Despite its propensity for higher variance, heads up poker is increasing in popularity in both ring games and sit n go’s.  Its diversity from other forms of poker necessitates a different style of play, and we’re now going to take a look at some effective strategies for 4 man heads up sit n gos.

As most 4 man HU SnG’s involve a flat payout to the winner, clearly that’s our goal.  Getting there usually requires a combination of understanding the general concepts behind winning heads up play, and being prepared to be adaptable to ensure we’re playing optimum poker irrespective of the style of our opposition.

Early Stages

This is our discovery stage.  The blinds are small, the stacks are even, and this is the perfect opportunity to start feeling out your opponent.  The things to consider are his raise frequency pre flop, whether he limps, is he passive and calling your raises, or is he aggressive in position.  Does he bet with bottom pair, check call with hands which might be good at showdown, or does he take the lead?  Does he alter his play in position or fold more often out of position?  Does he float and bluff on the turn or river?  Is he resteal capable?  With the blinds so small in these stages relative to stack sizes we can afford to call some bets for information even though we might think we’re behind.  Whilst both our play and their play will adjust in later levels, obtaining a sense of our opponents style and general tendencies can be integral to developing a strategy to beat them.

General Heads Up Sit N Go Strategy

Whilst there are some differences to a single heads up match and a 4 man sit n go, there are some general principles which apply equally to both.

Unlike 6 or full table sit n go’s, it is rarely profitable to fold a hand preflop.  Position becomes a key element in each hand and its almost always correct to at least limp into a pot in position.  If we’re faced with a large raise, we can always fold, otherwise we play out the rest of the hand with the benefit of seeing our opponent act first.  Position in heads up matches can’t be over emphasized.  If Negreanu thinks he’d struggle to beat an amateur in a game of heads up where the amateur always had position, it’s probably worth looking to play as many pots in position as possible.   If we open fold on the button too frequently, this is a sign of weakness and one likely to be exploitable.

Pre flop it is usually correct to put in a standard raise with any pair, any two paint cards, any ace and most hands containing K-rag.  Don’t be afraid to mix up your play though and limp with larger hands and raise pre flop with suited connectors or gappers.  Finding a balance is key here.  If we are limping too often our opponent may try to bully us and avoid giving us action when we take the lead.  If we’re raising too often our client may look to trap us.  When determining an appropriate raise frequency, its important to consider how our play is being perceived by our opponent.  We might have had AK, QQ, AJ, and K10 for our last four hands, but all our opponent knows is that we’ve lead out at every pot pre flop.  Consider how that might effect their play and try to anticipate a response.

There is a far higher tendency for re-raises heads up.  One additional thing to avoid doing but also look for in our opponents is habitual continuation betting.  Whilst it will often be correct to lead out at a pot if we’ve taken the lead pre flop to get our opponent to fold, consider reducing the frequency of c-betting if we find our opponent begins to re-raise us often post flop.  Conversely, if we decide our opponent is c-betting irrespective of the texture of the board, consider re-raising to exploit that leak and shut him down.

Flop texture.  We all know that heads up a player is going to hit the flop about one time in three.  This ties in with the above tip in that its correct to lead out with a continuation bet or a bet if we have limped into the pot if the board texture looks like it might have missed our opponent.  For example, if we raise pre flop and are called, a board of 267 rainbow is a good opportunity to take a stab, especially if the pot is checked to you.

Don’t be afraid to bet draws.  As smaller hands have higher value heads up, betting your draw can be an excellent way to fatten a pot if you make it, whilst maintaining our chance of taking down the pot uncontested if we miss.

Play Your Opponent, Not Your Cards

Heads up highlights this proposition more so than any other type of poker. Having used the early stages to get an idea of our opponents tendencies, we can then set out to exploit their overall playing style.  Against a passive or weak opponent, we’ll be looking to play more aggressive poker, raising pre flop and continuation betting at a higher frequency, and folding when our opponent plays back at us.  These opponents generally aren’t prevalent in heads up play though, as their predictable style rarely lends itself to successful outcomes.  However, even in heads up there are solid tight players and we should be looking to chip away at their stack as relentlessly as possible because we can be fairly certain if he doesn’t hit, he’ll yield the pot to us.

Against an aggressive opponent we need to consider tightening up our own play and yielding small pots for the opportunity to take down a large one with premium holdings (keeping in mind that what constitutes premium in heads up play is a far wider range than normal).  Aggressive opponents give us the chance to trap and slow play our larger hands, and we’ll need to consider when to bet for value on textured flops with hands like middle pair.  We can also use seemingly weak play, such as checking a flop and turn, to induce bluffs which we can snap off on the turn or river.

4 Man HU Play

When playing a 4 man sit n go, we clearly need to survive the first stage to make it through to the second, so depending on the other factors raised above we may play slightly more conservatively to ensure we make it through the first level.  However, its generally correct to apply best principles and play our game accordingly.  The only thing we might consider is gambling less and not getting ourselves into coin-flip situations given that we are likely to have better spots being patient.

It is often advisable to open up the other table so that you can watch your opponents playing their match.  If you finish your match early, be sure to watch the other two players end theirs to get some insight into your eventual opponent.  If their match ends first, consider that your opponent might be watching you and the impression this might create of your own playing style.

Ultimately, there will be times where we fail to pick or implement the correct strategy against an opponent, but utilising the above tips as a starting position should provide us with a good opportunity to ensure our play is adaptable and optimum no matter who we face on the felt.

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