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StrategyFixed Limit

Heads-up on the flop: Introduction


In this article
  • Balancing, exploiting and adapting
  • Choice of heads-up plays on the flop
  • Overview of the next articles

In our examination of this subject, we'll introduce you to concepts that show you how you can beat 1$/$2 and higher in heads-up situations from the flop onwards. As the skill of your opponents increases int the higher limits, these articles focus on you how you can beat the above average opponents and avoid geting beaten by them. You've already learned the essential fine points of the pre-flop game in the gold section, which is why these articles are limited to post-flop play for the most part.

If you want to survive against good opponents, you must first understand the principles of balancing, exploiting and adapting to the style of your opponent. The meanings of these terms will now be explained.


Fixed Limit Texas Hold’em is always a sequence of bet, call, raise or fold for each of the four streets. The sequence you choose is called your 'play or move'. In this section, plays will always be stated from the flop onwards. The term 'play on x', with 'x' being replaced by either 'the flop', 'the turn' or 'the river' is used for the individual parts of a play.

For example, if you play check/call on the flop, your play on the flop is C/C. If you then played check/call on the turn, your play would be C/C C/C, and if you folded on the turn, your play would be C/C C/F.

When choosing your play you should be very careful not to give your opponent too much information on your hand. You need to make sure that the play you choose a) allows your opponent to imagine you on a wide variety of types of hand and equally b) gives your opponent as little information as possible about what you will do on the next street. This is the next part of your play. Doing this when choosing a play/move is called 'balancing'.

Example: You're defending your big blind against a button raise. The flop comes 3 6 8and you play C/R flop, bet on the turn. Does the opponent have a lot of information on what type of hand you have? No, he doesn't, because you play this type of move with a pair, a monster, a flush draw, a straight draw or maybe even as a bluff.

If you have this range, your line is balanced. Your opponent wouldn't know whether he has the best hand if he had A -high. However, if you played C/C flop with every draw, C/R flop only with made hands and C/F flop with all trash hands, then your play wouldn't be balanced. Your opponent would know that you at least have a pair when playing C/R flop, that you have a draw when you play C/C flop, and that he is therefore ahead with A-high.

How can you determine whether your plays are balanced?

You can use a self test by analysing hands from your own data bank, without looking at your hole cards. If you can deduce what type of hand you had, just from examining the play you used, this shows the play wasn't balanced.

Example: You study the hands in which you bet the flop and checked the turn out of position (OOP) and as pre-flop raiser. You notice that in these hands, you almost always folded to any bet, after checking the turn. The check on the turn part of your play isn't balanced, so your entire play isn't balanced. It openly shows that you almost certainly had a weak hand.

However, the further a hand progresses, the less important balancing becomes. If you 3-bet the river, you probably have a very strong hand, but as most of the money is already in the pot at this point, the opponent will usually call anyway. The opponent's fear of folding the best hand in a big pot and his hope that you may be bluffing, make balancing with bluffs more or less unnecessary at this stage of the hand.

Thorough balancing is only necessary when playing against good opponents who you think could be trying to read your game. If you are playing against unattentive fish, you can unscrupulously choose the best play to exploit the fish as much as possible. Even if this play isn't balanced, a fish won't notice this and won't adapt his own style.


Let's assume that you have carefully observed an opponent and noticed that there are leaks in his game. These could be fundamental mistakes, e.g. playing too loosely pre-flop or too passively post-flop. However, as we have seen, there can also be more subtle leaks in the form of bad balancing of post-flop moves. Trying to profit from your opponent's mistakes is called 'exploiting'.

Example: Your opponent is loose-passive, calling down a lot of bad hands and never bluffing. You exploit him by playing a tighter pre-flop game than him and isolating him with good hands. You make big value bets against him and fold good hands when he plays aggressively. This is the way to exploit this opponent: you play better starting hands against him; you extract every cent of value with your made hands but you don't pay his strong hands off, making good laydowns instead.

The balancing leak on the turn (described above) can also serve as an example. Your opponent has the initiative OOP and bets the flop. You've noticed that he often plays C/F turn after being called on the flop in this situation. You conclude that he only makes a continuation bet on the turn when he has something better than trash.

You can of course easily exploit this by always betting after he checks the turn, even if your hand has no showdown value. You can even go a step further and exploit his leak on the flop.

If you think that he plays C/F turn with all hands, that aren't at least as strong as a pair, you can call his flop bet with weak hands in the hope that he will play C/F turn. This is called a 'bluff call'. You bluff the opponent with a call on the flop, planning to bluff the turn if he doesn't bet.

This is actually better than raising the flop. It is a cheap bluff as the call only costs you one SB and your turn bluff will hardly ever be called. By employing this strategy you can gain an edge over your opponent and can play against him profitably.

Let's assume that the opponent has noticed that he is being exploited by your bluff call. He now decides to change his moves to stop you from exploiting him. This is what we call 'adapting'. To counter your bluff calls, he might bluff the turn with weak hands, as he knows that you often bluff call and have nothing on the turn. He can also start play by C/R the turn with strong hands.

The cost of your bluff has now increased to 1.5BB, as you would be spending a further BB on the turn without knowing where you stand. To adapt to these developments, you could reduce the frequency of your bluff calls, or abandon them all together. You can see that adapting and exploiting works like a game of cat and mouse. You must always try to be the cat!


Now to the actual topic of this article: heads-up on the flop. While climbing the stakes you will notice that your opponents improve, which is mainly reflected by their aggression. This means that there will be noticeably more raising and re-raising in the pre-flop stage, which leads to the majority of pots being heads-up from the flop onwards. In these situations it is important to attune yourself to your opponent and balance your plays. The articles to follow in this topic show how you can balance your plays while exploiting your opponents, or adapting to their attempts of exploiting you.

In heads-up, all possible plays from the flop onwards are played in precisely one of the four following situations:

  • Out of position (OOP) without the initiative
  • OOP with the initiative
  • In position (IP) without the initiative
  • IP with initiative.

Using these situations as a starting point, profitable plays will be covered in as much detail as possible. When you read about a play on the flop, you should make sure that you read about the corresponding turn play immediately afterwards. It is essential to make sure that the given play on the flop and on the turn fit into the same overall strategy you have chosen. A play is only correct or incorrect in relation to the play on further streets.

If you examine the flop part of a play without examining the rest of the play, it may seem correct, while actually being an incorrect overall move because it doesn't suit your interests on the turn.

The first article of this series covers the check/call play on the flop, without the initiative and with showdown value.

Go to the article

Further articles will follow.


That's not the entire article...

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Comments (1)

#1 Pouserly2, 12 Aug 11 10:32

AnaKe Sitthisak