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StrategySit and Goes

The 6 Keys to Winning Heads-Up Sit ‘n Go Play


In this article
  • Which playing style is successful in HU-SnGs
  • How to play against different opponents
  • Why you should always construct a game plan

In this article we will discuss the most important skills for successful heads-up play.

Play an Aggressive, Positional Game

In many poker formats you can be a solid winner through tight play. When you play heads-up, however, waiting to get paid off with big hands is a losing style. You must post a blind every hand; even if your opponent gives you action when you are holding strong hands, he will win too many small pots for you to have an advantage.

You should therefore play many hands, particularly when you’re the button and have position on every postflop betting round. You should play the following hands from the button, at the very least: 22+, A2+, K2s+, K5o+, Q2s+, Q6o+, J2s+, J7o+, as well as suited connectors and mid offsuit connectors. Always enter the pot with a raise.

Tighten up defending against button raises when you are the big blind. Even though you’ll get good odds, you’ll be playing every postflop street out of position. However, any ace, pair, or broadway hand is still playable.

Construct a Postflop Game Plan

When you connect with the flop it’s important to decide on a game plan for the hand. You will sometimes want to check one or more streets to induce bluffs and limit the size of the pot. For instance, suppose you raise on the button with K8 offsuit. Your opponent calls and the flop comes A K Q. You should usually check behind either the flop or the turn, as few opponents will call three streets on this board with a hand worse than your 2nd pair.

You should also semi-bluff aggressively in heads-up, playing fast with your draws as your opponent will often be caught without a hand and be forced to fold. However, you should rather not make pure bluffs on multiple streets without a good reason. In time you will recognize good opportunities to make plays. For example, after raising preflop, you should usually make a continuation bet (c-bet) on the flop. A good bluffing opportunity arises if your opponent calls your c-bet and then a scare card falls on the turn – such as an ace or king after a flop of low cards.

Tailor your Strategy to your Opponent

A major topic in my first videos will be exactly how to exploit the different player types that you encounter. Here is a quick summary of several important points.

Tight Players

Against a tight player, you should play very loose-aggressive, but be quick to fold marginal hands when he shows strength. Your goal in the game will be to win many small and medium-sized pots uncontested and only give your tight opponent action in larger pots when you’re holding a very strong hand yourself. The best opponent to play against is one who is both tight and passive, as this is the weakest style in heads-up play.

Loose-passive Players

Against a loose-passive player, your goal is to aggressively value bet any hand you think is the best and almost never bluff. Do not make any fancy plays against a calling station; simply wait until you have an above-average hand and bet for value.

Loose-aggressive Players

Against a loose-aggressive player, you may have a challenge on your hands! Loose-aggressive is a very effective style in heads-up. You simply must play good poker and search for any weaknesses you can find and exploit, such as loose-aggressive players who defend with weak hands out of position.

Table Selection

Table selection is particularly crucial in heads-up. If you’re a very good player, you will still lose against a world-class player. Similarly, a weak player will have an advantage against a terrible player.

Your edge in the match depends on your skill level relative to your opponent.

If you’re playing micro-stakes games on a large site like PokerStars, new players may sit down so quickly that table selection becomes difficult. But when you do sit second, seek out weak players and avoid the regulars. Also: never rematch a good player.

Know Short-Stacked Strategy

When you play heads-up, pay close attention to the effective stack, which is the shorter of the two stack sizes. For example, suppose the blinds are $15-$30. Your stack is $2850 and your opponent has $150. While you have a large stack, anything you bet or raise beyond $150 goes into a side pot that you automatically win. The effective stack is therefore 5 BB and you should play accordingly.

Here are the most important guidelines for playing with a short effective stack:

0-9 BB

Any raise you make will commit you to the hand. You should therefore tend to shove or fold preflop. To decide which hands are profitable to shove, or call an all-in, you can use online charts or software such as SNG-Wizard.

10 – 20 BB

You may now elect to shove on the button or go in with a small raise. Against tough opponents, playing shove-fold is often your best game plan with a stack of up to around 15 BB. Min-raising is a very viable alternative against weaker opponents, as you may comfortably fold to a 3-bet and save your stack when your opponent has a strong hand.

When you’re the big blind, you may shove a wide range of hands over a small button raise. The exact hands you can profitably 3-bet shove depend on your opponent’s opening range and the range of hands with which he’ll call your shove. SNG-Wizard can give you specific ranges. As a rough guideline however, you can almost always shove any ace, pair, or suited broadway hand over a small raise with an effective stack up to 20 BBs. You can profitably shove even wider against players opening many hands.

Bankroll Management

A winning player should have a minimum of 30 buy-ins for the level that he is playing at, but 50 buy-ins is preferable to ensure that you can handle even the worst downswings. With only two players and 50% of the field paid, heads-up is a less swingy game compared to many other formats. Long downswings are possible in all game types, however and heads-up is no exception.


Heads-up SNGs are a fun and profitable format. If you follow the advice in this article and continue to study and improve your game, you may soon have a new favorite game.


Comments (6)

#1 matel17, 30 Sep 11 12:13


#2 TheGuyFromCIA, 30 Sep 11 18:43


#3 antstruk, 20 Oct 11 20:45

Are there any more coming?

#4 eldarismo, 03 Jun 12 21:10

great article!

#5 lucijaseder, 11 Jun 12 20:00

are 1.5$ games at stars easy to beat? :P

#6 djolelood, 08 Jan 13 09:51

On 1.5 $ regular rake beat you :) Turbo is ok :)