People who are new to heads up may think heads up cash games are some sort of mystic art or a completely different form of poker. That couldn’t be further from the case. The same principals and theories that apply in regular ring games also apply in heads up cash games. The only difference is that ranges are wider and because of that there are a lot is a lot more marginal decisions, increasing short term variance. In the following article I will outline the most important principals of heads up cash game poker play.
As in all forms of online poker, position is very important, you will get dealt the button every other hand so you wont have to wait long to gain position. Many players advocate raising 100% of buttons, personally I usually don’t play that many hands and often fold the worst hands like 72o and 93o type hands. This is just a personal preference, many good winning players open anywhere from between about 65% of buttons all the way upto 100% of buttons. To tell the truth, my preflop raising percentage is very situational so I dont have any hard and fast rules. You will of course want to adjust to raising more hands on the button against people who are playing tight. (IE they are not 3-betting a ton and are not calling out of position much) Against these players you can open 100% of your hands very profitably. Inversely, against people who are 3-betting alot and calling with a good range from the BB, you may want to consider tightening up slightly to reduce the inevitable variance wars.
Also, as stacks get deeper the value of position increases, at 200+ BB deep I strongly believe you should be opening 100% of buttons against almost all opponents.
I think anything from minraising the button to 4xing the button can be an effective poker strategy. Against people who 3-bet a lot and are playing a really aggressive game from the small blind, minraising the button is almost always the best strategy. What this does is give you the option to call more 3-bets in position since the pot to stack ratio is smaller. IE if you 3x and your opponent makes it 11x, you have to fold with more hands than if u make it 2x and your opponent makes it 7-8x.
Against people who are 3-betting a very small amount you may want to consider 3xing the button. The reason for this is because you no longer have to worry about getting 3-bet so much and want to maximise your positional value. You can take this even further and when playing against loose passive fish, you might even want to consider 4xing the button.
Because you and your opponents are less likely to make a strong hand each hand you play (IE you will be playing weaker hands that connect to the board less often compared to say a 6-max range) the value of aggression and the initiative goes up. Because of that the power and value of semibluffing goes up. Now two overcards are a draw, a gutshot is a barrelable draw and a flush draw or open ended straight draw are often a mandatory double barrels. The reason you can play so aggressive against most opponents is because you will have more fold equity because your opponent will not often have a strong enough hand to call 3 big bets on the flop, turn and river.
When you 3-bet in a heads up cash game, you will always be out of position. Because of that you will frequently want to 3-bet hands that do well against your opponents calling range. If your opponent is always calling a 3-bet with hands like QT and QJ, QK becomes a mandatory 3-bet. Depending on your opponents tendencies and the image you want to convey, a 3-betting percentage of 5-20% should be considered ok. Against players who are likely to call your 3-bet wide and check fold a lot of flops, you want to 3-betting a lot. Against people who are calling a decent amount and also 4-betting a decent amount you may want to reduce your 3-betting percentage.
In heads up poker play adjusting to your opponents tendencies is what decides who is most likely to be a winner. Sometimes uber aggressive players luck box themselves into playing the optimal strategy against that individual opponent, however, insane aggression isnt always the way to go.
Against insanely aggressive players you will want to play tighter preflop style and consider minraising. You may also want to consider checking back some valuebetting hands on wet flops to avoid getting checkraised and having to lay down your weak/medium strength hand.
Against aggressive fish who frequently bet pot or overbet the pot, or just do insanely stupid or aggressive moves. You want stop bluffing them, tighten up your ranges, let them take the small pots and make a strong enough hand to either bluffcatch them or get them to felt a weak hand preflop or on the flop.
Against passive fish, you just want to pound on them relentlessly, the majority of your winrate will come from raising preflop, continuation betting and taking down the dead money. Its against the passive fish’s nature to fight back so if they do, don’t level yourself into thinking they are playing back at your aggression, they probably have a good hand. Consider making big folds against passive opponents.
Against good aggressive opponents you may want to find a new table. There are thousands of heads up tables across online poker sites, its not hard to find a weak opponent if your playing low stakes, so there is no need for you to constantly play professionals like me. More on playing aggressive regulars in future articles!