Daniel Negreanu's Heads Up Strategy
Daniel Negreanu is better known for his impressive tournament record and
high-stakes poker appearances than for Heads-Up poker. After the 2006 NBC heads
up poker championship Negreanu likened this variation of Texas Holdem as being
closer to chess than to poker. His objective during the matches being to figure
a strategy to beat the individual player you are up against, this in turn
involving a constant awareness of how your opponent is perceiving you and the
moves you make.
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There are several interesting strategy factors that are emphasized in Daniel
Negreanu’s heads-up poker strategy. These involve the use of position, post flop
play (including pot size) control, varying your play to avoid giving your
opponent reads and value betting.
Negreanu is well aware that hand strength in heads-up poker depends more on hitting the flop than the cards you hold before this is dealt. He is happy to see a flop with weak holdings such as 4-2 suited or 10-7 off suit, this is made possible due to well developed post flop skills and reads on opponents which allow him to avoid trouble later in the hand.
Position is very important in Negreanu’s heads-up game. He will raise liberally from the dealer button position. Acting after opponents on the flop, turn and river betting rounds allows a good sense of where one stands in the hand relative to your opponent. Negreanu uses this factor to the maximum. He will also call raises when out of position depending on his opponent and the type of hand held. Avoiding the play of easily dominated hands when out of position gives further security.
Daniel Negreanu is famous for his ‘small-ball’ approach to tournament play. Here he keeps the initial pot small on the early betting rounds and uses his post flop skills assess whether he is ahead of his opponents hand. Once again playing in position during a heads-up match factors into this – it is easier to control the size of the pot (for example by calling rather than re-raising on the flop) from the dealer button (last) position. Playing many small pots in a heads-up match also gives a professional player a chance to let their superior post-flop hand reading skills come into play.
Avoiding giving your opponent accurate reads on your hand is another important aspect of Negreanu’s heads-up poker strategy. Deliberately mixing up play a small percentage of the time in usually enough to ensure that the betting pattern information you give to opponents has an element of doubt attached. For Daniel Negreanu, heads-up poker is about levels of thinking, trying to see the hand from the perspective of your opponent’s view of what you have. To achieve this level of complexity it is sometimes necessary to use several levels – understanding your opponent’s actions based on what he thinks that your view of his hand is for example.
Finally getting the most out of hands when you think you are ahead is central to Negreanu’s heads-up poker play. Known as ‘Value Betting’ this is an extension of the post flop play and pot control strategies outlined above. Based on your read on an opponent’s hand once all the cards are out you need to estimate the maximum bet that is likely to be called based on his probable holding. This method of extracting the most chips when ahead (and conversely losing the least when behind) gives professional poker players like Daniel Negreanu a big edge in heads-up poker.