How to Play Heads-Up Poker Like an Expert

How to Play HeadsUp Poker Like an Expert
Reading time: 7 minutes

Heads-up poker is a style of poker play that is used to describe a poker match between two players and can be used in virtually any discipline of poker.

Therefore, in this guide, we will be focusing on the strategy and mental game involved in playing heads-up, as heads-up rules adapt to the discipline of poker.

Heads-up poker draws its appeal from its format as the ultimate showdown, a one-on-one battle of wits and cards between two players.

It’s like the final duel in a Western movie, where every decision counts and every chip is a bullet. In heads-up, you’re facing off against a single opponent, and it’s all about exploiting their weaknesses while protecting your own.

As we go deeper into heads up, get ready for a rollercoaster ride of strategy, adrenaline and poker psychology.

Why Play a Heads-Up Match?

Why bother with heads-up skills, you ask?

Well, think about it – if you lock down your skills at beating one opponent’s style, it develops your skills and opens the door to utilising your newly honed talents on a larger table.

Heads-up poker sharpens your instincts, teaching you to read opponents like an open book and make lightning-fast decisions.

Plus, the skills you pick up here are transferable to any poker format, giving you a toolbox of tactics that’ll make you a force to be reckoned with. It makes perfect sense to train to level up your game, and heads-up poker is the perfect arena to do so.

Preparing for a Heads-Up Game

If you want to establish a habit of winning heads-up poker, you’re going to need to get yourself in the habit of ticking off the right boxes when it comes to preparation.

At the same time, heads-up play isn’t rocket science, so take a deep breath and consider these pointers.

The Big Blind and Small Blind Flip

While heads-up poker is a highly adaptable format of poker designed for two players, the big difference between other poker styles is the blinds are reversed.

In poker formats outside of heads-up play, the small blind is placed by the player seated in a clockwise position relative to the dealer (or virtual dealer in online poker). The big blind, on the other hand, is posted by the player positioned to the left of the small blind.

Yet, during heads-up play, the dealer assumes the role of posting the small blind, while the big blind acts as the adversary.

Why are the blind positions switched in heads-up poker?

Well, more than anything, the rationale behind this change is to uphold fairness in the game.

Player Types and Styles

In the dynamic world of heads-up poker, your opponents come in all shapes and sizes.

There are the tight-aggressive who play conservatively but strike fiercely, the loose cannons who chase every card, and everything in between.

Understanding these player types and their styles is like knowing the characters in a story – it helps you anticipate their moves and adjust your strategy accordingly.

Adaptability and Observational Skills

Heads-up poker is a dance of constant adjustment.

Your opponent’s tendencies can change as fast as the cards are dealt. To thrive, you’ll need the observational skills of a detective and the adaptability of a chameleon. Keep a keen eye on their betting patterns, reactions, and timing – it’s like deciphering their poker language.

The more you learn to read, the better you’ll become at predicting their next move.

Mental Toughness

Heads-up poker is a mental battlefield.

Wins and losses can swing your emotions like a pendulum, and the pressure to outwit your opponent is unrelenting. Mental toughness is your armour – it’s about staying focused, composed, and confident regardless of the stakes.

Develop resilience in the face of adversity, and you’ll find yourself making clearer decisions even when the pressure is on.

Confidence and Mindset

Confidence is your secret weapon.

When you believe in your skills, you radiate a certain aura that can make your opponent second-guess themselves. But it’s not just about bravado – it’s about having a positive, growth-oriented mindset. Embrace every hand as a chance to learn, improve, and level up your playing.

A strong mindset sets the stage for success and allows you to bounce back from setbacks with renewed determination.

Essential Strategy for Poker Players

Solid strategy is your bread and butter for being a formidable opponent as a heads-up player, and a poker player in general.

Remember that against one person, you’re going to have to have a few successful strategies up your sleeve to win heads-up poker.

Here are some of the top ones.

Adjusting to Opponent’s Ranges

Heads-up poker is a dynamic dance, and your opponent’s range of hands will shape your decisions.

