Heads up, aggression vs. caution

I won a 9-seat SNG tonight. Heads-up was particularly tough. My opponent was a good player, and I think I got lucky more than I beat him. But I did beat him.

He took the big stack into heads-up, and was very aggressive with bets and raises, forcing me to tighten up. I had a long, long drought of horrible cards that I couldn’t play, and bled a lot of blinds to him, and figured I didn’t have much chance here. When I did manage to get to a flop, if I had something, middle pair, say, or even top pair, I’d bet and he’d come back with a big raise suggesting he had an overpair, trips, or two pair. Usually it was a situation where I was hoping to get away with a semi-bluff, but I had to be cautious and lay down hands time and again.

Eventually, I did get cards and managed to double up through him and get back to close to even. We went back and forth this way, 2-3, maybe 4 times. Finally, I had just gotten ahead of him, when I was forced to limp the BB with 56s, and flopped a pair of 5s. There was a King on the board also, and this was just the sort of situation where I’d bet before, and he’d come back over the top and raise me up bigger than the pot, sometimes all-in. And he did so again here. This time, though, I’d had enough and didn’t care one way or another if I won 2nd place or 1st place, so I called, and he ended up having nothing. My 5s improved to trips, and he came close to hitting a straight draw, but missed.

What’s interesting to me about this is how his pattern of successful big bets and raises, intimidating me and getting me off hands I wanted to play, eventually set him up for getting beat when he tried his big bet bluff, and I was finally willing to call, and had something, albeit something very small, it was enough to beat a nothing hand. The other hands where I got all-in with him, too, I won those – each time in a must-win situation.

Who had the better strategy here? Him, dominating me and wearing me down? Or me, picking my shot and getting big payoffs? Despite the win, I feel like he did. I did pick my hands well, but each time I came back with a big pot it was a situation where I could have been eliminated, and all it got me most of the time was back to even, or slightly up, and then he’d go back to wearing me down. He could be wrong a few times, and I had to be right (or lucky) every time. Still, I might fault him here for getting a bit overly-reliant on the raise. He had no way to know when I had a hand, and I knew that I could exploit him when I did hit a hand, by betting small when I hit something, trusting that he’d get more chips in – just what I wanted, when I had a strong hand and felt like I was ahead.

I dunno, maybe I did outplay him, but on that last hand I felt like he’d worn me down and I was ready to give up, and happened to prevail with 5’s, not really expecting to. Maybe it’s a bit like Ali-Frazier III.

This is more than a single hand review, if you want to watch the whole heads-up sequence, you can start from here:

3BetJoe eliminated jimbo56 to make it heads-up: QQ33 over 22A


16:5, I’m dealt 33 and raise 2BB to 840, 3BetJoe raises 2500+ so I lay down my pocket pair. In heads-up play I see people win with pocket rag pairs, but I also see them lose. I didn’t feel 3’s were worth putting that many chips in on.


I have 92o, flop middle pair, bet and take it: https://www.replaypoker.com/hand/replay/480482924

Quick double-up with pocket pair: I have 99, flop is JJ7, 3BetJoe tries to bet me off it with a pot-sized bet, but I raise all-in, he’s got 25s, and I double up. Gutsy call here, but I knew if I was beat I didn’t think I’d be coming back, so if I won I needed to win all the chips I could. After the showdown, we’re close to even, 11-10. https://www.replaypoker.com/hand/replay/480483007

Next hand, he raises, I fold K4o.
I fold 94o in the SB.
I limp 97o, we check to the turn, I have no hand so fold.
Again I’m dealt 97o, I fold the SB.
Then J7o, flop 678, I try min-betting, he raises, I lay down.
92s, I fold the SB. Stack ratio’s now favoring him again, 13:8.

J9o, I feel this is playable, and need to win a hand. Flop is 82Q and I’m needing a Ten for an inside straight, but 3BetJoe makes a pot-sized bet to close me down, and I don’t dare call. An OESD would have been a different matter. https://www.replaypoker.com/hand/replay/480483436

83o, I fold the SB.
T4s, I limp the BB, we check to the river, I end up winning the showdown, but it’s just the blinds. His previous betting action made me feel too intimidated to try to bet even with no action on the flop and turn. I was expecting him to try to trap me again, raising in response to any bet I’d make, and didn’t want to lose any more chips. He could have won the hand easily by betting at any time.

28o, I fold the SB.

