You don’t often get to play live heads-up tournament in Michigan. Part of the challenge is getting enough people to play the format. Another challenge is having a room with enough room and dealers to handle such an event. I recently played at Cada’s Heads-Up tournament in Sterling Heights. It was a $60 buy-in, and the way that Cada’s got around the dealer issue was by having the players deal themselves for the first three rounds, and then providing dealers for the last two rounds. I don’t profess to be a heads-up specialist, but there is definitely a different strategy to be used when playing heads-up tournaments, and I thought I would touch on a few observations here.
First, position is a big advantage. You should be raising almost every time you have the button. I noticed a couple of my opponents folding or limping in to pots from the button, but once you realize that flop bets are so inconsequential in limped pots early on, and that a lot of flops are uncontested, it makes no sense to limp into pots in position unless you are trying to play tricky.
Second, playing tricky is a necessity. You can’t be predictable heads up. You shouldn’t try to be predictable any time, but it is a lot more noticeable when you don’t switch things up heads-up. You might want to lull your opponent into a false sense of security by playing straight forward the first few hands, and then check-raising light or slow playing semi-big hands in position. The key is that you will be playing almost every hand, and your opponent knows you could have anything, so betting patterns become more important than specific hand ranges.
Here is a hand that won me the first game of my first round match. My opponent raised their button, as they had been doing consistently (although not 100%), and I three-bet with QQ out of position. The flop was A-K-4. I continuation bet, and my opponent decided to call. He appeared weak, so it was surprising to me that he called. The turn was a queen. I checked expecting my opponent to check behind and allowing me to bomb the river, but my opponent bets small instead. I thought he had to have a strong hand or a total bluff to try to bet in that spot. So I go all-in, over betting the pot. I know that if he had aces or kings he would have re-raised pre-flop. If he had JT, there is very little likelihood that he would be calling on the flop with only a gut shot and two over cards already on the board. And there was a good chance that my all-in would get called here since he had a strong enough hand that he thought he should value bet on such a board. I didn’t think he would put me on JT after I 3-bet pre-flop, so I wanted him to think that I was just trying to represent the nuts. He called with two pair, and I faded an ace on the river for the win.
Eventually I ended up losing to my co-host, Gambit, in the second round. It was an unfortunate pairing so early on, but if I was going to lose to someone, I was happy it was him. He ended up making it to the finals and winning second place. In our match, I noticed that he was not only hitting hands, but playing then tricky, and when he was out of position, he was substituting aggression for position to give him an edge. If you haven’t tried heads-up play, I would recommend it. It is a different game than full-ring poker, but it allows for more creativity and strategy.