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Heads-up NL Hold’em is one of the most challenging forms of poker in the world. It requires a different skill set than full ring or even short-handed Hold’em. Some of the best players in the world today are experts at heads-up play.

You also have to be at least competent with heads-up play if you want to win live poker tournaments or be successful in online poker. Today we will take a look at developing a solid heads-up strategy.

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Stay Aggressive

When playing heads-up, the more aggressive player is going to be the one that wins most often. You need to keep the pressure on your opponent and constantly put them to the test. This means that you will be open raising the majority of your buttons and you will be more aggressive with a wider range of hands.

For example, you should be raising anytime you get a face card or ace as well as any pair. When you get middle pairs and up, don’t be afraid to put in a three-bet when your opponent raises pre-flop. Many times, they have opened up their range as well and don’t really have the goods.

The Any Ace Concept

You may have heard that you will want to raise with any ace in heads-up play. The reason behind this is that most heads-up battles will be a battle of two random cards. When you hold an ace, you are at least 52% to win against any random non-paired hand, regardless of your second card.

In a full ring game or standard poker tournament, playing any ace could lead to long-term disaster. In heads-up online poker (or live poker) play, it is a wining strategy that you need to incorporate as part of ramping up your aggression.

Use Your Position to Your Advantage

When you’re in position (small blind), you want to put the pressure on your opponent. As stated earlier, you want to be raising in position a majority of the time. This allows you to pick up more pots pre-flop and allows you to control pots after the flop.

However, you will encounter many players that employ a similar strategy where they will be raising you every time they are in position. You cannot let them push you around and need to pick your spots to make a stand.

This is where you may want to put in a three-bet when you have a face card or an ace. Playing back at your opponent will have long term benefits as when you finally pick up a good hand out of position, they may not give you credit for a hand and figure you’re playing back at them.

Trust Your Reads

Your ability to read your opponent is vital in successful heads-up strategy. You should be able to quickly size up what type of style they are employing and adjust accordingly. When they are playing too aggressively, you will need to find spots to play back at them while waiting for stronger holdings.

For those that are playing weaker, you can take advantage by ramping up the aggression. These are times where almost any two cards become playable and you can easily get out of the way when they wake up with a better hand.

Also, be on the lookout for weaknesses that you can exploit. For example, if your opponent only bets the flop when they hit the board or when they have a pocket pair, start betting the flop out of position.

There are times where you will be able to take advantage of your opponent’s emotions. For example, you have been playing in a heads-up in an online poker SNG for much long than is normal. You’re opponent is beginning to get tilted and starts overbetting frequently. This is a perfect spot to extract maximum value when you hit your hand.

Change Gears or Prepare to Lose

Finally, you need to mix up your play in order to keep your opponent guessing. Due to the nature of heads-up play, your opponent is going to figure out you’re betting into him on every turn after he checks the flop. Continuing to make the same plays throughout the match will eventually telegraph your strategy and allow them to change their game plan.

Mix up your play, pre-flop all the way to river play, in order to keep your opponent guessing. Your goal is to keep them guessing and hope they guess wrong at the perfect time to give you the match.

Keeping the above tips in mind will help you develop a solid heads-up strategy and help you win more at heads-up Texas Hold’em.

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James Guill

James Guill began his poker career in 2006, spending two years traveling the US tournament circuit. Since 2008, he has covered the game extensively for some of the biggest names in the industry. When not writing about the latest poker news, he can be found hunting for antique treasures in Central Virginia.