Jacks: Now I’m dealt JJ. I raise, and he re-raises big. I go all-in, and it’s off to the races. He’s holding 77, the board gives me a straight, 8-Q, to beat his pair of 7s. Now I’ve doubled up a second time, and am way ahead of him now, stack ratios: 15:7. https://www.replaypoker.com/hand/replay/480483714

At this point, I’m feeling good. I’ve won two very big pots, he’s played me tough in the other hands and won small pots, and I haven’t had a hard time laying down my cards most of the time thanks to the dealer giving me absolute garbage hands. I feel like maybe this will be over soon.

82s, I fold the SB.
35o, he folds the SB to me.

Trips over 2 pair: 44. I raise 3BB, he calls. Flop is KJ2, he bets the pot, I call. Turn, another 2. He bets again, I call. River is a 3, he wins 14000 chips with 62s, making Trip Deuces to my 4422. Bummer. https://www.replaypoker.com/hand/replay/480483912

I didn’t like losing that hand, but I liked that he was willing to call a 3BB raise with 62s, and then bet the pot on a pair of twos with two painted overcards on the board. I note this as very loose aggressive play, and with the previous evidence where I beat him on my big hands, where I held 99 and JJ, I sense that I can exploit this, if only I get the right cards at the right time. But now the stack ratio is back in his favor, 14:8.

AJo, I go all-in, he folds. I take the BB. I guess he won’t be that easy.

Lucky all-in: KTo, I go all-in again, this time he calls, holding 99. I pair my Ten on the flop, which is QT4, another Q and another T come on the final streets to give me Tens full of Queens, and I take the win. Another big reversal of fortune, now the stacks are in my favor, 17:5. https://www.replaypoker.com/hand/replay/480484092

I note here that my aggression was both necessary, and nearly cost me. If I’d simply bet a regular sized open bet here, and saw QT4 and that I just had middle pair, I’m sure I would have checked and folded my hand to what surely would have been a massive bet on his 99. Instead, all decisions are already made, Jesus has taken the wheel, and I’m dominating him with a better pair, and the board just punishes him for extra measure. Even so, two overcards vs. a pocket pair is usually about 50-50 odds, and many times I’ve gone all in against a small pair and hit nothing. So I got very lucky here.

T3, I fold the SB.
T4, I limp the BB. Flop comes AQK, 3BetJoe bets the pot, and despite the inside straight draw to Broadway and the big chip advantage, I don’t feel comfortable calling here, and let him take the hand. https://www.replaypoker.com/hand/replay/480484247

My thinking here is I want to call when I’m ahead, not when I’m behind and hope that I catch up. Even though it was a strong hand to make, I didn’t want him to double up on me here, and I felt there would be a better place to get him.

49o, I fold the SB.
67s, he folds the SB and I win the blinds uncontested.
Q9s, I raise 3BB, he calls. Flop 6KK, he overbets the pot, shoving all-in, and I lay down the hand. Whether he’s bluffing here or not, I couldn’t make this call either. My only hope would have been drawing two diamonds for a flush, or that he’s bluffing. https://www.replaypoker.com/hand/replay/480484386

Q9o, he folds the SB and I collect the blinds.
A5o, I raise 2BB, he calls. Flop Q44, he goes all-in again, I have to fold, on the off chance he actually hit something here.

Suddenly, he’s back up to 9000 chips, and I’m down to 13.5K.
AKo, he limps, I raise. Flop 42K, I min bet, hoping this time he’ll try to jam me again, only he doesn’t. I still win the pot, at least, as he folds. Hmm, maybe those last two hands he really did have something? Could it be?

26o, I fold the SB.
A4o, I limp. I hit middle pair, 4s. I bet the pot. He folds. https://www.replaypoker.com/hand/replay/480484708

J4o, I fold the SB.
83s in the BB, he raises 2BB, I fold.
J7o, I fold the SB. I can’t play this here, I need to play cards I can sustain a raise with.
J9o, OK I’ll play this from the BB… oh wait, no, he’s raised up big again, I have to muck. https://www.replaypoker.com/hand/replay/480484909
82o, I fold the SB.
T3o, I limp the BB. Flop 96Q, he bets pot, I fold.
95s, I fold the SB.
97o, he raises, I fold the BB.
J5s, I limp from BB, the flop is Q73 rainbow, he bets pot, I fold.
9Ts, flop is K27, I bet half the pot, trying to steal, needing to win a hand. He shoves in response, I muck. https://www.replaypoker.com/hand/replay/480485221

Stack ratios are now 14:8, in his favor again. I’ve had to fold a bunch of junky hands, and the hands I’ve been able to see a flop with have all missed. That’s 10 hands in a row, and he’s word me down through blind attrition and lots of aggression.

