Tournament Heads Up Strategy

Playing heads up well in a tournament is an important skill to have to be successful and win tournaments. Here are some tips for playing heads up in a tournament:

  • Make sure you have a healthy chip stack when going into the heads up portion of the tournament. Keep in mind that in every hand heads up you’ll be posting either the big blind or small blind as well as any ante if their is one. Being deep in big blinds will help give you a better chance at winning the tournament in heads up play.

  • Know how many chips your opponent has. If you have a big chip lead over your opponent apply pressure, be aggressive and go for the win! If your short on chips your gonna need to find a spot to jam all in and hopefully improve your chip stack. This brings me to my next point.

  • Open your starting hand ranges!!! In heads up play I personally think you should be seeing a flop on nearly every hand. In heads up play any hand can be the winning hand. Don’t be afraid to see flops and if you notice your opponent calling a lot preflop don’t be afraid to get aggressive and raise preflop.

  • My final tip is to remember the tournament isn’t over until it’s over. Even if you have a huge chip advantage remember things can change very quickly in poker and before you know it you and your opponent could be even in chip stacks. Don’t start playing lazy and assume you have the tournament won. Play competitively the entire heads up battle and don’t stop until all the chips are won or it could end up costing you a tournament win.

    I hope these tips help improve your tournament heads up strategy!




There are only two of you and the favorite is the larger stack, since they can eliminate opponent on any hand, and the reverse is not true. In any tournament you want to be the largest stack at any time, but this is usually not possible.

If you are the larger stack there are various ways to go for the kill. a) When you have good starting hands, you should raise preflop enough to get opponent into jeopardy for his whole stack at the flop if the flop hits you hard. b) When you have monsters it is usually best to slow play them to get your smaller stacked opponent to bluff or raise, or call all in. Not much use picking up AA and all that happens is you take down the blinds.

If you are the small stack, you have nothing to lose. If you let the big stack push you around, you will become more and more irrelevant. Shove any ace or any other top 25% hand preflop and fold anything with a 2, 3, or 4 in it preflop, because you cannot afford to be calling low draws on the flop.

If you double up and become the large stack, follow instructions for large stack play, but if opponent shoves while you are the large stack, fold unless you have a top 10% hand. If you fold so much that you become the small stack, then switch to instructions for small stack.

Either way, slow play your monsters, flopped flushes and straights and so on and make your opponents scared to bluff, because they know you are liable to shove at any provocation.

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Very good topic Marc. This is the situation where the most is at stake and people have the least experience with it. If I could add a few things to help with that:

  1. Prepare for the situation - practice! Play some HU SnG’s. Don’t be the player who is least familiar with the spot.
  2. Understand short-stacked play. In many tournaments, when you get to HU, chances are you are not playing very deep, probably under 25BB effective. Remember, the effective stack is the smaller of the 2. Adjust your ranges to take this into account - strong pairs are where its at.
  3. Be ok with going broke rather than playing too passively. If your opponent is raising any 2 cards, look for spots to reraise/jam. Doesn’t have to be all Ax hands and pairs - you can go wider and attack the dead money. Understand you will shove into a better hand sometimes and that’s ok. Grabbing 3BB without seeing a flop when you have a 20BB stack is a huge win.

Get familiar with the situation. Get comfortable playing wide ranges. Get comfortable with busting out. Mostly, get yourself to the point where you are happy to be in the spot you’re in rather than being fearful of it.


I typically finish 1st or 3rd at the end of a tournament; very rarely do I ever finish 2nd.

I shove… a lot. When I get to HU, it’s more important to me to play the person across the table than bog myself down in the math. I will continuously hammer away at an opponent playing too passively or nitty at this stage in the game until they stop or I win. Short stack or big stack; it doesn’t matter to me.

All that said, my range will shift away from mid-rank suited or connected cards and more toward one or both cards being high ranked. Against one opponent, high card or top pair are more likely to come out ahead if you see a showdown.


I agree, HU is no time to allow to be bullied. If I have a hand worth playing I’m shove’n. If you’re too dumb to let me see a free flop so be it, otherwise I’m folding. There is NO middleground, you play the player and use cards as a guide.

Its no different than once you Isolate the hand down to HU. From there you can play the player if you want.

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I’m raising most of my buttons to pot so when i get the big pair, they’re more likely to call my raise, often with weak hands, and bet too much when they get a piece of the flop. Slow playing kinda defeats that purpose. Maybe in the BB if the Button limps.
I don’t shove much anymore, when playing heads up. For me, it’s more effective when it’s the exception, and not the rule. If there is a difference in my short stack strategy, it that i have to shove more, to reach the amount i want to bet.
Knowing when to bail is real important to my end game. Nothing irritates me more than helping my opponent’s case more than i should have. I guess that’s where playing the player, as well as the cards, comes into play.

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3 or 4 in a row can be the fuel for a comeback. My pocket Aces may fold the table, due to my sizing, but so does the entire range I use, when first to act, and on the button. Chips won…cool.

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