When you think about the classic showdowns in sports that feature individual athletes, you might think about boxing matches like Ali vs. Frazier or Hagler vs. Hearns. Or maybe your thoughts drift to the tennis court and amazing rivalries like Navratilova-Evert or Federer-Nadal. Any way you slice it, there’s nothing better in sports than an epic one-on-one matchup – and poker is no exception. But how many people know how to play heads-up poker well? Some otherwise talented players don’t even have the faintest idea what to do when it’s just themselves and one other person at the table.

We’re here to help. Winning heads-up poker online doesn’t have to be a mystery; with a little time and practice, you can learn the fine art of crushing your opponents at Bodog Poker. We’ll show you some important heads-up poker strategies in this handy guide, but first, let’s see what heads-up play is all about.

What Is Heads-Up Poker?

Simply put, heads-up poker is just you versus one other player. It could happen in a heads-up cash game, or it could happen at the end of a tournament, when there are only two players left fighting over the top prize. This is why it’s especially important to play heads-up poker online if you’re an aspiring tournament player – the pay jump from second to first at a major event might be the most money you’ll ever play for, and you want to make sure you know what you’re doing when you get there.

Looking at heads-up poker more closely, the rules are slightly different than what you might be used to playing full-ring, 6-max, or even short-handed “flop” games at Bodog Poker. There are only two positions at the table: the small blind/button, and the big blind. That first position name is a hybrid because said player is first to act pre-flop, just like the small blind at a larger table, and last to act post-flop, just like the button. It might take some getting used to at first, but don’t worry: When you play heads-up, you’ll be playing so many hands, it won’t take long before you figure it out.

Best Playing Style for Heads-Up Poker

The reason you’ll be playing so many hands of heads-up poker is because there isn’t anyone else to fight over pots with except your nemesis, your sole opponent across the table. If you’re playing a full-ring cash game and playing it well, you might only get involved in about one out of every five pots. In heads-up, it will be more like 90% of pots. That’s a lot of action. This makes heads-up poker a good choice for people who are already used to playing a loose-aggressive style at larger tables. Most people fold too much pre-flop when they’re heads-up because they’re not used to opening or defending with weaker hole cards. Even if they see the flop with a strong range of starting hands, they’ll still fold too much, because they’ll miss the flop and won’t feel comfortable continuing with, say, Ace-High and no draw.

Having said that, if you truly want to boss the heads-up tables, the best style to use is no style at all. Instead, you should be adjusting to your opponents and the way they play. This maximally exploitative approach, if done correctly, will allow you to gain the most value from your opponent’s mistakes, and it will prevent them from adjusting to any one obvious style of play that you might be practicing.

How to Win at Heads-Up Poker 

So how do you exploit your opponent to the max at a heads-up table? As with any other table, everything begins with your starting hands. Whichever flop game you’re playing at Bodog (Texas Hold’em, Omaha, or Omaha Hi/Lo), as a rule of thumb, you’ll want to open roughly 90% of your hands from the small blind/button, using a 2X open-raise or slightly more – if you’re not playing Fixed-Limit, that is. In Hold’em, this might be all your hands except Eight-Three and Seven-Three offsuit, and 92o-32o. That’s your default opening range. Again, you should be adjusting to your opponent’s tendencies, so if you find that they’re folding too often, you might want to go ahead and open-raise 100% of the time. If they call too often, tighten your opening range instead. Alternatively, you can adjust the size of your open-raise and make it larger when your opponent is a calling station. As a beginner, and even for most experienced players, it’s best if you never limp in from the small blind/button.

How about when you’re the player in the big blind? Against an opponent who’s opening with the recommended range and bet size, you should be defending your big blind with the top 80% of hands or so. You’ll want to 3-bet your opponent about 20% of the time, using a mix of premium hands, weaker suited Broadway hands like Queen-Ten suited, and a healthy dollop of suited connectors, including one-gap connectors like Eight-Six suited. The size of your default 3-bet should be around eight big blinds; as always, adjust your bet size and/or range as required based on what your opponent is doing.

Once you get post-flop, you’ll be making most of the same plays you’ll make at larger tables, but you’ll be making those plays with a much weaker range. A low pair that’s only worth one street in a standard Hold’em game might be worth three streets of value when you’re heads-up. Ace-High can be a good bluff-catcher to take to the river, especially if you have blockers to a value hand your opponent might be holding – and you don’t block their potential bluffing hands.

Naturally, you’ll have to make more adjustments if you’re playing heads-up while short-stacked, and/or if you’re playing in a tournament with antes. You’ll also need to work out some default ranges for 4-betting and calling 3-bets pre-flop, as well as other situations you might find yourself in. But now that you have the fundamental concepts and strategies for playing heads-up, it’s time to hit the tables. If you haven’t already, download our Bodog Poker client to play on your desktop computer; if you’re using a mobile device, you don’t even have to download poker software to play on your tablet or smartphone using our industry-leading web app. Try some heads-up today, and elevate your game at Bodog Poker.