53o, I fold the SB.
J5o, I limp the SB. Flop is 4TA, I check, he bets pot, I have to lay it down.
25o, I fold the SB.

He chases big draws and misses: K8o, I raise. Flop is JsQs2s, I feel like I have to try to steal it, which is a bad way to feel here, but it pays off. I shove, hoping for T9 or AT to give me a straight; he calls, holding 9h8s. We miss everything until the 8c lands at the river, and my King kicker beats his 9 kicker. But he’d been on a flush draw, and had an inside straight possible, as well. I was lucky he wasn’t suited. https://www.replaypoker.com/hand/replay/480485469

That last one was just dead luck. Stack ratio is back in my favor, 14:8.5.

T4s, I raise 2BB. He comes back and re-raises, I fold.
95o in the BB, 3BetJoe raises, I fold.
68o, I fold the SB.

The Win: 56s, he checks to me, I limp the BB. Flop 5K8, he’s got an OESD, 5678, and shoves. I call, the turn and river are 85, giving me 5s full of 8s for the win, beating his unmade straight and two pair 8855K. https://www.replaypoker.com/hand/replay/480485763

I would have gone the other way and started playing back at him with just about anything. The 9 seat SnGs have 22,500 chips in play, which doesn’t leave much room to wait for a premium hand. I would de-value kickers and go with any ace or king, any pocket pair, and a lot of other stuff I wouldn’t normally play.

Heads up, you will have the best hand by the river half the time. More hands are won by high card, no pair. Play back at him and make him adjust to you, not you to him.

Anyway, that’s how I approach the game.

I mean, I think there’s something to that. That’s kindof what I did when I shoved the KTo hand. “Any pair” on the flop is often good, and that’s partly why I was able to call with the 5’s in the last hand. I think playing any Ace, any King… well, that’s reasonable. I would do that. I probably won’t shove Any Ace/Any King, and I’d be reluctant to call a shove with just Any Ace, but I’d at least play them.

Personally I don’t think it’s overly cautious – I have tried calling shoves with AK and gotten destroyed by any pocket pair when AK doesn’t hit anything. Of course, the odds are AK is pretty good heads-up, but in answer to a shove, most of the time I think it’s a good assumption that you’re going to be up against a pair.

Here, though, I did feel somewhat vulnerable to raises, and that was almost my undoing. I might not have been feeling so vulnerable if my hole cards had been better overall, but having hands I had to fold probably cast my table image into a passive/weak heads-up player, and he was taking full advantage of it, and it was hard to come back and try to be assertive. I did in one or two hands raise preflop or bet on the flop, and got him to fold, but most of the time it felt like if I checked, he’d bet, and if I’d bet, he’d raise, and unless I had something fairly strong, I didn’t feel safe. I probably did fold at least a couple of hands where I was being bluffed, though.

1 Like

I didn’t say “shove any ace or king.” You can play back at him without committing all your chips.

You want to feel safe, wear a helmet. It’s all frequency-based. If he was raising too much, you have to play back or get ground down. Still, you won, so there’s that.

1 Like

True. And I did want to play back. I just had a long string of cards in the middle of it where I couldn’t. The hand where I held K8o and got him on the river 8’s with him chasing straight and flush possibilities is an example of my playing back with a King hand. And it did pay off. And before that, when I shoved KTo into 99 and managed to win that hand, too. So I think your point about playing Kings and Aces is validated.

The many rag hands I folded, I don’t think any of those were bad folds.

The couple of hands where we got to a flop and I missed and didn’t bet, I could have maybe tried to take with bigger betting. Clearly, against this player, at least, he was willing to raise me on a min-bet or half-pot bet, and it worked for him in the hands where I tried that tactic.

I might have been able to re-raise, or just start off betting bigger, pot-size or shoves, and got him to fold, but something tells me he was going to be much more likely to call than I would have been comfortable with to bluff-shove a nothing hand. Maybe it’d work in one of these hands, and gotten him to lay down, or call and I end up hitting the Turn/River and take it, but which one? There’s no way of knowing…

So yeah, I won. Pretty lucky to do it.

Cards? Against a super aggro, you don’t need no stinkin cards. Jam that 4-2 and let it ride!


1 Like