At the beginning of a heads up sit and go you should play carefully and avoid playing big pots without big hands. During this portion of the tournament you should be feeling your opponent out, trying to find weakness that you can exploit and looking for any mistakes that he might make. Basic correct play is listed below, and if you see an opponent deviate from these plays he is usually making a mistake you can profit from.
A raise from the button, when the stacks are deep, should be three times the size of the big blind. Raising less than this would allow the big blind to to out flop you cheaply. Once the stacks are smaller compared to the blinds, the raises should be smaller, but at greater than forty big blinds the raise should always be three times the big blind. An opponent who is making larger raises can be exploited by simply playing tight and reraising with your strongest hands. If they are raising less than 3x, then you can exploit them by calling with good drawing hands and hoping to take their whole stack when you hit a big flop. Don’t chase with junk like K3o, but hands like 68s can be excellent drawing hands when you are getting 20 to 1 or more from your opponent’s stack on your preflop call.
You should be raising between 75% and 100% of your hands to start the match. Some very strong heads up players raise every hand until their opponent adjusts and makes them stop, while others choose to raise around 90% to avoid giving the impression that they are just raising everything and encouraging their opponent to adjust and begin reraising or calling very light. Surrendering your button once in a while, even if it’s only one in ten, can keep them from fighting back. Some strong heads up players choose to raise about 75% of hands, giving their opponent the impression that they are getting some walks and should fold most of their hands to the preflop raises. Playing any tighter than 75% is a mistake, though it may feel like you are playing too loose until you get used to raising such a wide range. The power of position is so great that raising wide from the button is absolutely necessary to achieve a good win rate.
If you run in to a player who is raising more than 90% of their hands preflop you can start by reraising to three times the size of their bet with about 30% of your hands. They will typically fold, but if they reraise you will need a fairly strong hand to call. This frequent reraising will cause many opponents to begin folding more preflop and limping in when they do choose to play their hand, both excellent adjustments from your perspective because they are no longer attacking your big blind. Once an opponent starts limping from the button you can check behind and see free flops with anything but a very strong hand. Raising the top 10% of hands to 4.5 times the big blind is a good way to deal with a frequent limper, and should keep you out of trouble until you are very comfortable playing heads up. This will be any pair, ATs+, AJo+ and KQs. Some players will allow the limp when they have a small pair, and this is an acceptable strategy as well.
With deep stacks, playing well after the flop will go a long way toward increasing your win rate. During this portion of a heads up tournament, you should be focused on doing three things.
Learning about your opponent
Many players who use tracking software just assume that it will answer all of their questions. But if a player is raising 75% of their hands preflop, and you notice that they show down 94o, you can start to wonder about their skill level. If nothing else they are inconsistent and not playing according to a specific plan. This is the kind of thing that tracking software won’t tell you. You should also be looking for betting patterns, timing tells, or anything else that you can learn from the enemy across the table. Knowledge is power, and this is the only time in the tournament that you can get it cheaply, so take note of what his larger and smaller bets indicate, how he plays his draws, if he’s willing to get all-in or tends to be timid and afraid to play big pots. Once you learn these things when the blinds are cheap, you can use them to take his whole stack when the blind are bigger.
You don’t need to win the tournament when the stacks are deep, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t either win outright or at least accumulate some chips if your opponent is making significant mistakes when the stacks are deep. If you manage to make a big hand you should do everything you can to win a large pot, especially in the first few hands when your opponent knows very little about you and may call off his or her chips without a monster hand. In most cases you won’t be able to win a tournament when stacks are this deep, so simply accumulating a few chips to take a nice chip lead into the next stage will have to do.
Not Giving Anything Away
First impressions are important, and at this early stage of a heads up match you certainly don’t want to give your opponent any more information than you have to. If you can find a way to misrepresent your usual style of play, you may wish to do so, but don’t give away free information. The best part about playing correctly in these tournaments is that is automatically confuses weak opponents and encourages them to make mistakes. A player who doesn’t know that correct play is to avoid going all-in unless your hand is very strong when the stacks are deep, but to push all-in very wide once stacks become tight. Often you will find that players are folding far too much when the blinds get high and calling out of position too much when the blinds are small. Build an image, be conscious of what your image is and how your opponent is reacting to it.
There are a few big mistakes that new players make in deep stacked situations that you must avoid to be a winning heads up sit and go player. Follow these rules and you will be dominating in no time.
Don’t play a big pot without a big hand – When the stacks are deep, you can’t let yourself get sucked in to playing a big pot when your hand isn’t worth it. If you are going to let your opponent win a big pot every time they flop two pair or better, you are going to lose way too many chips early and end up playing from behind in the short stack stages. Remember that one pair is not a big hand, and if your opponent wants to play a huge pot, even lower two pair hands are not likely to win. If the board is suited and connected, even a set can be folded if the stacks are deep enough and you know your opponent wouldn’t be trying to make the pot so big unless he had a huge hand himself.
Be aggressive out of position – The player who acts last has a huge advantage that makes them money every round. Strong players pay close attention to position and don’t let their opponents control the size of the pot. If you are out of position, you should usually raise or fold after the flop to avoid tough decisions. Some opponents will continue to bet every round and force you to play a larger pot than your hand is worth or fold a hand that may be the winner because they continue to bet when you continue to check. An opponent who uses the “one and done” play described below will also gain a tremendous advantage if you are passive after the flop when you are first to act.
Make Continuation Bets – When you raise from the button before the flop, you should usually make a bet on the flop, even if the flop was terrible for you. If you don’t bet the flop you are begging your opponent to bet the turn and take the pot away from you. Remember that your opponent will miss the flop about 65% of the time in holdem, and you should be winning those pots when you are in position. If you missed the flop completely, or flopped a draw, you should often be “one and done”, betting the flop and then checking behind on the turn if your hand does not improve. This allows you to see a free river card and avoid a check-raise on the turn that forces you to fold your hand.
Don’t push tiny edges, wait for bigger ones – Because you are paying a tournament fee, typically around 5% of your buy-in, you will lose money if you get all-in with a tiny edge. A skilled heads up player will win between 55 and 60 percent of their matches, so your edge should usually be 55/45 or better to get your chips in the middle. Of course if the pot is already large then you may be forced to go all-in because of the pot odds, which can turn an even money hand into a very profitable spot if you are getting 2 to 1 from the pot.
Use PT3 or HeM – Unless you are playing in a brick and mortar card room or on a small network that doesn’t allow tracking software, you must have a HUD (Heads Up Display) running while you play. This is so important that you will be giving up a huge advantage over your opponents without it, especially those opponents that you play frequently. The two programs are very similar, and we recommend that you start with the free trial of one or the other and make sure it works well on your computer. If it works smoothly, tracking software will pay for itself very quickly. Download the free trials for PokerTracker 3 and Holdem Manager.