PokerStars All Star Week: The Captain speaks

allstarweek_thn.jpgPokerStars All-Star week kicked off in full today with the first matches between Team PokerStars Pro and the All Star challengers. Several weeks ago, Team PokerStars Pro held a match of its own to determine who would serve as its captain as it took on some of the best poker players from their home site.

When the match was over, Team PokerStars Pro Victor Ramdin emerged as the team captain. Over the next seven days, he will lead the Team through the bloody battle sure to come from All Star Week.

We asked Ramdin to give us his thoughts on heads up play. Here's what he had to say.

Heads Up Poker: Winning Ugly

by Victor Ramdin

I like to think of heads up poker as the poker where you need to win ugly. I'm not talking about being a bad sport or breaking the rules, I'm talking about winning with ugly cards. It's just you and one other player. Much of the time, neither one of you is going to start with or end up with too pretty a hand. Which means that one of you is going to have to win ugly. And when the dealing's done, the player that wins ugly more often is probably going to be the one with the chips.

In heads up hold 'em, you've got to win some pots by calling at the river with king high. And you've got to win some decent size pots with bottom pair--not tiny, checked down pots, decent size pots. If you're never winning heads up hold 'em hands by calling at the river with king high and if you're never winning decent size pots with bottom pair,
you're not winning ugly enough.

In heads up triple draw, you've got to raise before the first draw with 2-6-8-T-K. You'd rather have a prettier hand to raise with, but that's beside the point. The point is that your opponent's hand is probably even uglier than yours, and you've got to make him pay to draw to that ugly hand.

In heads up Omaha high, you've got to bet the third nut straight at the river, get called, and win. Of course you'd rather be betting the nut straight or at least the second nuts. And in a ring game, four handed at the river, you probably shouldn't bet the river, and maybe not even call a bet. But this is heads up. Full Omaha games are about making the nuts. Heads up Omaha isn't.

In heads up Badugi, after you steal raise in position, get called, and your opponent draws two, you've got to stand pat with 333T or AA88. It would be great to draw and hit a miracle hand, but you may do better in the long run by standing pat with your ugly hand than by drawing weak trying to make a pretty hand.

In heads up seven card stud eight or better, you've got to scoop some pots at the river with a pair of nines. In a ring game you might throw away that same pair of nines on third street. But heads up, you've got to play those nines much more often and you've got to see them through to the river much more often.

Even heads up, you'll show down a pretty hand every so often. But between pretty hands, be sure to win with your share of ugly ones.

We have all heard it said while playing poker that any two cards can win. Never is this truer, than when playing Texas Hold'em Heads-up. After all Doyle Brunson won two WSOP Main Event bracelets while holding just a measly 10-2. Playing heads up requires a different strategy than you would employ at a full table. It is a completely different game and requires you to play a wide range of starting hands. It requires aggression, and a sound knowledge of your opponents playing style; being able to read strength and weakness, and of course a little luck can never hurt. Heads-up can be very difficult to play, especially against an experienced player. But thanks to PokerStars we can play heads-up anytime, and gain the necessary skill and experience rather quickly.

Starting Hands

When playing heads-up you can not play tight, and expect to win. Given that Q7 (also known as the computer hand) will win slightly more than 50% of the time heads up, this is the hand to use as your benchmark. Any hand Q7 or better must be played heads-up. Small pocket pairs, small aces (e.g. - A2, A3) or even small kings must be played aggressively. Often the small blind (the button when heads-up) will raise every hand pre-flop. You must counter this by defending your big blind more often, or even more optimal re-raising when holding one of the starting hands described above.

Knowing your Opponent

If your opponent plays passive, than you should play more aggressive. If he is aggressive, then you will have to call more often pre-flop, and also by using well timed raises or re-raises pre-flop. If your opponent is very aggressive you have to vary your play and use some discretion when entering a pot.

Chip Stack Size

Knowing your opponents chip count, as well as your own, is always critical. When you are the big stack heads-up, you have to play more aggressive, stealing the blinds, and putting your opponent to the test every hand. It is important to remember that your opponent can have a hand, so while being aggressive be careful not to double your opponent up, or you'll quickly find yourself on the short stack.. When you are the short stack (33% of the chips in play or less) you have to play a little more cautiously, and look for an opportunity to get yourself all-in and double up; or the high blinds and antes will eat up your chips. You will have no fold equity left, and your opponent will be forced to call you regardless of your holding, as he will be getting proper pot odds to call you.

Varying Your Play (Limping Headsup)

While limping into a pot can be very deceptive, it can also be very dangerous. Limp occasionally against a passive opponent when trying to see a flop cheaply (e.g. - with small suited connectors). Limp occasionally against an aggressive opponent whom you are trying to trap while holding a big hand (e.g. - high pocket pair or AK), especially if you think he will raise pre-flop; look to limp occasionally and check/raise.

Playing Headsup after the Flop

After the flop you will have to continuation bet more often when missing the flop. Often the flop will miss you both, so a continuation bet will often win the pot. Again always be wary of your opponent making a hand, so being able to read your opponent for strength or weakness after the flop is crucial. You must be able to fold when you sense strength and be looking to re-raise when you sense weakness.


The most important aspect of heads-up poker is aggression. Aggressive play does not mean blind aggression. You must vary your starting hand requirements, and know your opponent. The best way to get better is to practice as often as you can and you'll be winning in no time.

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in PokerStars news