Heads Up Poker Hand Selection

So for my Internet poker practice I’ve been almost exclusively playing heads up limit Texas Hold’em lately.   I don’t claim to be particularly good at it yet.  I’ve written before about my efforts to beat sparbot, an AI that plays a perfectly balanced game theory variant of Hold’em, but playing a real people online is a different game.  There’s some key differences in the game that are worth pointing out:

Stack size affects decision making
This is true at a full ring, and even more true heads up.  When you get down to just a few big bets, people go on tilt, calling for draws that wouldn’t otherwise make sense.

Hand standards seem appallingly broad as compared to full ring play
When you’re playing 70-80% of your hands, you don’t feel like you have any standards.  What does 60% of your hands look like?  Here’s a handy table:

Top % Of Hands Range (Shorthand Pokerstove notation)
60% 22+,A2s+,K2s+,Q2s+,J2s+,T3s+,95s+,85s+,75s+,
70% 22+,A2s+,K2s+,Q2s+,J2s+,T2s+,93s+,84s+,74s+,
80% 22+,A2s+,K2s+,Q2s+,J2s+,T2s+,92s+,82s+,73s+,

Depending on who you ask, you should play 60-80% of your hands in heads up Limit Texas Hold’em. One wonders what you wouldn’t play in that situation, but remember 60% is the conservative hand range for heads up.  I’ve heard people talk about playing 80% of those, and that’s a lot.

I find myself raising on the button preflop with the top 30-35% of my hands or folding.  On the big blind preflop, I play a solid 70-80% of my hands, and often fold all but the top 30-40% if I get raised.

Position is huge
Tommy Angelo says that position is important in poker is like saying water is important in swimming.  It can’t be understated.  In heads up that especially true, as paying that turn bet may be the difference between a wildly unprofitable hand and a moderately profitable one.  You want to of course loosen your standards with the button, and raise a lot more of your hands.  How much depends on your opponent, of course.

You’re paying, always paying the blinds
Heads up takes a lot of getting used to because you’re always paying a blind.  That fact can start to wear on your psychologically and cause you to want to open your range, but it’s a bad temptation.  Your range is already absurd to begin with. 

I find that playing lots of heads up poker helps me with my full ring poker game, because it allows me to really focus on reading my opponents.  It’s also great practice for final tabling tournaments.  


  1. Sam Moreton on January 11, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    Hey, I found a website offering a free poker bot and wondered what you’re thoughts are on these. If you ever came head to head against one, would you know you’re playing against a bot and how would you go about beating it?

    Look forward to your response.