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Heads Up Cash Game Strategy

Heads up poker is not for the faint of heart. The rapid-fire progression of the game is enough to make even the most cold-blooded poker player slow down and take a breather.  The heads up format is quickly becoming a favorite of many online players as the availability of heads up tables increases at sites like Poker Stars. The flock of players rushing to these tables is also a reflection of the difficulty in finding these types of games live. So what changes do you make to your game to be a winning heads up player?

Toss the “Starting Hand Chart” Out the Window

The first concept you must grasp is that hand values go up exponentially when playing heads up poker. Regardless of whether it’s a cash game or a tournament, your starting hand values must shift accordingly. Otherwise you run the risk of simply being blinded to death and last time we checked, the name of the game in poker is P R O F I T. This doesn’t mean it’s time to call a re-raise with 4 9 off suit but it does mean that you shouldn’t worry about kickers if you’re holding a face card. Remember that the odds of your opponent holding a superior kicker heads up are very thin. In other words, if you’re holding an Ace – rag type hand there’s only two more aces left in the deck. The odds that your opponent is even holding an Ace are slim, that he’s got you out kicked even slimmer. Don’t plow ahead with reckless abandon either as any two cards can have you beat here. The prevailing theme should be play aggressive but not stupid in this spot.

Aggression Wins Pots

Following in the shadow of the logic above you should also play very aggressive pre-flop on the flop. Without fail you should continuation bet on the flop if you raised first before the flop. If your opponent comes over the top or smooth calls then you must use you own judgement based on your holding and the texture of the flop (it goes without saying that reads are important as well). So the key here is to be aggressive but not to the point of donking off your chips to a player holding a dominating hand.

Raising in Heads Up Play

The reason you raise in a heads up match is more to get an opponent off a draw or weak hand. This runs somewhat contrary to what you’d do in a full ring game where you raise to isolate opponents. There’s no opponent to isolate because you’re already heads up so the object here is to gain information. If you raise holding pocket Jacks and the opponent smooth calls, you must rely on past experience to put them on a range of hands. If he’s been re-popping it to you when he’s holding any Ace, then you may want to put them to the test and raise all-in at this point. Even if you get a call and they’re holding a weak Ace, they’re drawing pretty thin here. Again, it’s high risk – high reward when playing heads up so you must go into this without fear.

Differences Versus Tournament Heads Up Play

Remember that in a cash game as opposed to a tournament, you can always re-buy. There’s no definitive end to the match unless one of you chooses to leave so if your bankroll can take the hits, adjust your game accordingly. The blinds aren’t changing either so there’s no clock or time limit forcing you to change the way you play the game. Remember, controlled aggression is the door to victory here so change gears, keep them guessing, even lose a pot with a weak pair and show it. Giving off this misinformation can set up your opponent for a big hit later in the match. In the world of heads up cash game poker, that small pot you lost may well lead to a monster pot later that more than makes up for it.

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