Heads-up matches

Finally here are complete hand histories and commentary from three heads‐up matches. A couple of notes here. You’ll see that I don’t play perfectly and I’ll make no attempt to hide it – no one does. Even when someone is playing their best poker they are still making a lot of sub‐optimal plays, which is part of the beauty of the game – the fact that everyone always plays bad in comparison to the “per‐ fect game” means that there is always room to play better and earn more money.

It’s impossible to analyze poker hands and come to definite conclu‐ sions about what was a good play, what was a bad play, and by how much was it good or bad. The value of this section is not so much in the final judgments I make and the corresponding good or bad plays that occur but in seeing all the factors that enter into a decision. Then you can take all the concepts involved and start weighing them into your own decisions and over time, with much study and repetition, your judgment will improve.

Another point is that everyone plays differently. It is another beautiful part of HU poker that it allows for people to play in extremely different ways and still be skilled and win money. For this reason also it’s important to focus not so much on the specifics of the lines I take but on the thought processes and ideas behind what is happen‐ ing.

Heads-up match #1, $25/50, $5,000 starting stacks

Hand 1

I open on the button to $150 with 8♣‐7♣, the opponent reraises to $450. It’s the first hand and he reraised which makes me suspicious so far based on the facts that he is loose and aggressive. However, even with that being so it’s a bit suspect to put in 10% of my stack pre‐flop with low cards, even if they are suited connectors. To put in so much pre‐flop we generally want high cards, and of course hope‐ fully suited and/or connected ones. However, I felt like gambling a bit and since the decision is close it really doesn’t matter too much one way or the other. If I call it will lead to a looser gambling game with big pots and higher variance, and if I fold it will be a smaller pot game with less variance.

I call and the flop comes A♥‐J♠‐8♠ and he leads out $900, and I fold. Just because I have a pair doesn’t mean I need to go with it. He re‐ raised preflop representing high cards, then the flop comes with high cards and he continues to represent his good hand by betting the pot on the flop. I believe him and even if I didn’t it would be a lot of money to commit in a very precarious position, so the flop fold is straightforward.

Hand 2

Opponent on button folds. This is pretty common point about game tempo actually. After winning a big pot like that the opponent will fold pre‐flop the next hand more often than they would normally.

Hand 3

I raise 7‐9o to $150, he calls. Flop is J♦‐Q♣‐8♦, he checks and I check.

I want to wait for the turn to gain more information before risking a bluff. Also if he calls it’s likely I have no overcards and just a gutshot draw to hit a ten which has no implied odds because it’s so obvious. Also it’s a bad board texture to bluff because if the opponent has a hand there’s a higher chance then normal it’s a decent hand with outs. For instance on a more normal looking board like K‐J‐6 if the opponent had 6‐7 it’s just bottom pair, but in the actual hand if the opponent has bottom pair with something like 8‐9 or 8‐10 he also has a gutshot draw and can continue more readily. Similarly com‐ pare how J‐10 works on both boards. If we bluffed the flop on the K‐J‐6 board he’ll call, then say the turn is a two. If we bet again he’ll probably fold even if he’s suspicious we’re bluffing as it’s hard for him to call because he has no outs. However on the Q‐J‐8 board if we bet the flop and he calls then the turn is a two and we bet again and he’s suspicious, it’s a lot easier for him to call because he has outs. So the board texture takes away some of our options.

The turn comes the 7♠, he checks. Now it’s not worth it to bluff. Be‐ fore we paired the sevens a bet would make sense to make him fold ace high, king high, and pairs below sevens. Now if we bluff we have to make him fold hands better than a pair of sevens to be worth it. And the only hand out of those he’d fold is probably a pair of eights. So we check and also give ourselves a chance to improve our hand. River is the 5♦ and he leads out $50. At this point if we raise him our hand does not represent anything. We checked the flop and turn showing weakness and the river card doesn’t change the board. So the way to interpret it, is one of two things. Either a stupid bet that makes no sense with ace high or some random hand – in which case simply calling is the best course of action. Or as a made hand that knows we are weak and is trying to extract $50 of value and might even hope we raise as a bluff, because he knows we are weak and will call the raise. I called, he had K‐J.

Hand 4

He raises to $150, we call with Q‐10o. This is a good hand to mix it up and reraise because we have two relatively high cards to pair, and also can take it down pre‐flop; however, it feels like this is the type of opponent who will call a lot. If he’ll call the reraise a lot this play loses a lot of it’s value. The flop is A♠‐Q♣‐7♥, I check and he checks. Turn is 3♠, I check and he checks. If you felt the need to put money into the pot on the flop or turn simply ask yourself what will it accomplish? What hands is he going to call, and what will he fold, and how does that help you? The river comes the K♣, and if the card was a rag my plan had been to value bet because he checked twice so he doesn’t have an ace. Now the king scares him if he has a worse hand so he won’t call, and also he could have very easily hit that king. Check‐check, he has 8‐8.

