Number of cashes
Heads Up. One-on-One. Mano-a-Mano. Some refer to it as the truest form of poker. Playing someone heads up is a different form of poker. I like to think of it in basketball terms, another game I enjoy. In basketball, we always see NBA and College teams playing 5-on-5---10 guys on the floor like ten guys at a full poker table. With ten guys on the floor, each person adapts to the game, seeing what their teammates and opponents are doing and how they are playing and developing a role as a result. In tournaments, when you are playing with a full table of ten people, your responsibilities are usually more limited because your role calls for you to be patient and only attack a minority of the time. Now think of a 3-on-3 game of basketball at your local gym. There weren't enough guys to run a full game, so you play a half court game with only six players. This is similar to SNGs that only seat six people or short-handed tournaments. In 3-on-3 basketball, everyone is forced to be more active and have more responsibilities. With five guys on a squad, you can ignore a bad teammate by not passing to him and having him set screens. With only three, however, a good player will get double-teamed and the other two teammates have to be capable of knocking down a shot or getting open under the hoop to help the team. In 6-man SNGs, you also have to be more active and have more responsibilities, since the blinds will come around more quickly and there are fewer opponents. Now imagine that it's just you and a buddy. You decide to play one-on-one, and it's a whole new ballgame. There are no teammates to pass to, and you don't have to worry about screens or double-teams. You have all the responsibilities, as you're the only one to score, defend, and rebound. I used to play one-on-one with my older brother all the time growing up. He was 2 years older, a couple inches taller, and a few pounds heavier. As a result, I had to adjust my game by playing tougher defense and perfecting my jumpshot and fade away moves. When you're one-on-one, there is nobody else to blame but yourself, but you're also the only person to receive credit if you succeed. This is why I started to play heads-up poker; it was just me and my opponent. There was only one person to focus on, one person to beat. Winner take all. Another real reason I played heads-up was when I used to receive transfers online, they were only $6. I played $5 SNGs, so I only had two options: A full table or heads-up. I decided that getting better heads up would also improve my overall poker game, and that the vice-versa would not be true. In the past year, I have probably played between 2,000-2,500 heads up SNGs, and now will offer some advice on things I have picked up: 1) The button is your best friend. Position is key in all forms of poker, especially in heads up play. The button gives you power. It allows you to control pots, consistently pick up "dead" pots, chase draws at the right price, bluff a weak opponent, etc. etc. etc. When Phil Ivey played John D'Agostino heads up at the 2004 Turning Stone tournament, they each held the same hand, 8-9 offsuit. Howard Lederer said that the player with the button (Ivey) was about a 2:1 favorite because of their position. On the flop, both players missed and Ivey took it down by stabbing at the pot. A few months ago, I was helping a friend who was new to poker. He had seriously never played a hand in his life, and he put a couple bucks on an online site. He played a couple heads up games as I offered advice, and he started winning. He put $25 on and soon he was playing for $100 a game. He had just won one match, but he accidentally hit the rematch button. I had to leave, as I was already pretty late for a class and had to force my buddy to fend for himself. I told him just to be aggressive with the button and bet his big hands hard. Somehow, he won. I like to raise from the button just about every hand. If I'm not raising, I'm at least calling. Unless the blinds are very high, I want to see just about every hand where I have the button. 2) Bet, bet, bet. Your chips are your ammo. Put in tester bets, bluff-raises, continuation bets, value bets, whatever. When I play heads up, I am trying to pick up every single pot and not let you do the same. You have to have heart to play No Limit poker, but you gotta have a big pocket pair between your legs to really win at Heads Up No Limit poker. If you control the action, you will control the outcome most of the time. Know when to stop, but don't be afraid to put them to the test. The beauty of heads up poker is that every chip you win, your opponent also loses. You absolutely cannot sit around and wait in heads up. 3) Tilting is very common in heads up play. I don't care who you are, if you're any kind of a competitor, you will tilt when you play poker. You lose to a 3-outer, and you think about the swing you just took. It may not also lead to losing money, because some are smart enough to realize when they are doing so, but the thing that tilting people love to do the most is gamble to win their money back. When you're playing to break even, you're going to play some horrendous poker. I can tell you from personal experience about nights when I have lost six figures---tilt is very dangerous and very common in heads up poker. In heads up, you will inevitably run into someone who thinks that you simply got lucky when you won. If you show them a bluff, they want nothing more than to bluff you back. Ultimate Bet has the beautiful Re-match button, which has led to some very profitable sessions for me. I once won seven straight $200 Heads up SNGs in less than thirty minutes against an opponent who was making the most ridiculous losing plays I have ever seen. Identify and try to attack those who are on tilt, but also keep your own emotions in check. As a rule, I would never lose more than two SNGs in a row to a single opponent. When I was early in my days at high stakes SNGs, I played a series of games with Muddywater from CardRunners that really gave me confidence. We had played a couple of $500 SNGs that he won when he asked to play for $1k a pop. We moved to the next level, and I started to control the action. I had just watched a couple of his videos on his site, and was in complete control of the match. I was picking off his bluffs, getting hands paid off, and showing my bluffs just to try and get in his head. The two of us laugh about it now that we know each other, but I had him rattled and calling me a "cardrack." I was hitting some flops, which one person is bound to do more than the other, and got Andrew, who is a very intelligent and tough opponent, to go on tilt and lose eight consecutive games to me before we quit. 4) Don't expect to win every time. A 52.5% is the water level win percentage for a heads up player. That also means that you will almost lose half of all games you play. You are going to lose. Your opponent is either going to pick off a bluff, outflop you, suck out on you, or catch hands all match. These things happen, and they happen a lot of the time. Keep your head. 5) Identify which sites you play best on. For me, for example, I always played my best on UB's structure because it dealt hands the quickest, allowed the re-match option, allowed for skilled play, and always placed me in the center of the table. 6) Understand the facts and react accordingly. I am going to reference Vol. 2 of Harrington on Hold 'Em (which I recommend reading) for some facts that are permanently stuck in my head for heads up play. Dan says that flopping top pair heads-up is the equivalent of flopping a set at a full table. I don't think top pair is quite that strong, but it is very, very strong heads up. Your kicker also matters. My favorite hand in heads up play is K-Q, because if either a K or Q flops, you have top pair, great kicker. If it comes j-10-x, you have two overs with the nice draw. After the flop, having a draw with overcards is a huge hand, one that you will want to push the action with almost all the time. Holding A-J on a 10-6-3 flop should look like a set to you when you're playing heads up. One statistic that really sticks in my head is this: The frequency of both you and your opponent holding pocket pairs on the same hand is a little less than 1 in 300 hands. What does this mean? It means that any pair is very valuable in heads up play. At a full table, you will take a hand like 3-3 and try to flop a set. At a heads up table, you can take that pair and push with it, re-raising and moving all-in, being willing to gamble. Especially when the blinds are high, I love to push with baby pairs and pick up the dead money from the blinds. Remember that every chip you win, your opponenet loses, and vice versa. Heads up is a unique yet interesting form of poker. I suggest trying it out for anyone who is serious about improving their game.