Heads Up Poker Strategy & Tips

heads up poker strategy

One of the purest and most enjoyable forms of poker, heads up poker is fantastic to play online. It pits you against another person in a duel of the mind. It’s poker psychology at its best and combining it with all the complexities of Texas Hold’em makes it all the better. In this article I’m going to share some strategy and tips on how to beat low stakes heads up SNGs and cash games online. If you use the heads up poker strategy in this article, you should have fun playing and hopefully win too.

Steal the nothing pots

In case you didn’t know, it’s hard to make a hand heads up, particularly when you’re playing all manner of junky hands. A lot of pots would be one with one pair or high card. To take advantage of this fact and generate a good win rate, I recommend stealing as many “nothing pots” as possible. These are the hands where it’s evident nobody has anything. It’s those pots where your opponent has no interest in it. For instance, if your opponent completes the small blind and you’ve caught a rainbow flop – take a shot at it. A bet of around 30-40% of the pot is all that’s needed to take it down.

Continuation bet a lot…

Continuation betting in 6 max or even full ring games can be tricky, particularly when multiway or out of position. Our complete continuation bet course handles this in detail. But heads up cash games, particularly at low stakes, is a different matter altogether. You can have a high c-bet frequency and expect to do well still.  Your opponent won’t make a second pair or better hand very often, and truthfully, it’s not until you hit NL $100 and above where players are adjusting correctly enough.

C-betting a lot goes hand in hand with opening frequently from the small blind. You want to be staying active, bullying your opponent into submission. Ideally, you put them in a bind until they get stubborn and overplay a hand when you are actually strong. That’s the best scenario and the rewards for effective heads up poker strategy.

Open up your 3 betting

Even the most basic of heads-up cash players in micro and low stakes games recognise you need to open raise frequently. Where they go wrong is their inability to handle 3-bets. To exploit this, I recommend opening up your 3 betting to a wider range of hands than usual. This allows you to take control of the pot or win it outright before the flop.

Both of these are favourable scenarios when you are out of position. You either want to be the one with the aggression or take the pot before a flop is dealt. You can 3 bet with a variety of hands; suited connectors, gapped suited connectors, complete junk and premium hands too. But factoring in some non-premium hands, you will be able to win pots without contest and also have some deception post-flop. This makes you harder to play against and therefore a problem to your opponents. This is advanced poker strategy that works well in low stakes games.

Watch for tendencies and exploit them

Heads up poker is raw, primal and a combat of hand reading. You are in the thick of it every hand. The player who is attentive to their opponent’s behaviour, adapting and exploiting weaknesses will win.  There is not enough time to make hand written notes as you play so it requires you to watch for tendencies and make mental notes. Tendencies can be as simple as the list below:

  1. Limping weak, raising strong
  2. Checking back open-ended straight draws and flush draws
  3. Min re-raising on the flop with second pair
  4. Value betting half pot on river with top pair and ¾ pot with nut hands

A lot of players make the same types of plays throughout sessions. Few are smart enough to change gears and use their past profitably in the present, at least not at the micro and low stakes games. So, you just need to pay attention and find ways to exploit them. Once you’ve done that, you’ve got them beat. Exploitative poker is perfect for low stakes games, particularly heads up.

Value bet thin

Strong heads up poker strategy isn’t just about winning as many pots as possible. It’s also about recognizing when your hand is best and finding ways to extract the maximum. Strong hands are relatively easy to value bet but the weaker hands can be more problematic. You can’t afford to be checking back and giving free showdowns heads up when you have the best hand. You’ll need to quickly recognize when your hand, whilst mediocre, is best and thus requires a value bet. This might be second or third pair or even ace high on a double paired board.

Few players in low stakes games online are savvy enough to slow play to rivers with the nuts or have the patience to check-raise river. So you can safely value bet thinly in these games if your opponent has shown weakness throughout. The amount to value bet will vary from one opponent to another. If your opponent is a nit, a small bet is more likely to call get called. Conversely, if your opponent is a calling station, increase your sizing a bit to get the max from them. Even if they fold you won’t disclose your cards which also has advantages.


There are plenty of forms of cash games around that sometimes heads up is overlooked. But it might be the best form to play in the current era. With just one opponent in front of you and most heads up cash playing 100 big blinds or more, it’s a great opportunity to learn and improve as a player.

I recently produced a short lecture on heads up games that echoes some of the tips in this article. If this interests you why not join as a video member? We offer a free trial so you can access our videos without paying.

Narciso Baldo is the Director and Head Coach of Texas Hold'em Questions. He has been playing poker for over 16 years. After spending many years as a professional, he now runs UK poker training site Texas Hold'em Questions. Narciso regularly writes poker articles sharing tips, strategy, news and experience with gambling enthusiasts. Narciso also writes for reputable gambling portal Casino City Times, (bio here). Contact: info@texasholdemquestions.com