Heads-up NL Hold’em is one of the most exciting forms of poker on the planet. It is “mano a mano” for the title, the money and ultimate bragging rights. If you want to win at heads-up NL, you need to make better decisions than your opponent.
That means knowing what to do and what not to do during your heads-up battle. Below are five things that you don’t do during heads-up NL Hold’em play.
Don’t Fold An Ace
Most of the times, a heads-up battle will be two players playing unpaired cards. As such, you need to be playing all your aces aggressively. Against any random unpaired hand, any ace (regardless of its kicker) is still around 52% to win.
While that is slightly better than a coin flip, most of the time you come in raising with a random ace, you’re going to be in the lead. Obviously the better the ace, the better you odds but you should be playing all your hands containing an ace.
Don’t Limp Into a Hand
Aggression is the key to winning poker and heads-up play is no exception. You should be raising every time that you’re in the small blind and raising every time your opponent limps from the small blind. Some will argue that you may want to see some cheap flops, and there are times for that, but you should be raising at least 80% of the hands that you play.
Raising does two things. First, it puts you in control of the hand and forces the player either to slow down or further define their hand. Next, you also have the chance of taking the pot down right here. Weaker players will fold to a pre-flop raise more often, even in heads-up play and you need to take advantage of the free money.
Don’t Wait for Big Hands
You are literally in the blind every hand and if your opponent is playing proper strategy, they are raising every time you’re in the big blind. This does not allow you to sit back and play only strong holdings. You must open up your range and play back at your opponent.
Just calling a pre-flop raise against an aggressive player isn’t always going to be enough, especially if you’re folding too often on the flop. You need to put in some three-bets in order to test their resolve and see where they’re at in the hand.
Don’t Play Above Your Opponent’s Comprehension
This tip looks a bit vague on the surface but actually makes perfect sense. Each player has a different skill set and unless you’re playing a random heads-up cash game or Sit & Go, chances are that you will have determined your opponents’ skill set by the time you reach heads-up.
Once you get to heads-up play, you need to make sure that you are not making moves that are beyond the understanding of your opponent. Some call this “fancy play syndrome” but the truth is that some moves that you may consider as standard moves may be beyond the understanding of your opponent.
For example, a player that doesn’t have a good concept on pot odds may not understand that your overbet on the flop is supposed to chase him out of drawing to the straight. They see a chance to possibly hit and maybe win your stack on that straight draw and don’t understand that they don’t have the odds to call your bet.
While that may be a bit of a simplistic example, it shows that not everyone is going to understand what’s going on or where they are at in every situation. If there is a chance that they are not going to understand your advanced play, try something else they will understand.
Don’t Ignore Your Instincts
Lastly, we will talk a bit about an intangible that is overlooked too often – instinct. There are times where your instincts will alert you when things don’t quite seem right in a hand. Your opponent might be making the same play that they have made 100 times before but things seem a bit different.
Sometimes there will be a reason behind your “spidey sense” going off. Maybe you picked up that your opponent is acting calmer in this situation than in past hands or maybe there is a very slight difference to their betting patter or even how they make their bet.
Other times, things will look normal on the surface but you just feel that you’re probably well behind in the hand. When this happens, don’t totally ignore these feelings, especially if it is clear you might be on the wrong side of a big pot.
If the odds aren’t right, your hand is incredibly weak or anything that will give you an out to folding, take that out. There’s always the next hand and a chance for you to setup a situation that doesn’t give you that “gut feeling” that they flopped a monster and are looking to take you to the cleaners.