If you have read the first two posts on “Your Game,” you should understand both the importance of position as well as how to use it to your advantage. However, there are still a couple of things to clear up before shifting to the “Adapting to Others” segment of the Heads up Doctrine.
Every time you sit down to play heads up, you should go through the same process. A pro tennis player doesn’t just jump into a match and swing away; he will warm up, create a game plan, and maybe even review some film. Like tennis, the first few hands in heads up are useful to do three things: 1) establish your game, 2) adjust to the other player, 3) and combine the two to set up a huge hand. Make no mistake about it, no limit heads up is a thinking man’s game. The money is won or lost in a few big hands. That is not to say that the small hands aren’t important, they are. However, not for the reasons you might think. They are important not for the amount you win in them, but for setting up the big hand or the knockout blow.
Establishing you game
You want your opponent to think you are crazy, an idiot, and maybe even drunk. In short you want to piss him off. Do this by being aggressive on the button. If you have read “Your Game: Aggression on the Button,” you know how much and with what to raise with on the button. However, sometimes it might be smart to raise with even more trash early in a heads up match. After all, everyone knows how important first impressions are. As far as showing your hand when you don’t have to, I like to show the occasional bluff. Most pros never show hands, however heads up is often a very emotional game. When you show a bluff, you are giving away part of your game plan. However, if you know this in advance and can adjust, the chance to get your opponent on tilt early might outweigh any knowledge your opponent gets from seeing your cards. Raising with junk, winning the pot, and showing your cards early in a heads up match, might agitate your opponent into making a key mistake. (I’ve seen great heads up players be shown one bluff and tilt off thousands.)
You want to take control early in a match regardless of your cards but we aware of two things. First, don’t risk too many chips in an attempt at a bluff. Second, while you try to promote chaos, continually practice on being calm and detached. NEVER get emotional. Yea, easier said than done, but if you lose your cool at the table, you are also going to lose your stack. In short, make him tilt while you stay calm. The ultimate goal is to get your opponent to start playing back at you out of position.
Adjusting to the other player
From the very start of the heads up match you want to start noticing everything about your opponent. Some key questions to ask are: What does he raise on the button with? What does he raise out of position with? What does he re-raise with? How does he play draws? How does he play weak hands? How does he play monsters? How does he bluff? The “Adapting to Others” section will help you put names on players but the bottom line is every hand you play, there is something to learn about your opponent. As you establish your game, see how your opponent reacts.
Setting up a huge hand
When you know your opponent, you can set up a huge hand. Let me explain with a hand history.
I knew this opponent pretty well as I had played him a fair amount. From this experience, I had picked up on a key weakness. This player would call an over bet (a bet far above the amount in the pot), with a mediocre hand. Evidently this player believed an over bet was always a bluff because it looked like a bet that doesn’t want to be called. This player had also seen me use an over bet bluff before.
Player B: -- --
Polynikes: Ac 4h (Button)
Polynikes raises to $14.
Player B calls.
Flop (board: Qc 4d 2h):
Player B checks. Polynikes
bets $16. Player B calls.
Turn (board: Qc 4d 2h 8s):
Player B checks. Polynikes checks.
River (board: Qc 4d 2h 8s 4c):
Player B checks. Polynikes bets $325. Player B
Polynikes shows Ac 4h.
Polynikes has Ac 4h Qc 4d 4c: three fours.
Player B mucks cards.
(Player B has 7h Qh.)
$.50 is raked from a pot of $724.
Polynikes wins $723.50 with three fours.
First off all, I had been using aggression on the button. Here I raised pre-flop with a mediocre hand, partially hit the flop, and bet 2/3 of the pot. When he just called on the flop I was pretty certain I was beat and fully prepared to shut down. However, this player had been re-raising with monsters so I thought I had outs. I then checked on the turn. When I hit another 4 on the river, I could have value bet. However, because I had established my game and picked up on his weakness, this was a chance to use that knowledge to win a huge hand. I then made a ridiculous over bet, roughly 5 times the pot!
Every time you sit down to play heads up, do the same three things. First take control with your game. Second see how your opponent plays and reacts to your aggression. Finally combine to two to deliver a knockout blow. Don’t forget to say “Ship It!” when you do!