Hand 5

I raise to $150 with K‐10o, he folds.

Hand 6

He folds.

Hand 7

I raise to $150 with A‐10o, he folds. This is the sort of opponent I like. If he keeps this up it’s so easy to play versus him. His hand range is smaller, he’s predictable. I won’t need to force anything post‐flop because I can make an easy profit pre‐flop against him.

Hand 8

He min‐raises to $100; again this weird play reinforces my belief that started to grow from the last hand. This is a poor play pre‐flop which is easy for me to play against as he isn’t putting much pressure on me with a min‐raise. He can make up for it with better post‐flop play but it’s a good sign for me. I call with A‐8o. Flop is 3♦‐5♦‐K♠, check‐check. Turn is 7♠, check‐check. Maybe a bet is good here but it’s early on in the game, I don’t have much of a read on the opponent and don’t know what his flop check means so I’ll take it slow and check. River is the Q♣, again a bet here is probably good but I made a mistake and let the inertia take over from the turn. I checked the turn so it’s easy to check the river, too, it’s also particularly easy to check since our hand has a little bit of showdown value which allows us to be lazy. This shows how you have to always be alert and this is very important as a player. He checked behind and won with 2‐2.

Hand 9

I raise with J‐9o and he folds.

Hand 10

He folds. Looking good for me.

Hand 11

I raise to $150 with A‐Ko, he calls. He has folded a lot pre‐flop so it’s sometimes tempting to limp and trap him. But limping doesn’t build a big pot; A‐K has the potential to win a big pot so even if he folds a lot pre‐flop we have to risk it to try and achieve the potential of A‐K here. The flop is 9♣‐10♣‐Q♠, he leads out $50. Not sure what this means, but I think it’s weak. If I call and he leads out on the turn on a rag then things get awkward to play. Here after a $50 bet he’s probably not going to three‐bet me so I don’t need to worry about missing my drawing chances. A big part of the reason I raise here is that if he calls, I will check behind on the turn and take another card for free. He folded to the pot raise.

Hand 12

Opponent folds. At this point he’s playing bad. First of all it’s very unlikely he hasn’t had a hand good enough to raise pre‐flop. And secondly even if all of his hands are 2‐6o (which they aren’t), he can still raise as he can use his position and his growing image as a tight player to do that.

Hand 13

I raise A‐6o, he folds.

Hand 14

Opponent raises to $150, I have 8‐10o. It’s so easy to play against him there is no need to mix it up for strategic reasons with a hand like 8‐10o out of position so I folded.

Hand 15

8‐2o, I fold. Raising is probably profitable here but I’ve raised every hand so far and he keeps folding. I like the way he’s playing, which is tight and bad, and don’t want to change it by raising every hand. So I fold marginally profitable hands that could raise like here.

Other Concepts and Hand Histories

Hand 16

He raises to $150, I fold 7‐2o.

Hand 17

I raise 4‐5s he folds.

Hand 18

He limps and I check with K‐8, although in all likelihood if I raised to $250 here he would probably fold so that is valid to consider. The flop is A♥‐A♠‐K♦. I check and he checks. Turn is the 7♠, and here perhaps a bet would be good, because he doesn’t appear to bluff and semi‐bluff much. The river is the 9♥, and again he doesn’t seem like a bluffer or even an aggressive value bettor, so here I bet out $50 and he folded.

Hand 19

I have 8‐Qo and raise to $150, he calls. Flop is 2♦‐4♠‐5♥, he checks, I check. Turn is the 6♣, he checks. A bet here by me is kind of suspi‐ cious because what am I representing, a straight? First of all I need to have raised pre‐flop and have exactly that card in my hand to make a straight. But also I probably would have bet the flop if I had the three as a semi‐bluff, which all makes a turn bet rather odd by me. But as stated above he appears to play pretty straightforwardly, and he doesn’t seem to hand read and play suspiciously, so I go ahead and bet $300 and he folds.

Hand 20

He limps, I check with A‐3o. The flop is 7♠‐A♠‐6♣. I checked the flop, which is the standard play here because the BB didn’t commit any money to the pot pre‐flop so I have a completely random hand which is supposedly bad and doesn’t contain an ace. As SB he limped and is more likely to have an ace, and thus represent an ace. That is why checking is the standard play; however, as stated this opponent is either too lazy or uncreative to represent hands so in

this case betting the flop and trying to get value when he has a lower pair or even when he does something weird like try and float me with 8‐10 or 5‐9 would be okay.

