|Posté le: Sam 17 Oct - 11:23 (2009) Sujet du message: Heads Up (part 1)
|Competition is a complex enterprise. And those complexities are magnified significantly when we are playing on a team, competing together to beat an opponent. Baseball, football, hockey and other games require us to formulate strategies with our teammates in order to win. We win as a team, and we lose as a team. In these games, it’s rare we get to face off against an opponent one on one, mono y mono.
There are, though, exceptions—situations (such as penalty shots) when it’s just us against one other person; a brief, intense face-off that often determines the outcome of the game. It’s instances like these where we either push ourselves to excel, or falter, intimidated lacking confidence. But if we push ourselves to both play our best and manipulate our opponent, forcing them to play the way want them to, any opponent—even if they are “better” than us—can be beaten.
Heads-up, no-limit poker follows the same principle. Any opponent can be beaten, as long as you employ standard strategies, develop an understanding of your opponent’s game and know when to switch gears so that you can exploit both his or her weaknesses and strengths. In this three-part article, I’m going to give you some basic heads-up, no-limit poker strategies, advanced strategies and show you how any style of player, when manipulated, can be beaten.
Aggression and playing with position
In short-handed and max no-limit games, position often determines how we play our starting hands, and how we react to situations on the flop and post-flop. Therefore, a small pocket pair is usually a bad raising hand under the gun in ring games. Heads-up is different. Aggression in heads-up, no-limit poker is one the most important components in winning. In other words, leave your tight image at the door when playing heads-up.
Early in the game, when you have the button and the small blind, and when you’re getting a feel for your opponent’s style, you should be raising with almost any two cards. (I usually fold 9/3, 8/3, 10/2/, J/2, and the like unless, however, they are suited.) Against tight players, any two cards should designate a raise. Never limp in on the button. You want to punish your opponent’s tight image, and force them to play marginal hands. If they miss the flop, chances are they’ll check. If you too have missed the flop entirely, chances are he or she will fold to a pot-sized bet. And if they actually have a hand, chances are they’ll re-raise you pre-flop. Let’s take a look at an example of this situation.
Say the blinds are $1/2. You have the button and you raise to $6 with 4/5 of hearts. Your opponent, who has played the last 15 hands tight, re-raises to $18. He or she probably has A/K, A/Q or a pocket pair bigger than fives. A call would be the best move here. You have position and if the right flop comes, you’re going to win a lot of money.
Say the flop is A 10 7, with two hearts. If your opponent leads out, he or she probably has an ace with a good kicker, or maybe KK or QQ, in which case a lead-out bet would be a tester bet, them trying to get an idea to where you are at. If you call and they do have a pocket pair below the Ace, he or she will likely check the turn, fearing you have an ace. Either way, you’re drawing. If your heart comes on the turn, you should have the best hand. If he or she bets again, here is where you raise big and take either take it down or take their money. Aggression will pay off when you play mediocre starting hands and call large pre-flop raises.
Let’s look at another example against an opponent who has an aggressive image like yours. Say the blinds are $1/2. You have the button and, this time, you have AA, a monster starting hand. You’ve been raising your opponent nearly every hand and you can tell he or she is growing frustrated. You raise to $6, like you have been the last 15 hands while you’ve had position and, this time, they re-raise to $18. A re-raise would be the incorrect move here, as you would essentially be telling your opponent that, this time, you have a monster. You smooth call. The flop comes J 7 2 rainbow, a perfect flop for you. Your tired and frustrated opponent, probably holding a worse pocket pair (maybe KK, QQ, or 10s) is going to lose a lot of money. Why? Because you’ve been aggressive, and he or she has grown frustrated. This is the perfect opportunity to sit back and watch them self-implode by letting them do all the betting.
Now, this type of aggression will aggravate your opponent, especially if he or she keeps missing flops. Therefore, a check-raise to your flop bet should usually raise a red flag that you’re probably behind in the hand. However, if you have a big hand, say, an over pair to his or her top pair, you’re probably going to get all their chips with a re-raise or a smooth call followed by an all-in. This is where previous aggression pays off.
When you’re aggressive, you control the action; you determine the direction of the hands; you decide if you’re ahead or behind; and you, with a little luck, decide who wins.
Daniel Negreanu once observed that the key to Stu Ungar’s success (Ungar was the winner of the Main Event in 1980, ’81 and ’97) was that he controlled the pots he was in. In other words, the action was determined by Ungar. To become a winning heads-up, no limit poker player, you want the same edge.
Playing out of position
Playing out of position in heads-up, no limit is tricky. Tight players will limp-in on nearly every hand. The benefit of this is that when they raise, it’s obvious they have a hand. Thus, a Q/4 suited is probably not a good hand to call with. However, if your tight-playing opponent limps, a raise with that Q/4 suited might be a good move.
Now, the key to gaining an edge over aggressive players when you have the big blind is to re-raise often. Make them believe that you’re catching good cards and, more importantly, send a message that you refuse to be bullied. Re-raise even if you have marginal hands, such as Q/J, K/10 or A/x. If you hit a pair on the board, even if it’s bottom pair, lead out with a large bet. Your opponent will think you have a big hand.
This strategy will also force your opponent to rethink his or her strategy against you. It will get them folding a lot more, limping in with poor hands and calling bad re-raises. Whenever your opponent isn’t playing the game he or she is used to, it’s inevitable they’ll make mistakes. And these mistakes will likely lead to profit for you.
Let’s look at an example of playing out of position against an aggressive player. Say you’re dealt Q/J suited and your opponent raises three times the big blind, like he or she has the past eight times. You re-raise and he calls. The flop comes A 10 2. You pick up an inside straight draw, but you’ve missed. A lead-out bet here would be the appropriate move. You represent you have the ace. If he calls, he doesn’t believe you (maybe he has a pocket pair like KK or 9s. If he raises, you have a tough decision to make. But if he folds, then you’ve shown him you refuse to be bullied. (I might even show my bluff here. This would prove that you’re capable of bluffing him. And this bluff would pay dividends in the future when you do the exact same thing but with a big hand, such as top pair/top kicker.)
Now, let’s look at an example against a tight player. Say your opponent limps in. You have 2/4 suited, and you raise to 3 times the big blind. Your tight-playing opponent calls. The flop comes A 2 4. You have two pair. You check. He bets the pot. It’s obvious he has an ace here. A check raise will net you a lot of chips.
Aggression is essential in heads-up, no-limit poker. As I stated earlier, this allows you to create the action and determine where it goes. All bets lead to you. However, there are always times in a match when it’s necessary to switch gears. Becoming a defensive player, and utilizing other advanced strategies, will be the subject of my next article on winning at heads-up, no-limit poker.