Playing Heads Up in NL Texas Hold em

Playing Heads Up Poker

When playing against a full table of opponents in NL Texas Hold em poker, a small pocket pair or even a hand like K8 doesn't seem to be a good starting hand. Hands like these aren't very good because you have 8 other players with 2 hole cards as well and more times than not, there are a much better hands out there. The rules drastically change when playing heads up, or 1 on 1. Hands that don't seem good when at a full table are killer hands when heads up.

When I first started playing heads up I folded A LOT, searching for big slick or a big pocket pair, letting my opponents run right over me. After playing more and getting into more heads up situations I became accustomed to playing lesser value hands.

When heads up, both players are putting blinds in the pot every single hand, so if there is no raising going on you are seeing the flop more often than you might expect. This is where you must try to outplay your opponent - no matter what cards you are holding. It is easier to bet a bluff into 1 set of hole cards rather than a full table of 9.

Heads Up NL Hold em Poker Strategies

When you do get your good hands - AK, AQ, AJ, A10, any 2 face cards and just about any pocket pair - is when you want to throw out a hefty raise pre-flop. Even if your needed card or cards do not flop, you need to bet again, representing the best hand. If your opponent calls your flop bet and the turn still doesn't help you, it is now time to decide if your hole cards are better than their cards and whether or not they flopped something on you.

At this point I go to my "firing 3 times" strategy - keep betting and keep representing the best hand. You may fire once, twice and miss but that 3rd bet may win you the pot. In this situation, you would think that if your opponent had some kind of a hand they would have raised you on the flop. Firing bets at your opponent is ok, but do not put your whole stack into this procedure, just in case they actually have a better hand than you.

Going all-in when heads up can make or break a good hand. Say you are in a heads up tournament and the blinds are very small when you pull pocket aces. Betting all-in pre-flop is just going to scare your opponent out of the pot. You must raise small and milk your good hand (see slow playing). All-ins are most effective when the blinds are very big because your opponent may feel that he has to protect his blind and call your all in bet.

When heads up you must always take into consideration that it is just 2 of you at the table - 2 sets of hole cards rather than the normal 9. It is ok to limp in on almost any 2 cards because, after all, you are trying to outplay the person sitting across from you, and you don't necessarily need good cards to do so.

NOTE: Be sure to check out's free Heads Up Holdem Simulator !

♣ Back to the index of articles about poker strategy or Holdem strategy.