Heads-Up Cash Game Poker Strategy

  • Avatar for WSOP Winner Chris 'Fox' WallaceReviewed by  WSOP Winner Chris ‘Fox’ Wallace

When playing heads-up poker – that is to say, a poker game involving just two players – the same principals and theories that apply in larger games still apply. The big difference is that ranges are wider, leading to many more marginal decisions which increases short term variance.

Here we examine the most important principals of heads-up cash game poker play.

Position is Paramount

As in all forms of poker, position is very important. You will get dealt the button every other hand so you won’t have to wait long to gain position, and many players would advocate raising anywhere from 65%-100% of the time from the button.

This should be informed somewhat by your holdings – you may want to let go of the very worst hands you’re dealt – but more by the nature of your opponent: raise more hands against tight players, and tighten up a little against loose players who are more likely to raise you or call with a good range from the big blind.

Stack size also plays its part: as stacks get deeper the value of position increases, so at 200+ BBs deep you should generally be opening 100% of buttons against almost all opponents.

Vary Your Raise Sizing

When raising from the button, anything from a minimum raise up to 4x can be an effective heads-up poker strategy.

Against people who 3-bet frequently and are playing a really aggressive game from the big blind (remember: the button is the small blind when heads-up), min-raising from the button is almost always the best strategy. This gives you the option to call more 3-bets in position since the pot to stack ratio is smaller: for example, if you raise to 3x and your opponent makes it 11x, you have to fold more hands than if you’d min-raised to 2x and your opponent made it 7-8x, which you’ll be able to call more often.

Against people who are 3-betting infrequently, however, you may want to consider raising from the button to 3x. This is because you don’t need to worry about getting re-raised as often, so can work to maximize your positional advantage. You can take this even further when playing against loose-passive players, and consider raising to 4x from the button.

Ranges Are Wider and Its Harder to Make a Hand, So Aggression Is Key!

Because both players are less likely to make a strong hand, you will be playing many more weaker hands that connect to the board less often compared to, say a 6-max range. As a result, the value of aggression and taking the initiative goes up.

Heads-up, the power and value of semi-bluffing is increased; two overcards are a draw; a gutshot straight draw is worth betting; and a flush draw or open-ended straight draw can be bet aggressively. The reason you can play with such aggression against most opponents is because you will have more fold equity: your opponent will not often have a strong enough hand to call three big bets on the flop, turn and river.

3-Betting Is Always Out of Position

When you 3-bet pre-flop 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 opponent’s calling range. For example, if your opponent is always calling a 3-bet with hands like Q-T and Q-J, Q-K becomes a mandatory 3-bet.

Depending on your opponent’s tendencies and the image you want to convey, a 3-betting percentage of 5%-20% is generally appropriate. Against players who are likely to call your 3-bet wide then check-fold a lot of flops, you should be 3-betting more frequently. On the other hand, when facing a player who calls a lot of c-bets, or 4-bets a decent amount pre-flop, you may want to reduce your 3-betting percentage.

Adjust to Succeed in a Heads-Up Cash Game

In heads-up poker play adjusting to your opponent’s tendencies can give you a real edge.

  • Against highly aggressive players you should play a tighter pre-flop style and consider min-raising. You may also want to consider checking back some hands you might usually value-bet with, if the flop is wet, to avoid getting check-raised and having to lay down your weak/medium strength hand.
  • Against overly aggressive players/’maniacs’ who frequently make overbets or make bad, over-aggressive plays, you should stop trying to bluff them and tighten up your range. Let them take the small pots while you take the big ones when you make hands strong enough to either catch their bluffs or play back at them, getting them to fold pre-flop or on the flop.
  • Against passive players, don’t let up on the aggression. The majority of your profit will come from raising pre-flop, continuation betting and taking down the dead money. It’s against the passive player’s nature to fight back, so if they do they probably have a good hand. Don’t be afraid to make big folds against passive opponents if the signals are there.
  • Against good, aggressive opponents the best advice may be to find a new table. There are thousands of heads-up tables across online poker sites, it’s not hard to quickly find a weak opponent if you’re playing low stakes.

Improve your game further by checking out even more poker strategies or bring it back to basics with our guide on how to play poker.

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