How To Beat The Short Stack In Heads-Up Poker



Silver Level
Apr 24, 2005
Total posts
This is from a news letter I get every now and then, thought I would share with everyone..

Have you ever been in a heads-up poker match and
realized just how much DIFFERENT one-on-one poker
is from "regular" poker?

Most players learn strategies for winning no-limit
Texas Holdem when there are 4... 6... 8... or 12
players at the table.

Not 2.

Yet, you can't win a game or a tournament without
MASTERING heads-up play. In fact, heads-up play
is perhaps the MOST IMPORTANT aspect of no-limit
Holdem... and here's why:

If you can't win at heads-up poker, you'll never
come in first place.


And I don't know about you, but I play to WIN. Not
to come in second place.

Most players... when they make it to a heads-up
match... are COMPLETELY CLUELESS and don't know
what to do. Especially when it comes to DEFENDING
a chip lead.

Why is that?

I think there are three main reasons...

1. Most players only make it to a heads-up match
once in awhile.... so they have very little
EXPERIENCE playing poker one-on-one.

2. The strategies for starting hands, odds, tells,
and betting are so RADICALLY DIFFERENT for
heads-up poker versus-- say, at an 8-man table--
that most players don't have the KNOWLEDGE needed.

3. Most players don't get to watch and study poker
GREATS play heads-up Holdem, because even the
greats will only make it to a heads-up match once
in awhile.

With that said, let me share with you a rather
EMBARRASSING story of how I got "schooled" in a
heads-up match earlier in my poker career...

I had fought my way through a 100-man tournament,
and found myself heads-up with someone named

Brandon was (and is) a very skilled poker player
who loves to push the action... but at the time, I
wasn't intimidated by him. Because I thought I had
this baby in the bag...

You see, I had been catching monster after monster
in this tournament, and I had JUST finished
knocking out two players at once with trip kings.

My chip lead was HUGE. 10 to 1 over Brandon,

I was on a roll.

I had over $100,000 in chips, versus Brandon's
$10,000, with the blinds at $500/$1000.

This thing is OVER, right?

The first hand I looked at was Q,9 while I was
small blind. I limped in, and the action went to

"All in," he said.

I folded.

I didn't want to give him the chance to double up.

The next hand was K,4 offsuit. Once again, Brandon
went all-in.

I folded again, and Brandon raked in more blinds.

The next hand I was dealt was A,4. Brandon goes
all-in AGAIN.

This time, I called.

He threw over pocket 4's. The flop, turn, and
river come out:


So I didn't hit my ace, and Brandon doubled up.

By this time, he was sitting on $24,000 in chips,
and I was at $86,000.

The next few hands played out... and Brandon
continued to go all-in time after time... and I
continued to fold hands like K,7, Q,9, J,8, and so

I just didn't want to risk doubling him up AGAIN
with such "mediocre" hands.

But before you knew it... it didn't matter.

Because I'd let Brandon right back into the game.
He had taken about 10 straight pots from me...

I was frustrated as all hell, and went on tilt.
As you probably guessed, I blew the rest of my
chip lead and lost the match.

Honestly, I think this CHOKE should go down in the
history books right next to the Yankees versus Red
Sox in the 2004 ALCS.

Just writing this newsletter makes me SICK to my

Anyway, what's REALLY IMPORTANT is what I did
AFTER I lost that tournament.

I called up my buddy Drew... and I told him he was
going to come over and play in me $20 heads-up

I think Drew could hear the frustration (and
DESPERATION) in my voice... so he came right over.

We started playing at 7 P.m. and didn't finish
until well after 5 A.M. in the morning. We
completed OVER 50 GAMES THAT NIGHT...

Now let me tell you, I wouldn't trade that night
for ANY other experience in my poker career.

It changed EVERYTHING for me.

And here's why:

Because I crammed in YEARS of heads-up experience
into that one night...

I learned how to play with a big chip lead... how
to play when I was short-stacked... how to "lean"
on my opponent with a small chip lead... and so on
and so on.

And since then, I've done this same exercise with
TONS of other poker players... to keep my skills
FRESH and to master the techniques needed to win
against different playing styles.

When I was up against Brandon in that tournament,
I had made a TON of mistakes.

You see, when you have a big chip lead in heads-up
action, the first secret is YOU MUST ATTACK.

To get a perspective on this, think about how you
play when you're the SHORT STACK...

You're prepared to go all-in as soon as possible,

Well, you must use this to your ADVANTAGE when
you're the big stack, and PUT YOUR OPPONENT ALL-IN
right away... rather than the other way around.

When you have a big chip lead, YOU must be the one
to create "coin-toss" situations... and fast.

A coin-toss situation is when both players have
virtually equal odds... and the winning hand is
determined by whatever the flop, turn, and river
cards are.

In heads-up poker, any starting hand with a FACE
CARD is playable. Or any pocket pair. It's that

If you've got a big chip lead on your opponent and
he CHECKS or LIMPS-IN (calls the blinds), then you
should IMMEDIATELY put him all-in.

He wouldn't be checking or limping-in if he had

If he folds, you've stolen the blinds from him,
which is crucial. If he calls, you've created a
"coin-toss" situation.

Odds are you'll win at least one out of every two
coin toss situations. Or at the very least, you'll
win one out of three.

Here's a basic summary of the "rules" you should
follow when playing heads-up poker with a huge
chip lead. When I say "huge", I'm talking about
10 to 1 or more...

Of course, you won't START with a 10:1 chip lead
very often (like I did against Brandon), but you
will frequently BECOME the 10:1 chip leader in a
heads-up match if you're a skilled player.

And that's the exact moment when you MUST PULL THE

If you don't, the chip stacks can quickly even out
again and you may lose your chance forever.

Anyway... here are the RULES you should follow:

1. Any starting hand with a face card or any pocket
pair is good.

2. You should either FOLD or go ALL-IN every time.
Nothing else.

3. Force COIN-TOSS situations... In other words,
leverage the 50/50 ODDS as much as possible. Do
this two or three times and you will almost always
win the match.

4. If you're playing against a tight player, it
will be even easier. Keep going all-in on just
about every hand and let the blinds eat him to

Read and re-read those four principles and you'll
be prepared the next time you make it to a
heads-up match.

In the meantime, you should IMMEDIATELY do two

1. Call a friend or poker buddy and invite him
over to play you heads-up. Put $5 or even just $1
on each game... it doesn't matter.

The point is to play game after game after game
in a heads-up setting. Play for as long as you
possibly can.

When you're done, call a different friend and do
the same thing again. And then do it again next
week. And keep doing this over and over...

Trust me, your poker skills will SKYROCKET when
you follow this simple exercise.

2. Okay, that's all for today. I'll talk to you again


Rising Star
Bronze Level
Aug 18, 2005
Total posts
I myself just try to be overly aggresive in heads up with a small stack. If they bet big or go all in, I generally fold unless I have a big hand. Then everytime I have something good I make them make a decision for all their chips. I will usually catch them calling with a poor hand or going all in with an inferior hand.


Silver Level
May 20, 2005
Total posts
It's not every day soembody posts soemthign insightful and useful. Thnaks for the info! :congrats:


Silver Level
May 16, 2005
Total posts
Execellent advice, I've been looking for something like this for months. Very useful