By: Paul Hewson
It's been over a year since researchers at the University of Alberta “solved” heads-up limit Hold'em. There is no actual solution to poker, thanks to the hidden cards and the luck of the draw, but heads-up LHE is a fairly simple game – simple enough for the computers to crack, at least.
Eventually, they'll solve heads-up no-limit Hold'em, too. But why wait? There's a reason why they call heads-up the purest form of poker; if you're serious about the game, you can develop a reasonably sound strategy that will beat most of your opponents in the long run. And if you can win at heads-up NLHE, you can figure out from there how to win at 6-max or full-ring NLHE.
Let There Be Range
Heads-up can seem intimidating at first. If you started out like most people at tables with six or nine players, the quicker pace of heads-up poker can take some getting used to. You'll be playing many more hands per hour, which means you'll be making more decisions and taxing your brain. You'll also be opening and defending with very wide ranges; theoretically, you'll have to open with nearly any two cards, and 3-bet with suited one-gappers and such.
On the plus side, since it's just you and your opponent heads-up, you don't have to worry about getting squeezed preflop, or playing in multi-way pots post-flop. That simplifies things tremendously. The set of decisions you'll have to make will be contained, you'll repeat the same plays over and over again, and you'll eventually be able to make these decisions close to automatically – thus taking much of the strain off your brain.
Turn, Turn, Turn
There's one other thing about heads-up that takes some getting used to: the blind structure. The only two positions at the table are the small blind (which is also the button) and the big blind. In heads-up, the small blind opens the betting, but once the preflop round is over, the big blind is first to act post-flop. This can be confusing to players used to 6-max and full-ring, where the small blind always goes first in blind-vs-blind situations.
One other warning about heads-up: Watch out for bumhunters. Some of the better poker players will spend all day sitting at a table waiting for a “customer” to show up. This shouldn't be a problem at the lower limits, but if you want to avoid shark-troubled waters, you can open a table yourself. As always, play in short bursts at limits you can afford and keep learning away from the tables. Your poker skills will develop accordingly. Maybe you'll even be the one to “solve” heads-up NLHE down the road.