Tips for improving your heads-up play

Heads-up is the most intense and fierce part of a poker game, when the two remaining players at the table have to bring forth their entire arsenal of skills and strategic moves. Heads-up should be played aggressively but you should not forget considering the board and the other player’s cards in order to build an appropriate strategy. Aggression without strategic thinking is a recipe for failure.

Aggressive play means that you lead with bets and raises in order to win all those small pots when neither you nor your opponent have good hands. Aggression will not work when your opponent has a very strong hand because he will take advantage of your aggression to attract you deep into that hand making you lose big money. This is why it is important to use aggression selectively. Instead always use your reading skills. They will keep you alert for any signs indicating that your opponent might have a stronger hand and in this way you’ll know when it’s best to fold and when to call.

Position is another important factor in the heads-up play besides aggression. As the last player in the hand, you’ll have the advantage of gathering information about your opponent who acts before you so your can take decisions more easily. As a result, you can control the game in response to his actions. In the opposite situation, when you are the first player, you decide what information to send out to your opponent. You can make him believe you have a strong hand when you don’t and vice versa, and he will react to that information. It depends on how good his reading skills are to call your bluff. Of course, bluffing can’t be used too often.

An overall strategy is to build yourself an image and be consistent with it. If your opponent comes to believe it and expects you to play each hand according to that image, he will have a hard time discovering your bluffs.

To make a long story short, here are the main ideas about Heads Up play:

1. Aggression should not be used in excess because it will make you win only small pots and lose the big ones
2. Concentration and reading your opponent should be a constant of your heads up play
3. Position can be used to your advantage whether you are in early or late position. As an early player you can decide what type of information to send out to your opponent while as a late player you have the power of taking your decisions based on the information provided by the other player.

This post presented you the most essential factors of the heads-up play. All you have to do now is to add to them your personal skills and experience and you’ve got yourself a recipe for success!

The art of bluffing in poker

Bluffing is commonly considered to be vital in a poker game, but experienced players can tell you that bluffing is not as frequently used as we think it is.

Indeed, bluffs are the salt and pepper of a poker game bringing in a lot of tension and excitement. Without them, the game would be dull and monotonous, everyone predicting precisely the others’ moves. The element of surprise and risk would be missing. On the other hand, being able to bluff requires a lot of experience and skill as it is quite a fine form of art.

Usually, a player bluffs when there is no other way to win that particular hand, or when he wants to eliminate his rivals from that hand. Bluffing is a risky move in terms of money so, before bluffing, the player weighs up the odds of winning the bluff against the probability of losing the bet that he has to commit into the pot. Of course, his chances of success improve if his bluff is credible and the others start giving up.

Below are some important points to take into consideration before making a bluff:

The type and number of your rivals
The image that you have left among the people at that table
Predicting your opponents’ moves and the board.

Let’s consider the following situations for the sake of clarity. If you play against weak players that call anything, don’t bluff! A successful bluff requires people that fold not ones that follow you blindly. As for the number of your opponents: if you try to bluff at a table with more than 3 players than your attempt may fail.

Your image at the table is another important factor. If you have a history of failed bluffs at that table and the other players know them, then there is a high probability that any further attempt to bluff will be called. In the opposite situation, you have a tight table image and nobody has caught you bluffing before. Consequently, your bets will be respected, smoothing your way into making some bluffs which will have a better chance of succeeding.

Experienced players don’t have so much trouble with bluffing as the beginners, but until you gather the necessary experience you should bluff when there are a few draws or few chances that your opponents could improve their hand. A potentially successful bluff can be done at uncoordinated boards when there is a single scare card that people assume you have. It’s a mistake to bluff when there is a big pot because your opponents can become aware that you bluff. Irrespective of the situation, you should always judge well!

Position is an extremely important factor too. Playing in position will provide you with valuable information about your opponents’ hands because you are among the last players to act and consequently you can better analyze if the situation is bluff compatible.

Another form of bluffing is the half-way bluff (also called semi-bluff), which represents a situation when your hand has chances of winning, but the bluff is kept as an option in case the chances of winning drop or disappear. This technique contributes to mixing up your play and thus confusing the others about your bluffing style.
Don’t out-bluff a bluffer or try to bluff too many players. If you pay close attention to the points mentioned above, your bluffs will have considerably higher chances of succeeding.

Dealing with maniac players. What is a ‘setup play’?

This style of playing poker is often met at low-stake tables especially at new players. It is very important to know how to take advantage of them in order to build your bankroll.

