Top 5 Heads-Up No-Limit Cash Game Strategies
December 6, 2011 5 Comments
In heads-up no-limit cash games, it is you versus a single opponent. If you can outsmart and outplay your opponent, you will ultimately come out top in the long run barring a good run of cards.
In the past year, some very wild high-stakes no-limit heads-up matches have taken place on the internet. A famous series of matches between online players Tom “durrrr” Dwan and Viktor “Isildur1″Blom took place in late 2009 on the former internet poker forefront Full Tilt Poker.
In these series of heads-up matches which spanned from limits of $200/$400 blinds up to the nosebleed $500/$1000 games, Tom “durrrr” Dwan was completely dismantled to the tune of $3,000,000.
Durrrr is notably one of the best high-stakes cash gamers in the world. For him, this one was of the biggest losing streaks of his entire online poker career.
Very few are willing to challenge Tom due to his hyper-aggressive playing style that is difficult to counter. Isildur1 wasn’t one of them. The 20 year old Swede took a massive chunk out of Tom’s bankroll, and stirred up some serious buzz in the online poker community. At the time, Viktor was TOO YOUNG to play at the World Series of Poker. (21+ to play in Vegas).
Viktor is also known for his maniac style of aggression and after beating up on Tom over the span of a few days, he is now widely regarded as one of the top 5 no-limit players in the world. Quite an accomplishment for a man who wouldn’t be able to buy a beer in the United States.
Viktor in fact may be even more aggressive than Tom, that is ultimately why he came out ahead in these matches. It is fearless aggression which can give you the opportunity to put your opponents on tilt.
There is no doubt in my mind that Tom was tilted during these matches. Before Isildur1 came along, no one would want to sit with him in the nosebleed games. He was one of the biggest winners in online poker and must have had all the confidence in the world to play anyone. I think Tom’s ego got the best of him here, and it cost him over seven figures of bankroll.
With knowledge of the fact that opponents do, and will tilt, when on a downswing, I have developed a strategy for maximizing your return in no-limit heads-up cash games.
1. Have a Bankroll and MANAGE it.
One of the first things you need before you ever sit down at a poker table if you want to be a serious long-term winner is a bankroll set aside for poker. This money is simply a business investment, and should not be used for anything else. I like to play deep-stacked heads-up matches (200+ big-blind starting stacks) for the single reason that if I know I can break my opponent, it can be for a substantially more amount of money.
In order for me to do this, I need at least 50 buy-ins for my desired stakes. Swings of 10-15 buy-ins happen frequently due to the extremely aggressive nature of the higher stakes games online. With the factor of the luck of the cards as well, it is ESSENTIAL to practice proper bankroll management or YOU WILL GO BROKE. There is no questioning that.
2. Play at a stakes where you don’t care about the money.
Poker is played with chips, not money. At the table, the chips have no value in terms of money, you just want to collect as many as possible. When you leave the table, having more chips than you started with is a WIN. It doesn’t matter if it is for $1 or $1,000,000. If you are playing poker and the chips feel like money to you, you will tend to play more passive because you are afraid to lose money. This is something experienced players will pick up on and exploit to the fullest.
They will use their aggression to put you at decisions for your entire stack, and most of the time they will be right because you aren’t going to give them your stack without a monster hand which only comes every so often.Playing multiple tables online, I have lost $1,000 in an hour and also won $1,000 in an hour. This is fairly standard for playing $1/$2 no-limit with a $200 buy-in at each table. I don’t really care however because to me, I am playing to maximize my AVERAGE hourly long-term win rate.
That can only be achieved if you are playing poker in terms of CHIPS and not MONEY. The money will take care of itself as you get more skilled and your bankroll is able to expand.When I have 18 tables going on my screen, I can’t take the time to even care if I lose a big pot, I have 5 other tables beeping for my action and I need to make the best decisions on those as well.
3. Play at a stake you are a proven winner at.
This might be one of the most important rules. If you are not playing at a stake where you are a statistically proven long-term winner, why would you sit down? You are going to lose money. You might get lucky a few times, but you will be completely out classed by your more skilled opponents.
I recommend a program like PokerTracker 3 to track your hands and track your opponents statistics. PokerTracker tracks every single hand I play on every single table and it gives me feedback on my play such as how much I have won or lost in a session and how much I lost to individual opponents. You need to study these statistics to learn which opponents you shouldn’t get involved in pots with, and which opponents you should pick on relentlessly.
The beauty of heads-up matches is that there is no one else at the table except you and your opponent. If you know you are more skilled than your opponents, you should be willing to sit with him until he logs off, or until you have his entire bankroll.
4. Play super-aggressive to prevent your opponent from developing accurate reads.
Aggression is so key in heads-up matches that I feel it is more important than the cards you hold in front of you. If you are betting and raising constantly, your opponent will have a tough time figuring out if you are bluffing or you have the goods. He will have to pay to find out. When he does, I want it to be for his entire stack.
I like to set up my opponents to make a bad call against me when I have the complete nuts. I am able to do this by constantly raising and re-raising in spots where I know he is going to have to fold without the nuts. He will get frustrated and eventually want to look me up. When I have set this up over a few hands and I finally get dealt a monster, I keep doing the same thing.
You have to make sure to not over apply this aggressive strategy by switching gears and switching gears often. When you switch gears, your opponents slowly adjusts, and when he does, you switch into another gear. That may require playing passively for a few hands, but it will keep you honest and not make you look like a complete maniac.
On the contrary, if my opponent is applying the same level of thinking, I won’t even sit in the game. There is no money to be made in games where my opponent knows exactly what I am trying to do. Find a game where your opponent isn’t as aggressive and gear-switchy as you and you can dominate them.
5. KNOW WHEN TO QUIT.
If you are not playing your A game, you MUST recognize this and force yourself to leave. Poker will always be there. If you are tired or thinking about other things than poker while at the table, you might as well donate your stack to your opponent. You can bet that you opponent is going to be focused on taking your money, and if your not focused on taking his, it will never happen.
You need to have a tilt-induced kill switch. Whatever it may be, when you recognize you are not playing good and you are on tilt, you need to leave and find that something else to do. Sitting down and chasing losses while on tilt will force you to make stupid decisions further depleting your bankroll. Don’t do it. Have the courage to leave. Don’t think you will be judged for leaving a game. Who cares? You are trying to maximize your profit and being on tilt is not going to help you achieve that.
Position is the most important part of an aggressive strategy. Against an opponent I know is weak, I will raise close to 90% of the times I have the button. I do this to immediately build a pot knowing I will have position the entire hand. Position is important because I get to act last on every street. My opponent must act first, giving me an advantage of seeing how he acts first. Playing out-of-position is extremely difficult and I don’t recommend getting out of line without much of a hand.
Building a big pot is important when you have a big hand. You want to get as much money in the middle with the best cards. You want to make bets that will achieve this, while also not blowing your opponent out of the pot. I will save further articles for proper betting strategy with different cards in different situations.
To play poker at a high level, you need to have a tremendous amount of focus at all times. To achieve this, I suggest you read my previous article The Poker Trance: The Ultimate Poker Mindset. After reading that article, if you feel your mentality is on the same level, you can open your own poker business and hope to generate some profit. It won’t be easy, but once you develop your mindset, poker can be a lot of fun because you will be winning more often than losing. Good luck at the tables.