Heads Up Poker: How to Win More Frequently

If you’re looking to up your game and win more often at heads up poker, then look no further! In this guide, we’ll be sharing some simple tips that will help you take down the pot more times than not. By following our advice, you’ll be raking in the wins in no time!

A Beginners Guide

Many poker players believe that playing heads-up is the best way to gauge your poker skills. Many of the top cash players in the world have a challenge to play any player heads-up at any time and for any amount.

Playing Heads up poker allows world-class (and amateur!) players to team up and compete head-to-head. Heads-up poker is a skillful game that requires a lot of poker skills. It is crucial to be able to read situations and players well. Here are some ways to improve your heads-up skills.

Who wins at Heads Up Poker

Heads-up allows for more strategic playing. It removes a large portion of the luck factor that is involved in MTTs for big-field poker. This adds an additional element to the game. You are literally risking your bankroll by playing in matches that end at one player being broke.

Because victory is so clearly defined, prestige and ego are just as important as the cash. Tournaments and full-table cash games don’t offer the same unquestionable bragging right as a heads up match.

Heads-Up Poker game is all about aggression!

Poker is a game of aggression. Heads-up poker is a different kind of poker. Every hand, you’re in the blinds.

If you buy-in $200 for a $1/$2 heads up match and then fold every hand, you will lose half of your stack in just 66 hands. You would have lost $18-$21 in a full ring game.

Heads-up aggressive games can be a strategic advantage. All aspects of a heads up game are directly or indirectly related to aggression.

Pairing two players with equal poker skills will result in more winning sessions.

Hand Power is a Heads-Up

Almost everyone who plays Hold’em poker knows that 2-7 off is the worst possible hand. They are the lowest cards you can deal without being able to make straights.

These same people are not the only ones who understand that the worst starting hands change when you get down to heads up. This is why the Wikipedia entry “Texas Hold’em Starting Hands” explains it:

There are 1326 possible combinations of two hole card combinations from a 52 card deck of Hold’em. Many of these hands are identical before the flop, and suits have no relative value in poker.

If you have A-K and a flop of 10-Q, then only 14 hands out of all the 169 are equivalent. This means that only 8% have you beat.

However, the odds of getting dealt AA are much lower than that of being dealt something similar to 4-7. You already have one of your aces, making it even more unlikely that you will be dealt AA.

You need to understand that if you have been dealt a hand with only one other person, chances of you being beaten are very slim. There will always be nine more hands dealt at a full table, which means that someone has a better chance of beating your own.

Heads-up matches are often won by a high or pair card. Full houses, flushes, straights and flushes are all possible but not as often as on a full table.

The less hands dealt, the lower the chance of the board connecting with any other hand. Your straight or flush options are more important than the face value of your cards.

Heads-Up: Playing “Any Ace”

Once you’re comfortable with the idea that your hand’s value is determined by the value your highest card, it’s simple to explain the “any ace” concept.

Most hands that you play heads-up will be decided by a battle between two unpaired cards. An ace is a significant card if most hands are won with a high card or one pair.

Dan Harrington speaks out about heads-up play

“Suits are important, but high cards are more important.”

Any ace, regardless if it is the second card, is 52% to beat a single random hand. These numbers are only meant to help you understand the starting-hand requirements for heads-up versus full ring.

If you pushed all in every time you had an Ace heads-up, you wouldn’t win 52% or more of the time.

These numbers are only one way to make sure you feel comfortable playing aggressively in heads-up poker.

You can be more aggressive without being reckless the better a player is. The more aggressive you are as a head-up player, you will win more matches.

How to play heads-up with any pair

If an ace is 52% to win, a pocket pair is much better. =It is important to keep in mind that any pair of pocket pairs is good, until proven otherwise.

The majority of hands that are heads-up are won by a high hand or a single pair. Any pair will put you ahead of all high card hands.

AA is a 5-1 or 6-1 favorite to win. This is 85% chance to win preflop.

