Heads Up Sit and Go (SNG) Poker
- Written by the CardsChat Editorial Team
Heads up sit and go (SNG) tournaments are played with two players, and begin as soon as both players have registered. As with all heads up Texas Hold’em games, the small blind is posted by the player on the button, who acts first pre-flop and last on all post-flop streets.
Heads up poker play, particularly in a tournament format, requires various adjustments to several different aspects of your game. If this kind of short-handed battle of wits appeals to you, read on to learn how to make those adjustments and adopt a winning heads up sit and go poker strategy.
HU SNG Poker – Aggression and Hand Selection
The key factor in a successful heads up poker strategy is undoubtedly aggression. This is a product of the low number of players in the game.
Consider a full 10-handed table: the blinds hit you twice every 10 hands and you can probably do well playing a tight-aggressive style, taking few risks until the rising blinds start to seriously shrink your stack. Of course, opposing players will catch on to your super-tight style, so you have to switch it up every so often, but essentially you are able to largely focus on playing only premium hands if that’s your chosen approach.
Now consider a 6-handed game: the blinds hit you more frequently – twice every 6 hands now – and you need to loosen your starting hand requirements to make up for it. Playing a very tight style won’t be enough anymore, since you won’t be hitting those premium hands often enough to counter the blinds hitting you at an increased rate. On top of that, if you are playing attentive players, they should soon catch on to the fact that you’re playing premium hands only, and you’ll have an even harder time getting paid off. You have to widen your pre-flop hand selection to include lesser hands to make up for paying the blinds so often.
Now let’s think about heads up play, with only two players at a table: you should be playing many if not most of the hands dealt to you. You will be contributing at least a small blind to every pot, and to make up for that you’ll have to loosen your starting hand requirements even more than at a 6-Max table.
You should not just be limping a lot more, because by raising with most of your hands you will be putting extra pressure on your opponent and increasing the chances of winning the blinds and antes.
In a typical heads up sit and go tournament, you should be:
- Open-raising or limping nearly all of your buttons
- Raising with any face card
- Raising with any pair
- Calling with nearly everything else
- Re-raising with premium hands and medium pairs
Of course, every hand is unique, and no rule will necessarily apply to every situation. If you’re raised by an absolute rock of a player, then you might reconsider re-raising with 7-7, for example, as you will likely be facing an even stronger hand. You will also have to mix your play up occasionally to keep your opponents guessing, such as occasionally limping with a strong hand or raising with a weaker one.
Since most of the time neither player will even pair the flop or really hit the board, post-flop aggression is also important. Middle and bottom pairs are often enough to win a hand, and top pair is often enough to stack off with. Any hand better than top pair should be treated like gold, and you should try to get as much money in the middle with it as possible.
Pre-flop, the value of certain hands also changes. Suited connectors and small suited cards, ideal for multi-way, limped pots which give good drawing poker odds, lose a lot of their value. The actual card ranks should have more of an impact on your decision than the fact that the cards are suited or not. The value of pairs also increases.
Pot Odds in Heads Up Play
Going by pot odds alone, it is incorrect to fold your small blind pre-flop. Of course, pot odds are not everything, and this advice holds true only if your opponent has not been consistently raising you when you limp from the small-blind. As an example, let’s consider this sit and go situation:
With the blinds at $100/$200 and a $25 ante, the pot starts at $100 + $200 + $25 + $25 = $350.
With you in the small blind and first to act, it’s $100 to call into a $350 pot, giving you 3.5:1 pot odds. Those odds are good enough to call with any hand, even with a lowly 3-2 offsuit. In a tournament with no antes, you’d be getting 3:1 which is still good enough to call; so based on the pot odds alone, it is never correct to fold pre-flop.
But poker is never that simple. If you’ve noticed that your opponent likes to steal, and you have been raised several times after limping from the small blind, then you have to adjust your play. You can no longer limp with any two cards, and should dump the lesser hands. You’ll have to use your judgment as to the range of hands you can limp with based on how aggressive your opponent is being.
