Working on a "move"... and talk on heads up play...

As you may have noticed from my post yesterday, I'm pondering a move of this blog in the very near future. I'm playing around with some new looks and features for the remodeled Poker Pub. I do admit, though, that the new site is not going to be the final site. That being said, I will continue to blog here and then post to the new site. I do, however, plan to use the word press software platform, so it makes sense to post to that site for that reason alone. My ultimate plan is to have the CheckRayz Leaderboard Poker Tour website, and the Poker Pub on the same server. There's many reasons to do such a thing, though I admit selfishness and convienance are the two most compelling reasons.

Ok now that is out of the way, and taking into consideration I did not do a mailbag this week, in protest to the gambling legislation being pushed through our government, I bring you the ever so lengthy, lacking flow email response to CheckRayz MVP Bob (BC5457). As a sidenote, I am posting this today, because I feel it would be helpful to those compelled to play in the CheckRayz heads up poker tournament at Celeb Poker. Registration for the tournament opens tommorrow at 10pm.

Bob writes:

Mike I need help in heads up play. I can hang around the final table, but heads up I need help. If you can give any advice or point me in the right direction I would be very thankful.



I respond (after taking a deep breath):

Playing heads up is more of an "art form" and less of a science. I compare general poker play to telling a story or painting a picture. Heads up play, I look at moreso as a puzzle. To piece together a puzzle of how successful heads up play can work, I'll first talk about play at a full table, and then break down to a short-handed table, then finally to heads up play, as this is a natural progression. At a full (9-10 person table), the tight aggressive player (TAG), who respects "position" has the clear tactical advantage. The TAG player understands his starting hand selection, plays the hand hard, and often wins without showdown - usually, the earlier he acts the more of a monster he has. He of course, slightly relaxes his hand selection as he moves to later positions. He has a clear advantage at a full table simply because he is more selective in the hands he plays, and often when he shows down, he has the best hand at showdown, or clearly had the better hand preflop.

As the table shortens, the semi-loose aggressive player begins to take charge as the most profitable player at the table over time. He too throws chips with a vengence and respects position. However, he recognizes that as the table shortens, there is less of a chance that people have a hand that is better than his preflop. He is willing to play hands normally suitable for middle position on full tables when first to act, and will often raise with two playable cards from the late positions. He recognizes that the blinds are coming around quicker, so he must see more flops and/or steal more often in order to maintain and grow his chip count. Quite often, you'll see him raise his connectors, and limp with his monsters when he's acting late. A successful semi-loose aggressive player completely understands how his hand best plays (heads up, or multi-way) and will often win pots that the flop totally missed him (and everyone else involved in the hand).

This type of player, the semi-loose aggressive types, stands the best chance of converting from short handed play to heads up play in a given tournament. Throughout the average tournament, he's "tight enough" that he's not in donk territory, but loose enough that he can relate to the mind of a donk, providing he survives the initial stage of a tournament. Don't get me wrong, I firmly believe the Tight Aggressive Approach is the best overall posture to maintain at the poker tables, but its exactly that... a base posture.

By nature, I am a tight aggressive player. As a tournament gets closer to the end stages, or the end game, I "evolve" into a semi-loose aggressive player. I relax my standards as we approach the bubble (in general, not taking into account chip count or "M calculation"). When we reach heads up play, its safe to assume I am as close to a donk as I can possibly be.

When playing heads up, the "smart" Loose aggressive playing style is best suited to be a successful heads up playa. Every hand you play is heads up here. So this begs a few questions. First, what hands are playable? And as a follow-up, how does one deal with the "problem" of holding a nice multi-way hand, but only having one opponent to play it against.

So, first thing's first. Heads up, any two "playable" cards are in fact playable. I'll typically play any hand without a two or three, but containing one high card (i.e. - A4offsuit and above, K-5off and above, Q7off and above, Jack-eight and up). Any two suited cards are playable as well (even the two three suited). Additionally, any pocket pair is playable.

Typically, I mix my play up, making it damn near impossible for a player to get a solid read on me. At the same time, I am trying my best to get a read on my opposition. I'm "keeping score" to understand what the minimal action I can throw to get him to fold is. Often, you'll find that a combination of a preflop raise, followed by a continuation bet on the flop is sufficient to fold someone up, or a preflop raise, check on the flop, bet out on the turn (the old stop and go play) will entice a fold. I'm always making notes as to what will entice a fold, as well as to how the opponent is responding to my aggression or lack of it. I try to vary this though, so as to not become predictable myself.