You have to be able to balance being aggressive and not becoming a slave to your hands.

It’s almost never a good idea at a full table to call large bets with just ace high, but in heads-up it’s usually the correct play. 

How to Handle Aggressive Players When Heads-Up

What if the opponent you are playing against is now the aggressor? There are two options for dealing with someone who has taken control of the match.

  • Be more aggressive than they are
  • Start calling everything

If you can read that your opponent plays is in full aggression mode, you will need to determine if the opponent is willing to lower their aggression.

The other player may be willing to push, knowing that you are only doing it because of the size of your hand and not its strength.

While it can sometimes work in your favor, pushing against them when they show aggression can be detrimental to your game. Every time they hit a monster, you will get stacked.

A calling station is always a bad thing when there are many people at the table. It can be a powerful, advanced strategy to deal against an aggressor by playing heads-up.

You can defeat them by calling if you can place the other player on a hand, and you can also figure out the odds of their hand versus yours.

If you are able to get a read that indicates your progress, the calling-station approach should be considered. Many people will argue that if you are truly ahead, you should aim for as much money as possible.

You want to convince them that it is futile for them to try a bluff. You can make them believe they can’t bluff. This shifts control to you and gives you more maneuverability.

Heads-up is more about mental games than cards. You want to get them thinking about you as a specific type of player.

This will allow you to understand and manipulate their perceptions. These are two reasons calling is a better option to raising in this situation.

  • If the player does not have enough chips to cover your raise, they will fold. If they try to intimidate you with aggression in an attempt to make you fold, they may fire a few more barrels at you; however, this will only result in them losing two additional bets.
  • You can simply call the river and show your weak, but still good, hand. They will either think you are a calling station, or they will start to feel outmatched against you.

Instead of trying to figure how your opponent perceives yourself, there is a simpler way to go: Figure out what you want them to do against you and give them an image to help them do that.

How to Adjust for Stack Sizes Heads Up

Pro players often refer to the small-stack heads up advantage. It means:

  • If the small stack pushes every time they have a hand, it forces big stack to tighten up and only play the cards. This allows the small stack the opportunity to take control of the match and win it back.

Many heads-up sessions see the small stacked return to being even if they steal blinds or are raised by the big stack. The small stack will regain control of the match and be able to take the lead faster than the original big stack.

Bigger stacks should continue to be aggressive initially to feel out the match. If the big stack doesn’t get challenged with all-in shoves they can typically just walk the small stack down.

If the small stack is willing to shove on a wide range of hands, the big stack will want to be a little more selective.

How to win Heads-Up

You only need to control one player when you play heads-up. If you are the aggressor in most hands, the other player will eventually give in and allow you to be the overall aggressor.

You don’t want them to doubt their ability against you. Once they think you’re a nutbar they will be able to wait for a premium monster to will pick you off.

If a player is in this state of mind and re-raises, it’s easy to assume that you’re defeated and lay down.

Stealing blinds is a key part of winning at head-up. Your stack will gain a two-chip advantage over your opponent for every chip you steal as a blind.

The blinds in cash games are so small that you can steal a lot of your opponent’s total stacks before they realize what’s happening.

It’s easy to let the blinds go when they are between 1% and 2% of your stack. If you let it go 20 times in succession, you’ve lost 30% without ever playing a hand.

Crack the Weak Link

This strategy is not meant to be followed step by step. This was to help you see how much thought goes into a heads-up match.

This gives you an idea of the level of detail that your strategy should be. This example should be used as a guideline to help you create your own plan. It is unlikely that a strategy like this against a superior opponent will work.

First, you must correctly judge your opponent’s poker skill set and style. Once you have a clear understanding of your opponent, you can create a winning game plan.


There is no better way to learn the game of poker than by playing against a live opponent in a game of heads up poker. Using aggression as a foundation, you’ll learn how to construct a proactive plan. I hope this information will be of benefit to you!