The Art of Heads-Up Poker
Welcome to televised poker in a new and exciting format. On Sundays during the month of May, NBC will be broadcasting the “National Heads-Up Poker Championship” — a $20,000 buy-in event featuring one-on-one match-ups between the world’s best poker players.
The format is unique: players will compete in an NCAA-like elimination tournament (losers go home). That will yield a “sweet 16,” an “elite 8,” and a “final 4.” The first show will air in most markets on Sunday, May 1. Amazingly, 60 of the best 60 poker players in the world played in this tournament alongside a few celebrities.
Heads-up no-limit hold’em is a very different game from Texas hold’em. Ability to read your partner is extremely important, and some of the matches showcased stunning clashes in playing style. For my first-round opponent, I drew Men “the Master” Nguyen. Men has five World Series of Poker bracelets, has won “Player of the Year” several times, and is tough as nails. The veterans knew it would be a tough match, but some of the young guns thought I would win easily. The veterans knew what they were talking about; you do not look past Nguyen.
My strategy was simple: I would let Men dictate the pace of play, and then try to find a way to take advantage of weaknesses within his play. If he were to play aggressively (and raise a lot of pots), then I would sit back and let him do my bidding when I was strong. If he folded a lot, then I would bluff a bit more often. Mainly, though, I would trust my reading abilities. If I felt that he was strong in a particular hand, then I would fold, or at least choose to play a smaller pot with him. But if I felt he was weak, then I would try to build a big pot against him that hand.
Men and I battled back and forth, neither of us raising the pots up too much before the flop. That often happens when I play the best players in the world heads-up.
One interesting hand came up when I held 7h-6d, and Men held 5c-5h. I called before the flop and Men checked. The flop was 9-8-4, and we both checked. The turn card, the 5s, was my dream card. I had my straight, and Men checked his three fives. I bet $800 into the $1,600 pot.
Unbelievably, Men just called me! The last card was a deuce, and Men checked yet again. I bet out $2,500 into the $3,200 pot, and Men studied awhile and just called again.
My hat is off to him for losing the absolute minimum amount on this hand. Anyone else in the world would have raised up the pot with their trip fives at some point, so what can I say but, “Well played, Men.”
The last hand came up when Men raised the pot to $6,000 to go with As-6c, and I moved him all-in for his last $8,000 ($14,000 total) holding A-Q. That hand, a two-and-a-half-to-one favorite, held up for me when the final board showed 5-5-4-8-10. I was one match away from the sweet 16.
RAISE OR FOLD
Heads-up no-limit is all about:
B) reading your opponent
C) moving all-in a lot
D) being predictable