I was talking about preflop play in heads-up games. The conclusion was that, in most cases, you need to play very loose and that, against most of your opponents, it is even +EV to make a pot-sized raise every time you are on the button. As a result, the hand ranges in postflop situations will be a lot wider than what you are used to when sitting at a table with more than one player. This creates a lot more marginal spots postflop, and that's what I want to discuss today.
As always, it's a lot easier to find a good, winning strategy against a weak player, also because fish usually take a while before they can adjust their game. However, there is still a difference to multiway tables because in heads-up games, even the fish will realise that you're making certain moves eventually.
Most of the passive fish don't tend to look at the circumstances surrounding a hand but only focus on the whether or not they have been dealt nice cards. Therefore they will often play the same range of hands in the Big Blind as they will in the Small Blind. Furthermore they always like to see a flop to make a hand, so you don't have to worry too much about aggressive play. This doesn't mean, however, that you stop focusing on the task in hand just because he keeps calling a lot. In fact, the exact opposite is the case. When it comes to players who try to hit a nice hand, you need to often force them to put their money in with a marginal holding, seeing as more often than not, they wont be holding a very strong hand, especially when they start seeing 50% of all flops.
This is especially true if you have position, as it is much easier being the aggressor when you're in position. In addition, when you're sitting out of position, the average pot size will be a lot smaller than when you are in position. This is because many fish will often limp the button while you tend to raise to 3xbb or more when on the button. Therefore it is more interesting for you to go after the pots in which you have position because there is more money involved. This can often lead to the match being very unbalanced: when I'm on the button, big pots are being played that often take longer because the game is more aggressive (more bets), but when I'm in BB the pots will often remain small and I will quickly give up a lot of my hands.
The gameflow is also something that weak players often approach in the exact opposite way. If you have just made a certain play a couple of times and he reacted very passively every time, you can expect to see an aggressive reaction the next time you make that play. In that case you need to make sure that you actually have a hand that time, otherwise it might be best to just let it go and wait for a new situation to come up. One example: you've just won five pots with a preflop raise + continuation bet. You then raise your button again and the flop is A72 rainbow. If you miss this board and it's the first hand of the session you would c-bet pretty much 100% of the time, but with a gameflow like this you can expect your opponent to put up some resistance with almost anything. You could, of course, counter this by playing back at his wide range very aggressively, but often in these kind of situations with this gameflow hands like Ax will be heavily overplayed by a fish and almost never folded. A better solution in many cases would be to avoid this situation by just letting your hand go. It also works the other way: if you would usually check behind a hand like A3 or 78 against this player on a board like this, you could now think about betting because now you can expect to get action from worse hands.
If you're ever up against a good, thinking player, then the whole game changes. A player like this will react to your aggression by being aggressive himself and he will be faster when it comes to adjusting his game. Therefore it is important for you to stay unpredictable. You can do this in a fishy way by "making a move every now and then", where things are often more random than strategically thought through, but of course that is far from optimal. What you do is choose a diverse hand range for every situation, and in that hand range you make every move with a certain frequency. An easy preflop situation where this becomes clear is when you're talking about 4-betting. A 4-betting range can, for example, consist of bluff and value 4-bets, whereby your value 4-bets consist of 80% of your dealt AK's, 70% of your QQ's, 50% of your KK's and 40% of your AA's. In the other cases you only flatcall the 3-bet in this example. If you stay aware of what you are doing for all your plays it will become very difficult for your opponent to determine with what frequency certain holdings are within certain hand ranges. This way you stay unpredictable for your opponent. I will start by talking about 2-bet pots in which you are always in position as preflop raiser.
If you have the initiative in the hand (preflop raiser), and the flop suddenly brings 60% of all community cards onto the board, this is the moment for which you need to plan most of your hand. If you miss the flop, you then look if it might be a good bluff spot (is it likely that your opponent often hits this flop?) or if a good bluff spot might develop (scarecards) or if you would rather wait and shift the action to another street. If you did hit, you then look at how much value you can get on which streets.
There are a number of simple, common "lines" of action that sum up almost every hand. I'm talking about standard plays like the continuation bet, delayed c-bet, 2-barrel, 3-barrel (as PFR) or donkbetting, check-raising flop/turn/river, and so on. A lot of money goes back and forth "invisibly" because you only rarely see a showdown. As a result, players will often take a lot longer to realise that they are losing money on a certain play. If, for example, you have an opponent you reacts aggressively to your c-bet by often check-raising, you have 2 option. You can decide to c-bet less often, and if he keeps check-raising you at the same frequency he will be doing this too often as we will have hit something more often. But that is not an aggressive solution, which is always my starting point. Only when playing against over-aggressive opponent would I recommend that type of strategy.