Learn to size up their tendencies and adjust your own range accordingly. Are they playing conservatively or splashing chips all around like they’re surrounded by seagulls?

Adapting to their style can be the key to outsmarting them at their own game.

In heads-up poker, compared to a full ring game (more than six players) you have the advantage of only having to focus on one other player.

Exploiting Weaknesses

Exploitative play boil downs to capitalising on your opponent’s errors.

If you notice that your opponent folds too often, you can adjust your strategy to bluff more frequently. Similarly, if they call too much, you can value bet with a wider range of strong hands.

Heads up players generally exhibit patterns in their playstyle, so take note of these.

Exploiting weaknesses requires keen observation and adaptability to adjust your game plan for maximum gain.

Avoiding Predictability

Predictability is dangerous in poker – your opponent can easily counter your moves.

Don’t let it become your Achilles heel.

To avoid this, mix up your play by occasionally deviating from the norm. For instance, if you typically bet small with your strong hands, throw in a larger bet occasionally to keep your opponent guessing.

By remaining unpredictable, you make it harder for the same opponent to exploit your strategy.

Betting in Heads-Up Poker

We can’t possibly write a guide on any form of poker without touching on the betting side of things.

This essential component of poker is arguably as important to master as the cards in your hand. Here are some tried and tested approaches you can incorporate while you’re playing heads-up.

Continuation Betting

Continuation betting (often referred to as a “c-bet”) is a post-flop strategy where you follow up your pre-flop aggression with a bet on the flop, regardless of whether your hand improved or not.

The goal of a continuation bet is to maintain the initiative you gained by being the aggressor before the flop and force your opponent to make tough decisions.

When you get amongst a continuation bet, you’re essentially telling a story that says, “I still have a strong hand.” This can turn up the pressure on your opponent, potentially making them fold weaker hands or draws.

Value Betting

Value betting involves making bets with the intention of extracting chips from your opponent when you believe you have the best hand.

The idea is to build the pot when you’re ahead and get paid off by opponents holding weaker hands. To execute a value bet, you need to accurately assess the strength of your hand relative to your opponent’s likely holdings.

Value betting requires finding a balance between betting an amount that your opponent is likely to call, while also maximizing the potential return. It’s a skill that requires careful consideration of the situation, your opponent’s tendencies, and the potential hands they might hold.


Bluffing is the art of representing a stronger hand than you actually have in order to make your opponent(s) fold better hands.

It’s a strategic maneuver designed to exploit the uncertainty that your opponents face when trying to decipher the strength of your hand. Successful bluffing can help you win pots even when your cards don’t merit it.

Effective bluffing involves understanding the context of the hand, the board texture, your opponent’s likely range, and your table image.

It’s important to choose the right moments to bluff – situations where it’s plausible that you have a strong hand, and your opponent’s range is likely to consist of weaker holdings.

Online Heads-Up Poker

When it comes to heads-up poker in the digital realm, you’ve got a world of options at your fingertips.

Online poker sites serve as your virtual poker playgrounds, where you can join tables and test your skills against opponents from around the globe.

The advantage is that you have heaps more freedom to choose a cash game that makes sense for you.

Additionally, handy tools like hand trackers and poker calculators can give you a digital edge, providing insights into your gameplay and your opponents’ tendencies. Just remember, while these tools can be super helpful, they’re only spices in your poker recipe – use them wisely (and sparingly) for that extra flavour.


Thank you for making it this far!

By now, you should have a good idea of the foundation you need to start playing a heads-up match and feel confident enough to lay down a spectacular heads-up game.

Just remember that playing heads-up is about how much you control your mental game internally as much as it is about beating the other player. Keep calm, and make calculated decisions, and you’ll have a huge advantage.

Balance matters. However, remember to have fun as well! Good luck.

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Emily Turner
Emily Turner
Content Writer
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Emily is our seasoned content writer. She writes easy to read and helpful game guides, so you can quickly understand the rules of each game and get some useful tips that can help boost your chances of winning.

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