How Not To Play Heads Up

The other night I played a low buy-in single table tournament on PokerStars.  I got down to the final two and despite finding myself on the wrong side of a couple of coolers when I had him covered, it was pretty much the easiest finish to a tournament that I ever had.  My opponent was fairly predictable in general and fell into patterns of behaviour.

The worst thing that he did was to give me the advantage on nearly every single hand. Because it was heads up, the small blind was also the button, being in position after the flop.  We both chose to play around the same amount of hands from the small blind, and therefore we were folding around the same as each other.  The difference was that when he did play from small blind he would always call rather than raise giving me the option to check and see the flop.  When I was in the small blind I would always put in a minimum raise rather than call.

The result of this pattern is that when I was out of position post flop, we were playing for the minimum possible.  When I was in position, the pot had been nearly doubled.  This gave me a huge advantage and I found myself quickly adding to my stack without really having to do too much.  The maths just worked for me.

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A solid night, but should I have bet the turn?

Tonight I was itching to get playing.  Kicked off with a small buy-in 180 player sit and go.  That one didn’t last too long.  There was one hand that pretty much killed me, which I’d like to go through to figure out if I’m right that I played it as well as I could. For context I’ll start with the hand before it.

The guy to my right had started off fairly aggressively but I hadn’t seen any of his cards.  I’d just been moved onto his table and only had stats on 9 hands, which showed he’d seen 6 of the flops including 3 raises.

He raised in second position and I just had a feeling I could squeeze him a little with my Q9s.  I’d been playing tight and I thought there was a good chance that he’d put me on a better hand than his. So I re-raise to a little less that 3x his bet, he calls. Can’t remember the flop but he checks and folds to my bet.

The very next hand he raises again under the gun, and again I re-raise, this time holding a pocket pair 10d,10s. It’s folded round to him and he calls.

Flop comes 3h, Qh, 9d.

He checks and I bet about 60% of the pot which he calls.

The turn hits another queen, Qd.  And here’s the crucial action. He checks again, fairly quickly which made me worry a little that he might be setting a trap.  I mulled it over and decided to check for several reasons;

  • If he had a queen he was trapping and I’d be put to a difficult decision when he check-raised.
  • If he didn’t have a queen he could make the same play which again would be a difficult decision.
  • By checking I thought that I could make a much better judgement as to whether or not a bet on the river was a bluff or not from the size.
  • Checking also gave him the opportunity to make a mistake by bluffing a missed river if he was holding AK, AJ, AT or a smaller pocket pair.
  • My gut had suggested that the quick check may have been a trap.
  • By checking the turn I may make him think I have a mediocre hand, so he would have to bet small enough on the river for value if he really did have me beaten.  That leaves me with chips on the table rather than nothing but virtual felt.

The river was the 8d.  He bets around 40% of the pot which was about half my remaining stack.  I thought it was unlikely that he’d hit a flush as he could only really have been holding Ad Kd or Ad Jd to do that. A straight was possible but not that likely. I thought he could have had a queen but he’d been too active to just give it to him.  I didn’t think I could fold, so I called.

I was gutted to see him turn over 8c, 8s.  He’d hit a full house on the river and left me with just over a third of my starting stack, which I never managed to recover from.  My check had allowed him to improve on the river for free.

So the question is, should I have bet the turn?  Writing it out like this has helped me to analyse it a bit more, and my conclusion is that I was probably right to check the turn and definitely right to call on the river.

I’d love to hear what anyone else thinks.

I also played a single table sit and go and despite a run of horrific cards I managed to finish second.  By rights I should have won it, I found myself with AA against Q5, just me and one guy left.  He missed the flop totally but hit a 5 on the turn and again on the river.

I played some cash too which went fairly well but I won’t go through it all.  So it was a profitable night for both cash and tournaments but it was mostly thanks to the cash games.

And oh yeah, think I’ve got to re-address golden rule #3, no multi-tabling.  I think it actually works quite well to play one cash game with a tournament.  Two screens with tables both full screen.  I’m going on the principle that I can stop cash at any time, so put 80% of my attention to the cash table and then move it to the tournament when it gets down to the meat of it.  I’ll see how it goes.