Once again, not taking chip count into consideration, I mix up my plays preflop. If I have a playable hand, I'll randomly limp, raise min., raise two, three, four, five times the blinds. I'll randomly continue the bet on the flop, or reraise. I keep in mind that I am not only betting my hand, but also betting against his hand.

When in the big blind, I will often raise if he limps, to see how he responds. I'm testing him here as well, to see if he'll limp/fold. If he does, then I know that I can more often than not push him off the pot with this move. Additionally, I am discouraging him from playing hands he's not comfortable playing to a raise (limiting his hand range, making it an easier read for me). He'll end up folding uncontested more often than not, if he feels I am going to raise it, which gives me more chips without a fight, and the insight that he's only playing hands that have some quality to them. This tells me that when he does limp/call, I might have to improve on the flop to continue, and will definitely need to improve on the turn/river if he calls my continuation bet.

When I am playing out of the small blind, is he raising me? Will he fold to a raise? How small of a raise is likely to fold him up? All these things I am mentally noting. I enjoy having a feel for what the least common denominator is to get someone to fold up and go home. Keep in mind, my "random actions" are very deliberate in purpose --- confusing the opposition, encouraging folding, and putting together a puzzle piece by piece, working different areas of the puzzle at once. I'll work the top left portion of the puzzle for a little bit, then break off and string together a few pieces in the middle, or on the bottom, then move onto the next part where I see two-three pieces that can fit and help me to come closer to the conclusion - putting together the entire thing, making it into a full picture.

As for the next "problem" how does one play hands "correctly" heads up when they fair better multi-way? There's no easy answer to this question. As a basic rule, you "could" put in a raise with the multi-way hands (7-6offsuit, for example). If called, this will give you better odds to draw. However, the problem becomes, you cannot always raise 7-6offsuit and never raise AA. This also makes you too predictable. I just come to understand what kind of hand I have, how it best plays, and then randomly decide what I am doing (random is the key word). I know that if holding seven six, and the flop misses me, I either have to steal the pot between now and showdown, or will have to improve to win at showdown (even if 2-3-3 hits the board and I'm confident it missed my opposition as well, I KNOW that if I showdown and the board misses us both to the river, I do not have the best hand with 7-6 off). So in this portion, knowing what kind of hand you have, and how it will hold up based on hitting the board, missing the board, or both you and the opponent hitting the board is of paramount importance. People are more likely to call a raise or raise themselves with ace seven, king seven than they are with queen or jack seven. This poses a potential problem if king-seven-two rainbowed hits the board, and less of a problem if jack seven two hits. The board with the king/ace is likely to have hit you both, maybe even giving him two pair. I typically grasp how my hand ranks based on what "story I have told" this hand and the few hands before... or more specifically, what parts of my puzzle have I been working on.

Finally, from a chip stack standpoint, I'm keeping score of the percentage of chips in my possession and also how much the blinds cut into him per hand. If I have the stack, and the blinds are costly (blinds 100-200, I have 3000 chips, he has 1000 chips), I'm typically raising to 1000 if I'm playing, espcially when I am in the big blind and he's limped incorrectly. Doing this sends the clear message he has one hand to get it right. Besides, he's probably allin on the flop anyways, so I might as well make him decide how strong his hand is now, as opposed to letting him make me decide on the flop. If I'm on the other end of the spectrum, and have 1000 chips, with blinds 100-200, I'm in allin or fold mode, being content with stealing, but accepting that I have great implied odds of him either folding or doubling me up.

In conclusion, I relax my hand standards, make my play appear totally random... keeping the pressure on, and all the while, I am putting together my puzzle. I hope this helps you out. I'm planning to blog on heads up on Tuesday on the Poker Pub, including a lot of the above, as well as Harrington's take on heads up play.

Let me know if you have any further questions, concerns or ideas... or if anything above needs further clarified, explained or expanded on. Thanks again for supporting the tour.

Talk to you soon,


More on heads up play tommorrow, perhaps? Oh by the way, please feel free to comment here on the new look of the poker pub over there.