Heads Up SNG Strategy
Heads up sit and gos are a unique game in which you can win a lot of matches or lose a lot of matches in a short period of time. When playing heads up games you should study your opponent from hand one. The blinds will be small and you should be opening a number of different hands to see how your opponent will react.
Assessing Your Opponent
The first thing you should do is test your opponent out by putting in a raise from the button. If you put in a raise from the button it gives you a better opportunity to gauge what type of player you are playing against. Some players will let you win every hand at the beginning of matches and you can continue to easily win matches simply because they are afraid to play pots without monster hands. These opponents are easy to exploit and you can run them over.
Other opponents will constantly 3-bet you. These are the players you most likely want to play against. The match will be over very quickly and all you have to do in order to win is sit and wait for a hand until you can stack them. These players are recklessly aggressive and matches are over in a matter of a few hands.
Another type of player is a calling station. The calling station will just about never put in a raise or re-raise. This player is someone you can beat, but it may take longer to end a match. The match will almost always get in to the third or fourth blind level simply because you need to get hands to beat them. If you don't pick up hands you don't pick up pots.
The blind structure of most heads up sit and gos will leave you with 1,500 chips and 10/20 blinds to start the match. This is plenty of room to work with and you should not be worried. To start off you should make three times the blinds raises from 20 to 60 from the button pretty regularly. This isn't to say to play every hand from the button because you don't want to be reckless, but, you should play a large majority of hands. Hands to stay away from are almost all small unconnected cards or a jack with a rag card and queen with a rag card. If you can avoid hands that can get you in trouble early on in the match, you'll have more success later on in the match.
A great deal of heads ups are won within the first three blind levels. The reason for this especially at lower level heads up matches is that none of the players have enough patience. Patience is something that you should have as a poker player in general, but especially when playing heads up sit and gos. If you pick one bluff or shove off later on in the match, that's the difference between a win and a loss. If you don't have enough patience to wait players out you won't have success when playing heads up sit and gos. To have patience means you are in it for the long haul and able to have the want to be great. Without patience you will lose your money in heads up matches, it's that simple.
As the blinds begin to increase and you are at the second and third levels, you'll either see a change in the player you are matched up against or you will not. Most players will begin to pick up aggression at the second and third blind levels because the blinds are now worth having in your stack. If you can see a change in aggression you can start to pick up your aggression level as well and open more hands from the button. Also, you can make more three bets from the big blind. If you start to three bet, then your opponent will shrink their range of hands to try and pick you off.
After the first blind level your pre-flop raise size changes from three times the blind to a minimum raise. The reason for this is because you don't want to commit too much to a pot. If you start to raise three times the blind at 25/50 blinds to 150, and fold to a shove, you are losing money in the long run. The best play is to put in a raise to 100 at this level. If you decide to limp in, unless you are playing against a completely passive fish, you are also not helping your cause.
The reason to limp in is if you see how passive your opponent is. If they are far too passive, to win pots sometimes you don't need to put in raises before the flop. You can simply have them check the flop, you bet, and win the pot. This isn't suggested too often though, because most players won't let you limp in to pots. If you are the player in the big blind you should try and run the limpers over. More times than not they will snap fold pre-flop. Other times the player will call before the flop then fold to a continuation bet on the flop. If a player limps in you can take control of the pot pretty easily, and unless they smash a flop you'll win the hand.
Changing gears in heads up matches is crucial to winning. If you don't figure out the type of player you are sitting across from you won't have success in heads up games. You have to pay attention from deal number one to determine the proper strategy to beat your opponent. If they are passive, then you need to run them over. If they are aggressive, then you should look to trap them. The little things in heads up matches mean so much. If you play a pot and your opponent shows down a weaker starting hand, you can keep that in mind to shove on them before the flop next time. Small things turn losers into winners and winners into losers. If you focus enough you'll be a winner in heads up games.
Author: Jonathan Wanchalk
Updated: March 2015
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