How to plug your heads-up poker leaks (part 1)

DragTheBar.com’s Christy ‘casy151’ Keenan reveals how you can plug your major sit-and-go heads-up poker leaks

We poker players are a strange breed. No, I am not referring to our aversion to sunlight or our unshakeable belief that choosing jeans over jogging bottoms constitutes getting dressed up.
 
I am not even talking about our totally inexplicable insistence on telling bad beat stories when we all hate hearing bad beat stories. There is something even more peculiar, and it is something that has only truly revealed itself to me since I started coaching sit-and-gos. Most poker players have an aversion to improving the aspects of their game that require the most attention.
 
The freedom that comes with playing poker can provide procrastinators with an open goal. It is so easy to tell yourself that your game is fine, that doing boring hand history reviews or studying coaching videos can wait until tomorrow. We want to skip straight to the part where our leaks are plugged, without the boring work that diagnosing them entails.
 
By far, the most common weakness in sit-and-go players is their heads-up game. It is very common to encounter students who view their successful navigation past the bubble as the hard part, only to take the foot off the pedal when heads-up begins. Don’t put it off until tomorrow; the sooner you start improving your two-handed skills, the sooner you will be adding points onto your ROI. Take a look at these three typical heads-up leaks, and see how many of them apply to you. And of course, fear not, for PokerPlayer is here to help you plug them!

Leak 1 – Open-folding the button

Okay, it’s confession time. I’m not proud of it, but I used to sometimes open-fold the button at the heads-up stage of a sit-and-go. Somewhere down the line, I found this particular leak creeping its way into my game undetected. Fortunately, Marcos ‘Pezrez’ Perez was on hand to remind me of a well-known maxim. And in turn, I will pay it forward to you folks. Position is everything.
 
It is an error verging on the catastrophic to open-fold your button when heads-up, for doing so guarantees you will not get to play a pot in position against a range of any two cards. Min-raise or limp, rather than folding. Limping is actually a great line to take versus regulars, opponents with rather standard HUD stats or those who have passive tendencies.
 
It is extremely rare to encounter villains who regularly raise a button-limp without a decent hand when heads-up, so there is no need to be paranoid about limp-folding too often. And remember that just because you know that your hand is worthless does not mean that your opponent will. And, of course, every now and then you might actually flop something too!
 
Let’s take a look at a hand to illustrate the point. You are on the button heads-up versus a TAG reg. With effective stacks of 14 big blinds, you might want to fold your 8-2. However, you must fight this urge, for the opportunity to play a pot in position versus the villain’s range of the bottom 80% of holdings (a decent TAG will usually raise or jam the top 20%) getting 3:1 odds is the overriding factor here. 
 
You are certainly not playing your hand’s strength, but rather you are making a small investment in order to utilise your superior position postflop. When it comes to playing heads-up, if you are not contesting pots in which you have position, then you might as well take up boxing with one arm tied behind your back instead. You have about as much chance of winning.

Leak 2 – Waiting for a better spot

The beauty of reaching heads-up in a sit-and-go is that you no longer have to factor in those ICM considerations. Let’s analyse the payout structure of a typical nine-man game: the winner gets 50%, the runner-up earns 30%, and there is 20% for third. The heads-up opponents are playing a straight freeze-out for the surplus 20% and each chip is worth nothing more or less than its proportional dollar value.
 
The absence of ICM in these situations must not be overlooked, for a sit-and-go player will be so used to factoring ICM into their calculations that its sudden removal necessitates the adoption of a different strategy. Thin edges, which are the bane of one’s existence when on the bubble of a sit-and-go, can now be embraced without paying heed to ICM considerations that dictate the optimal strategy when nine-to-three handed.
 
The sooner you improve your two-handed skills, the sooner you will be adding points onto your ROI.
 
Let’s say you are on the button holding 7-7, versus a TAG opponent with 14 big blinds. He jams over the top of a min-raise, with a range that you figure to be any pair, any suited Ace, A-5o+, K-9s+ and K-10o+. 
 
Versus this range, a quick PokerStove calculation tells us that our pocket Sevens have 54.4% equity. Some people may elect to pass this one up, telling themselves that there is no need to take a thin spot now and they can afford to wait.
 
This is incorrect, and must be rectified right away. Quite simply, this is the better spot you’ve been waiting for. Any edge at the heads-up stage, particularly one as large as 8.8% in this example, should be gobbled up gluttonously. Versus all but the weakest of the weak-passive, an edge as large as this is as good as you could ever realistically hope for.
 

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