The maniac makes a lot of raises and re-raises despite the position in the hand, the cards he holds, or the number of players that called before him. He is very active so you want to sit at the table at their left to take advantage of the position and the information provided by their actions.

They are long-term losers but on short instances they can leave you broke. Against them you should forget about all the creativity and fancy play and start playing by the book. ABC poker gives the best results against them. When you have position, you’d better lead with strong hands because they usually call if they hit the flop, and if you don’t have position you’d better check/raise because maniacs are usually bluffing and betting on almost every flop. Try to trap them with strong hands on dangerous flops. Never engage with them out of position with medium hands. Never chase flushes and straight draws out of position because maniacs tend to bet the pot or over-bet so you never have the right price to call. When you are in the big blind, don’t re-raise preflop because you can’t throw them out of the pot (you should re-raise with top pairs). When you are in BB lead when you hit ( bet the flop, strategy which doesn’t work against smart aggressive players) because they usually call if they have small or medium pair on flop.

Maniacs are usually pot addicted so try to put all in when you are sure you have the best hand (only if they seem to have something big too, otherwise you should just consider betting). Don’t go all in with top pair on flop because when they have medium pair they fold but when they have 2 pairs or better they call and you will end up losing big pots and winning small pots. That’s the way they can leave you broke.

“Setup play” is a play you make at the beginning of a game in order to create a false image of your playing style and leave them the impression that you are a maniac player. Consequently, if someone raises from first position you make a re-raise from last position with any two cards looking for a show down. For example: someone raises from first position with A-Q, you re-raise in cut off with 7-5, he calls. The flop comes 9,7,3. He puts a continuation bet, you call. The turn comes a 2; he checks, you check. On the river comes a 6; he checks, you check, or he bets to try stealing and once more you call. When he will see the hand with which you made this type of play, he will think you are a maniac and play accordingly. However, you adjust your game and hope that this move will pay off later in the game.

Another kind of setup is when you play hyper-aggressively at the beginning of the game. Phil Ivey and Gus Hansen have a playing style involving a lot of aggression at the start and when their opponents tend to react they adjust their game. The problem is that the opponents remain with the image of aggression in their heads for a long time and find it difficult to trap the abusive player.

How to play against smart aggressive players

Everybody has had a hard time figuring what is the best tactics to use against the smart aggressive players at the poker table. Before elaborating more on the issue, it is helpful to emphasize the features of this type of player.

The Smart Aggressive opponent raises from last positions (cut off, button) to steal the blinds when everybody has folded before him or just when a tight player has called. The smart aggressive player is very active so you may want to sit at his left at the poker table in order to take advantage of the position and the information provided by his actions. When you are out of position, it is best to not get involved in too many pots with him.

Nevertheless, if you sit in one of the first two places at the smart aggressive player’s left, you will lose position when you are small blind or big blind. He will raise a lot from button and cut off positions in order to steal the blinds so you must put a fight now and then to keep him honest. You can’t let him abuse you all the time because the blinds are the soul of the poker table (they bring in the action, without them the players will just stay and wait the best hand preflop: pocket aces). When the smart aggressive player raises from the button and there are already one or more people in hand you’d better fold because you’ll be out of position. When nobody enters the hand and he raises, you have to analyze if he has a real hand or he just bluffs, and you can do that by analyzing the frequency of his raises from last position. If he often does this, you must protect your blind with hands that beat his range (range represents the type of hands you think he raises with when on the button position). It’s a big mistake to call with any two cards. When you don’t hit the flop you have two options to chose from: to check/fold after his continuation bet on flop, or the check/raise bluff making him believe that you had hit big. Of course, the last one can’t be used too often.

When you hit the flop don’t lead by betting on the flop. If you lead, the aggressive player will most probably fold and then you lose money on the long term. Why is that? Because you hit the flop 1/3 of times. Let’s say for example that the first two times the button raises 3 times big blind (BB), you call, you don’t hit so you check and finally fold and at the end you have – 6BB. The third time you hit and you can win the pot of 6BB, 3 yours and 3 your opponent’s. But in the end you are still -3BB. Therefore, to be profitable, you have to check/raise in the pot of 6BB. In this case he will probably bet 4BB more and then you raise to 10 BB and win the pot. This third time you win 7BB: his initial 3BB raise preflop and 4BB his bet on flop. 7BB-6BB (lost when you didn’t hit the flop) = 1BB which leaves you on profit.

Another alternatives is to re-raise before the flop hoping that the button will fold. In order to throw him out of the pot you should 3-bet; a minimum raise in this spot is a mistake.