Another reaction to light check-raises is to play back at them lighter yourself. You can set up a balanced 3-betting range for drawy boards, consisting of bluffs, made hands and semibluffs, but then you give your opponent the option to go through with his semibluff on the flop when they still have a lot of equity if they get called. On dry boards it is a lot more difficult to be balanced with your 3-bets because semibluffs aren't possible. Because you are in position it is often easier to just call the flop, even on drawy boards. You can do this with draws (which you can then still convert to semibluffs), made hands and bluffs (floats). On the turn you can then re-evaluate the situation. If you start to also do this with made hands, you will let your opponent overplay a lot of his hands without him being aware of it. And as long as you are not deepstacked, you don't need to 3-bet the flop for max value as it is likely you will get your whole stack in anyway on three streets.
There are numerous different plays like this that every player makes, but ever player has their own composition. For every new opponent you need to check out in what spots he likes to pick up pots without seeing a showdown, and then react accordingly. If he makes a very light play in certain situations, you will have to try and avoid these situations, or use them to play back at him even lighter.
For many hands there are perfect lines to you can adopt when assuming that you and your opponent have no prior history and no more hands will be played afterwards. Seeing as this is seldom the case, you will have to regularly deviate from this line to keep your ranges balanced. For example: against an aggressive player it is principally the best play to always 3-bet AJ, AQ, AK in the big blind, because you are far ahead against his range. So, if you decide to make the "best" play here every time, that means that, in 2-bet pots, you will never be holding one of these hand. This makes decisions for your opponent so easy that you have to change things around a little and add some combinations of these hands to your flatcalling range. In other words, you should flatcall a certain percentage of the time with each of these hands, for example 30% AJ, 20% AQ and 10% AK.
As you can see, the hand ranges of a good player in common situations are very wide and diverse. So, when making a play, you need to bear in mind that you are doing it because it is the right thing to do against his range, not because of the specific hand he is holding at that time. Hereby you will find that you often "valuetown" yourself, meaning that you make a valuebet and get called by a better hand. Bear in mind, however, that if you valuebet and get called, you only need to have the best hand 51% of the time to make the valuebet profitable.
Many good players will therefore valuebet very lightly, and a good strategy to counter this and exploit many of your opponents is by check-raise bluffing on the river. These bets usually get a lot of respect, seeing as you would normally need to hold quite a strong hand to make such a bet for value. It therefore has to be a believable situation; just knowing that your opponent is making a valuebet with a marginal hand is not enough: you need to be able to represent a strong hand. It also needs to be realistic that you played your strong hand in such a passive way (checking the river). It has to be a situation in which you can expect your opponent to often bet.
Another play with which I've been experimenting a bit lately is overbetting the river. It started off as a weapon to make players fold their marginal hands which they wouldn't have folded to a "normal" 3/4 pot bet, but do fold to a bet which is 1 ½ times the pot size. After playing against the same opponents for a while they will obviously start calling you every now and then with their weak hands, and that is the point where you have to start balancing your overbet range. What is usually a good spot for an overbet bluff can now be used to induce a call from an opponent holding a bluff catcher while you're playing your top range of medium hands.
In heads-up poker you encounter a lot more of these situations where the two of you battle it out with two marginal hands. Overbets are therefore a good weapon to try and get more value out of your hand. Heads-up poker is also very psychological: many players get irritated by overbets (or underbets) and this can entice hero calls. Often a player has also decided during a hand that it is time to, for once, call you down with his weak hand because the gameflow is so much on your side. If you think that this is the case during a hand you can through him off his balance by overbetting. It's an unexpected play that leads many players to react in strange ways because it's not a common situation and they aren't used to it.
Heads-up is different way of playing poker because you have to direct your entire focus on one player only. Against weak players this is often very clear and easy to adjust to, but against thinking players this can be a lot more difficult and more dynamic. They are going to keep adjusting to your game as well, which leads to a match full of development. Try to always stay one step ahead of the development by focusing on which plays he makes to often or to seldom and play back at him by forcing him to act differently.
That's it for today. I hope you learned something from this article, and as always comments and questions are always welcome on the forum.