Here’s a pot odds chart to keep in mind. This can be very helpful when playing after the flop to quickly figure your odds of hitting your hand. Of course, you also need to consider your opponent’s hand in every situation. The Poker Odds Calculator is another great tool for trying different combinations and figuring out how each affects your expected value in the hand.
|Number of Outs
|% of hitting on either Turn or River
|4 (e.g. inside straight draw)
|6 (e.g. two overcards)
|8 (e.g. open ended straight draw)
|9 (e.g. flush draw)
|12 (e.g. flush draw + inside straight draw)
|15 (e.g. straight flush draw)
Reads in HU Sit and Go’s
Getting a read on your opponent is much more valuable heads up, since you’ll be playing them in every hand. Getting solid notes such as “over-bet pot with weak hand”, “folds to 4+ BB raise” or “bet pot when checked to multiple times” will give you a huge edge in a game, assuming your opponent isn’t observant to the same degree as you are.
Pay close attention, and adjust your game accordingly. Since your opponents won’t be completely unobservant, you should try to switch your game up and use your past play to your advantage. This will help to eliminate recognizable patterns in your game.
For example, let’s say you’ve been raising constantly from the small blind/button and you can tell you’ve put your opponent on tilt, all but ready to shove what’s remaining of their chips in the middle. You’re on the small blind again, and look down to find A-A staring right back at you. Here would be a perfect situation to raise it up just like you’ve done earlier in the game, hoping they have a smaller pair or something like K-J with which they may feel like taking a stand.
As with all forms of poker, position should also be a huge factor in your decisions when playing heads up. With position on a player, you have the advantage of seeing their moves before you make your own. Making decisions with the benefit of extra information gives players with position a huge advantage.
In heads up play, the big blind is out of position for the whole hand, aside from pre-flop. If the pot odds for limping from the small blind were somehow insufficient to call, it would probably still be theoretically correct to limp because of the positional advantage.
Bet Sizing in Heads Up SNG Play
This advantage also affects how much you should be betting pre-flop. At a full table, the normal opening raise is often to around 3-5 big-blinds. There is usually dead money in the pot from blinds, antes and possible limpers, and so your raise has to be big enough not to give favorable odds to a potential caller. Coupled with the number of players, and therefore number of possible hands that could beat you should you let them see a cheap flop, a bigger raise to isolate or win the pot immediately is the best option.
In contrast to the above full-table example, when heads up there is very little dead money in the pot and only one other player to worry about. This changes the size that the ideal button range should be, reducing it to around to 2.5-4 big blinds.
Given the pot size, that size of raise will be giving your opponent at best 2.33:1 odds, giving them more incentive to fold. You don’t exactly want a call while holding J-9 in the small blind, for example, and a min-raise (to 2 big blinds) is often going to be irresistible for your average online player, regardless of their holding.
With that said, your raise from the big blind should also be different to a full-table range, but in different ways and for different reasons. As discussed, you will have the disadvantage of being out of position the rest of the hand, so you’ll need to raise more pre-flop to counter that. Doing so will help ensure that you won’t have to make such difficult decisions on later streets: you want to either end the hand pre-flop, or with a solid continuation-bet on the flop should your opponent call your pre-flop bet.
A range of 3-5 big blinds on top of the already-posted blind is more suitable from the big blind in heads up play. A raise of that size gives your opponent at best 1.67:1 odds, poor enough to make up for your positional disadvantage, and will hopefully push out the weaker hands.
Of course, every opponent and situation is unique, and you may find yourself playing an opponent who is willing to cold-call 10 big blinds with regularity. Stay flexible and ready to adjust your strategy to fit the situation.
Great poker players excel in marginal situations, and heads up play is rich with them. Plenty of players approach heads up play without adjusting their game whatsoever, and because of this there is room for thinking players to profit in this quick, exciting form of poker.
To make a decent profit, you’ll need an ITM% (in the money) of somewhere over 50% (how much more depends on the tournament fees you pay). Heads Up SNGs can be very volatile and require an aggressive style, but with practice and study an ITM over 50% is definitely achievable – if you play your cards right.