But in the hand I checked, he bet $100 and I called. The turn is the 8♥,

I check and he bets $300. Given how little aggression he has shown so far and given the fact that I have no redraws, and that even if he doesn’t have me beat he most likely is semi‐bluffing with redraws, and given that it was unraised pre‐flop this is a pretty easy fold. Originally our plan was to trap him, but that changed. It’s a tough road to walk because once we show weakness it’s important not to get bluffed out because that’s exactly what we tried to induce the opponent to do. But on the other hand by trapping with a weak hand we might just be trapping ourselves. Versus an opponent I re‐ spected I’d probably call him down and follow through with the plan, not giving myself a chance to outguess myself and be out‐ played. But versus a bad player like this opponent, I am confident in my ability to read his hands and not afraid of outguessing myself.

Hand 21

4‐8o. In retrospect perhaps this is a raise by me but I folded in the game. He had just won the previous hand, and often when people win a hand they loosen up a bit with their extra money and confi‐ dence and for that reason I folded.

Hand 22

3♥-9♥, he raises, I fold. Note we’ve played 22 hands already and there hasn’t been a big pot – that is the way games go sometimes. Don’t force big pots, patience and precision is the key.

Hand 23

10‐2o, I folded and in retrospect this is almost certainly a mistake given how much he folds to my pre‐flop raises and how straight‐ forwardly he plays post‐flop. This is an example of the opponent having the momentum and it getting me off balance and playing defensively.

Hand 24

Opponent limps, I check with Q♥-3♥. Note before he went through a cycle where he folded a few hands in a row, and now he likes to limp – this is probably because he has won a few pots in a row and has the momentum. HU poker is very much a game of having mo‐ mentum and the psychological advantage. The flop is 7♠‐J♣‐K♦, we both check. Turn is the 4♣, I check and he checks. River is the 5♥, I check and he checks and wins with 5‐6. The fact that he checks be‐ hind on the turn with a hand that has no showdown value but is great for building a pot or taking the pot down there is evidence he is passive, and evidence he is a bad player.

Hand 25

2♦-9♦, I limp and he checks. The flop is 5♣‐J♠‐5♦, he checks and I bet $100. Against a tricky opponent I’d be more likely to bet $200 be‐ cause the bigger bet size is more likely to deter him from floating or raising me with wacky hands (which he’d be correct to do), however this opponent doesn’t see my bet size and the board and think what he can do to me. He sees he has no hand, and simply that I placed a bet and folds.

Hand 26

He folds.

Hand 27

I have A♥-4♥ and raise to $150, he calls. The flop is A♦‐6♥‐9♥ and this is sometimes a good spot to trap, the idea being that if I bet now I’ll force him out when he has weaker hands and build the pot when he has a better hand than me. And if he has a good hand I should just check and wait until I hit my hand and build the pot then. How‐ ever, against this type of player who isn’t going to go wild if I hit a

flush and he has a lesser hand, and who isn’t going to get too ag‐ gressive when I show signs of weakness on the flop, it’s better just to bet straight out. I bet a little less than the pot, $235, to give him room to stay in there with weaker hands, but he folds.

Hand 28

He limps, I raise to $150 with Q♥-J♠. He seems pretty straightfor‐ ward post‐flop so it’s okay to raise out of position. Q‐Jo is a better hand than what he has so it’s a raise for value. The flop is A♦‐9♠‐7♠, I check and he bets $300. I figured he would have raised pre‐flop if he had an ace in his hand, thus that makes his bet a bluff probably. So I raised him to $1,200. However, given his reluctance to make bluffs before this I should have given him credit for a hand that I was un‐ able to put him on, just because he doesn’t seem to bluff. He called.

The turn is the 3♠. Now this is an interesting time to bet for sure as I think he gives me respect, so if he has a pair of aces he will fold them. However, if he has a pair of aces and a spade then he’ll proba‐ bly call. The pot is $1,500, so if I bet say $1,300 and he calls then the pot becomes $4,000 and he will have $3,000 left and so will I. So given the pot size and stack sizes it becomes quite natural for him to raise me all‐in which will scare me or fold, and less likely for him to simply call. This changes my play from a semi‐bluff (with my J♠) to a bluff, which might be okay but is a tough decision. I checked and so did he. The river is the 2♠ and the action I probably want vs. this opponent is check‐check and I win the showdown, which is what happened. He showed 8‐6o.

Hand 29

Opponent now has $3,750 and I cover. I have K‐K and raise to $150, he calls. Flop is 8♣‐5♦‐2♦. At the time I was hoping he was tilting from the last hand and would overplay his hand if he had some‐ thing here and bet out $300 when he checked to me, but he folded.

To be considered is that he probably has two overcards, so I could give him a free card to trap him. However, that has disadvantages as he has to hit a six outer to trap himself and then we only have two streets to build a pot. If I bet the flop and he decides to overplay his hand then his whole stack is gone, which is what I was hoping for and the right thing to do here. Here the game broke up.

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