Head of the Table

You’ve played an entire tournament and it’s down to two; you are heads up. Think of a hand where all of the action folds to the small blind and there are two players left in the Pre-Flop phase. In heads up, every hand starts with only two players. Like in a blind vs. blind situation, you will be more aggressive but also follow the same basic principles as if there were more players in the hand like making continuation bets, understanding stack sizes, and qualifying your hand.  


I’m in a heads up match holding Js-7s from the Big Blind with blinds at $100/$200. I have $12,232 in my stack (about 61 big blinds) and my opponent has $16,654 (about 83 big blinds). Both of our stacks are large according to The Poker Model because they are above 50 big blinds. Medium stacks are between 21-50 big blinds and short stacks are 20 big blinds or less.


My opponent raises, doubling the blind to $400 and the action is on me. In a heads up match, The Poker Model rules and principles are generally the same as in a full ring game. The main difference is that the ranges of hands that are playable expand. Like in a blind vs. blind situation, this is a symptom of there only being two players left at the table. I’d follow this strategy at the final table of a multi-table tournament. For example, at a 9-handed table the call behind range from the big blind is two cards over 7, any ace, suited connectors >4 (like 5-6 suited), one-offs >4 (like 5-7 suited), and two-offs >4 (like 5-8 suited), or any pocket pair (excluding the premium hands that I 3-bet with like A-A, K-K, or A-K). But in a heads up match with a large stack I can expand my range, calling with Js-7s even though it would not qualify in a full-ring game.


I call the additional $200 and the Flop comes 7d-3c-2s. I’ve flopped Top Pair and the action is on me. Remember that Top Pair is a mediocre hand with a large stack according to The Poker Model, one in which I’m interested in remaining in the hand, but not certain that I have the best hand. With a shorter stack, Top pair becomes a good hand, one in which I’m looking to get all of my chips in and double up. With mediocre hands, I check, knowing that I will call one bet from my opponent to see the Turn card. If my opponent checks behind me, then I will see the Turn card for free which is fine by me.


My opponent bets $400 and I call because I have a mediocre hand. The Turn is the 5c, leaving me with Top Pair on the board. I will check again with my mediocre hand for the same reasons that I did on the Flop, to get cheaply to the River and find out if I have a winner.


I check and my opponent makes a large bet of $1,200. Remember that a large bet is ⅔ pot or greater. A small bet is less than ⅓ pot and a medium bet is in between. The action is back on me. This bet is called “The Second Bet” according to The Poker Model. His bet on the Flop was the first bet and now he is following up with a second be on the Turn after my second check. This is a very strong bet and is one that mediocre hands should fold to. In a full ring game, it would imply that he has a hand better than Top Pair generally speaking. Some players make the second bet with just a draw where they can improve on the River or set up a River bluff if they miss. Regardless of why my opponent makes the second bet, I usually fold to it unless I have a good hand (two pair or better using both cards in my hand, generally). But in a heads up match, I can expand my range. Top Pair becomes good enough to call the second bet. I also know that I can make a River Blocker bet and keep my stack over 20 big blinds regardless of what the River card is. For these reasons, I make the call.


The River is the Ace of Diamonds. I’ve already called two bets with a mediocre hand and the River is an overcard. There is a definite possibility that my opponent hit the Ace now beating my Pair of 7s. But there is also a possibility that he was betting twice with a draw that missed or he has some other pair that I was beating the whole time. This is the difficulty in playing mediocre hands, it’s very hard to know for sure and players can do anything with any two cards.

This is why I will make a River Blocker Bet. A River Blocker Bet is a ⅓ pot bet in this spot when I am unsure if I have the best hand or not. If my opponent calls, then there is a chance I am winning. If I am not then I’ll only lose a small bet. If my opponent folds, then I win the Pot and if he raises then I will fold, feeling confident that I didn’t have the best hand. I make a ⅓ size River Blocker Bet.


My opponent folds and I win the pot. This hand was played slightly different because I was in a heads up situation. In a full ring game, I would have made a tight fold to the second bet and would have looked for a better spot. But with only two players in the hand, my opponent is more likely to make the second bet with a weaker hand, one in which my pair of 7s can be good. After calling the second bet, I was able to make a River Blocker Bet, protecting my stack and allowing me to understand if I was winning or not. It turned out that my opponent folded and I won the Pot. Remember to stick to the model but expand slightly in a heads up situation, sit at the head of the table.


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