Poker Tips: How to Play Heads-up Holdem

Poker is an amazingly complex game. Despite having an element of luck, skill and strategy truly separate the pros from the rest. Poker’s complexity comes from just how much the game has to offer beneath the surface. Many factors change from game to game and result in countless scenarios. Things like your opponents’ playstyles, community cards, and position are part of why poker, at least no-limit Holdem, has not been solved by computers yet. Even with absurd amounts of processing power, simulating every possible situation at the table is still a thing of the future.

Another underrated aspect of poker is its variety, not just in gameplay but also in the game types. There are many unique versions of poker, each with its own rules and mechanics. That ensures that every poker player can find a game that suits them besides regular Texas Holdem. Even in Texas Holdem, the most popular form of poker, there are many ways to play. Poker tournaments are perfect for you if you want to chase big wins and are not afraid to play for long periods. If you want quick and fast games, you can play 6-max Holdem. This poker guide will cover a unique, one-on-one kind of Holdem: Heads-up poker.

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What is heads-up poker?

Heads-up poker is when only two players compete in a head-to-head fashion. It is normally seen in pots where everyone but two players folded pre-flop, competing directly against each other. However, there are also heads-up poker games where you compete against a single opponent and swap positions every game. These heads-up games are played until someone goes broke and are perfect for showing off your skill. Many pro players offer to play heads-up against anyone brave enough to challenge them, and some consider heads-up gameplay the best way to measure your poker skills.

Heads-up vs. Regular poker

Heads-up poker and playing poker against multiple opponents are very different games. You may think heads-up is easier to learn, but that is often not the case. The two require separate strategies and approaches, so we will analyze why they are so different. Here are several ways heads-up differs from standard poker:

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Heads-up hand selection

A crucial part of heads-up poker is your starting hand selection. Since you will see many hands in a typical match, you need to know which ones to play and which to stay away from. Unlike multiway pots that prefer suited connectors and pocket pairs, heads-up games focus heavily on solid, high-ranked cards. With only one opponent, there is a low overall chance that you will get beat out by a straight or flush. That is why heads-up prefers hands like A5o over 45s or hands like 2-7o over 2-3o.

Aggression in heads-up

When playing poker with multiple people, playing conservatively and waiting for premium hands is generally viewed as a decent strategy, especially for beginners. However, a tight and passive playstyle like this does not work well in heads-up. You are forced to pay the blinds every match, and your opponent is trying their best to analyze and counter your playstyle. If you play tight, you are easily predictable and exploited through bluffs, allowing skilled players to steal your blinds whenever they want. Aggression is vital in regular poker because it gives you a second way to win, and it is even more true in heads-up.

Balanced vs. exploitative styles

Balanced and exploitative are two approaches to playing poker. A balanced player wants to play a solid strategy, with little room to make mistakes and thus get exploited. On the other hand, an exploitative player aggressively skews their strategy towards countering another, like bluffing more often against a tight player. That can be more profitable but leaves you at the risk of getting exploited.

Many players opt for an exploitative strategy in tournaments which can work well since you will rarely play with those specific players again. However, in heads-up, you play many games against the same player. That allows them to catch on to your exploitative strategy and punish you, which is why you want to balance your strategy and make it harder for your opponent to exploit you.

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Where to learn heads-up poker

We hope this article taught you how to play texas holdem in heads-up games and pots. To practice in those scenarios, you should check out GGPoker, the world’s largest poker room. Online poker is faster-paced, meaning you will play more hands and heads-up pots. GGPoker also broadcasts heads-up games between pros, so you can watch and learn from the best.