How Heads Up Play Differs form 6-10 Person Play

While heads up poker and 6-10 person play (ring games) share many similarities there are also some important differences that need to be taken into account. These include the rank of starting hands, probability that an opponent has a strong starting hand, the general strength of hands that win showdowns and the importance of position.


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In a ring game in both online and live poker you need to compare your starting hand with those of up to 9 opponents, then factor in your position at the table before you decide whether to play or fold. In heads up poker the strength of your holding needs only to be compared to that of one opponent. This means that the ‘rank’ (pre-flop strength) of starting hands are different in a full-ring game and heads up poker game.

In heads up poker there is less likelihood your one opponent is holding a pair – this makes any pair you hold go up in value before the flop. When there are 9 opponents each one has a chance of holding a pair higher than yours. If you look at the probability of this happening against a single opponent the odds are very small – particularly if you hold a medium to high pair yourself.

In a ring-game suited and connected cards have some value before the flop. This is due to the fact that hitting a straight or a flush can win a big pot against an opponent with a strong holding (for example an over-pair or trips). In heads up poker these hands go down slightly in value before the flop, your opponent is less likely to have a hand that will pay you off with a big pot when you do hit your draw.

In fact starting hand strength in heads up poker often depends on as little as a single high card. Most aces are playable for a raise from the dealer button position as holding that card has reduced the statistical chances that your opponent has one. While in a full-ring game the hands which are shown down are often 2-pair or better - it is very possible that middle pair, bottom pair or even a high-card ace will win a heads up poker showdown.

Position play factors are another significant difference between the ring-game and heads up poker. Firstly, in heads up poker you can confidently raise with your pair or an ace with a good kicker without too much risk of being re-raised from the single player still to act. Not only are you able to play more hands but you will be able to see more flops than you would in a full-ring poker game.

Since there are only 2 players heads up you do not need to be concerned about ‘relative position’. That is to say that you will always be acting last when holding the dealer button heads up. In a full ring game this is not always the case. The following example will demonstrate;

2 players limp from early position and a mid-position player raises to 3 times the big blind. You have a drawing hand such as J-10 suited on the button and elect to call. The big blind calls as do both of the limpers. On this flop you are theoretically last to act – however you are not last to act relative to the pre-flop raiser. Often the hand will be checked to the mid-position player who may bet. When he does this you are next to act with 3 players still to decide how to react to the flop bet to act behind you. Your position relative to the raiser can often put you in a difficult spot.

Because there is no danger of being ‘trapped’ between your opponent and other players in a heads up poker game the power of holding the button is increased. This, in turn, should lead you to play more hands and play them more aggressively from the button when heads up.