of raise with hands like low pairs, Ax, and KJ or worse, you should consider re-raising with anything stronger. While there is discretion in the amount of your pre-flop raise on the button, if you raise pre-flop out of position it must always be pot! You are hoping this bet doesn’t get called but if it does try to play a small pot the rest of the way unless your hand is huge.
As far as playing a monster in a raised pot on the flop, there are two ways to go about it. One if you think your opponent has an over pair you can safely bet out. This way you will disguise your strength and hope your opponent re-raises you pot committing himself. The other is of course to check raise. Either way I advise trying to get your money in on the flop out of position.
The last point I will talk about is hitting a big hand in an un-raised pot. For example let’s say you flop a set or two pair. Again I recommend playing this hand fast. I love to check raise pot here. Put your opponent to the test early. Let me tell you from experience that there is nothing worse than slow-playing a big hand out of position only to have your opponent suck you out on the river. Get your money in when you have the best of it!

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