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Playing Heads-Up No-Limit Hold’em

Heads-up NL is less about the cards that you hold, and more about the tendencies of your opponents and their betting patterns.

In the beginning of a heads-up NL game it is good to try and get a read on how your opponent plays. Ask yourself how aggressive he is. How frequently is he willing to bluff? Is he willing to call you down with second pair? With Ace-High?

Once you have established his general style of play you can start to use it against him. For instance, if he is a calling station, you need to decide if he is just calling flop bets and folding on the turn. This will allow you to keep picking up pots even when you don't have a hand. In heads-up play, big hands are rare. You must take advantage of any value that you can. Doing things like betting second pair on the river when you think your opponent will call you down with ace high is a good way to get value out of your hands.

If an opponent is overly aggressive, you can use it against him as well. These types of players will usually hang themselves. If the blinds are low enough you can wait on a hand and let them bet it for you. It can be beneficial to play possum against an extremely aggressive player, because most of these players will fold when you bet. They will pick up every single pot that you don't have a hand, and in heads-up play you are not going to have a hand most of the time.

On the other hand if you are up against a tight opponent you should become the overly aggressive player. One of the biggest mistakes beginning players make when playing heads-up, is that they fold too much. They may be used to ring games where you have to wait for a good hand before playing, because there are eight or nine other players that you have to beat. In heads up play you have to get involved with many hands that would be folded in a ring game. If you fold too much the blinds will eat up your stack, and a good player will take advantage of it. You should be taking advantage of opponents will fold too much by picking up all of the small pots and pounding them with constant bets.

When you are playing the aggressive role however, you shouldn't be playing any big pots without a big hand. When your opponent is tight, and they are willing to play a big pot, chances are they have the nuts, or something close to it. When they show strength you can confidently fold all but the best of hands.

Once you start to gain a psychological edge over your opponents, they will inevitably start making mistakes. If you dictate the action, and the bet sizing, you force your opponents to start playing your game. Since they will not be used to this because you will have taken them out of their comfort zone, you can then start to take advantage of their weaknesses.

Being successful at heads-up NL takes many skills and a lot of experience. If you know your opponent, you can beat him, so from the time the first hand is dealt you should be scrutinizing his play. Try to figure out why he does what he does because chances are he will do it again. By knowing your opponents and formulating a correct strategy to defeat them, you will be able to control the game, and be a successful heads-up player.