Heads-up poker is sheer one-on-one competition.
Every time you sit at the table you’re essentially telling a single opponent:
“I’m better than you, and I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is to prove it.”
But heads-up poker comes in different forms, so it’s important to know which fits best with your skill-set. If you have a background playing tournaments or if you just love going all-in, heads-up sit & go tournaments (HUSNGs) are probably the right fit.
In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the three common forms of HUSNGs:
- Regular HUSNGs (AKA regspeeds)
- Turbo HUSNGs
- Hyper Turbo HUSNG
Also, we’ll discuss how to approach HUSNG strategy with each stack depth to make sure you have the best chance at coming out on top.
Let’s dive in, starting with the dinosaur of the HUSNG world: regspeeds.
(If you don’t play heads-up poker, this article can still prove useful to you because the skill of understanding wide range situations will translate to most forms of poker.)
Regular Speed Heads-up Sit & Gos
Starting stack: 75 big blinds
Blind level length: 6 minutes
Regspeed HUSNGs offer the highest return on investment (ROI) potential.
There are two main reasons for this:
- Battles between two good players occur far less frequently in this format
- The relatively deep average stack size allows more “room to play”
Consequently, a strong regspeed player can attain an ROI as high as 12%.
Defining Features of Regspeed HUSNGs
There are a few features that are unique to the regspeed HUSNG format, all of which are caused by the relatively deep stacks.
- Regspeeds can be good for seasoned players and beginners (for different reasons).
On the one hand, regspeed HUSNGs give seasoned players more opportunities to realize their edge…
…but on the other hand, regspeeds are great for recreational players and hobbyists who are looking to get the most bang for their buck.
- Mistakes are magnified with deep stacks.
Generally speaking, making a mistake in say, a hyper turbo SNG, will not be as costly as making a similar mistake in a regspeed SNG.
This is because the shorter the stack, the less EV there is to lose. The EV that can be lost with a 15BB stack pales in comparison to that of a 50BB stack.
- Regspeeds feature the presence of many stack depths.
Regspeed HUSNGs require players to become competent at playing all stack-sizes under 75BBs, with an emphasis on mid- to deep-stack play.
4 Tips to Use at Regspeed HUSNGs
Here are 4 tips to keep in mind before your next regspeed HUSNG:
1. Develop cohesive ranges and be ready to adjust them.
The most successful regspeed players develop cohesive strategies ahead of time for common spots (i.e. button raise range, big blind defend range, flop bet range).
But they also put their opponents to the test early on by looking for leaks and weaknesses that could be exploited and then altering their ranges accordingly. For example:
$100 Regspeed HUSNG, 72BB Effective Stacks
Hero is on the button with:
Hero raises to 2.5BB, Villain calls
We flop top pair with a medium kicker, a hand far strong enough to c-bet for value…
…but WAIT. Before betting, we take a close look at our opponent’s stats. We notice that they are folding to our c-bet over 60% of the time, while at the same time betting the turn versus our check-backs a whopping 75% of the time.
In this spot, it makes sense to check back with some hands like this to keep our opponent’s range wide and allow him to bet into us on the turn.
2. Approach the first few hands more conservatively than usual.
Recreational players that try their hand at regspeeds are usually straightforward players. For this reason, it is a good idea to take a relatively “safe” approach in most marginal spots early in a match until some accurate reads of an opponent’s playing style can be developed.
3. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of the relatively deep stacks.
When stacks are short, poker is a pretty simple game.
But with the deep stacks and slow levels of regspeeds, many of the aggressive lines (such as 4-betting, check-raising, and floating) can be utilized with a wider range containing both value bets and bluffs.
4. Don’t limp.
Although some successful players employ a limping range from the start of regspeed HUSNGs, most tend to employ a raise-or-fold strategy until they are closer to the 30BB range.
Turbo Heads-up Sit & Gos
Starting stack: 75 big blinds
Blind level length: 3 minutes
Turbo HUSNGs are twice the speed of regspeeds which makes achieving a double-digit ROI nearly impossible. Most good turbo players realize an ROI somewhere between 3% and 9%.
Defining Features of Turbo HUSNGs
Turbos are very similar to regspeeds, but it does have a couple of somewhat unique features:
- Turbos are in the HUSNG “sweet spot”
The shorter blind levels allow turbo players to put in more volume than their regspeed counterparts, which boosts their attainable hourly.
On the other hand, turbo HUSNGs offer far more playability than hyperturbos, which have blind levels half as long and starting stacks 3 times as short.
- Turbos require some experience with all stack depths.
Like regspeeds, turbo HUSNGs require players to become competent at playing all stack-sizes, but with more of an emphasis on mid- and short-stack play.
2 Tips for Turbo HUSNGs
Don’t play another turbo HUSNG without reading these 2 tips first:
1. Keep urgency in mind.
The short blind levels of turbo HUSNGs cause an increased sense of urgency. Focus less on identifying and exploiting your opponent’s tendencies and more on acquiring chips as quickly and efficiently as possible.
(Make sure you still attack big weaknesses when you find them.)
2. Watch out for nitty play when stacks fall below around 35 big blinds.
Most recreational players are much more straightforward when stacks get short. Their bluffing frequencies when 3-betting, check-raising, and floating are greatly reduced due to their inexperience at shorter stack-depths.
Hyper Turbo Heads-up Sit & Gos
Starting stacks: 25BB starting-stack
Blind level length: 2 minutes
A good hyper turbo player will usually have an ROI that falls in the 1% to 5% range, depending on the stakes.
(Players that can consistently achieve the higher end of that range usually move up fairly quickly.)
Defining Features of Hyper Turbo HUSNGs
Hyper turbos are the most unique form of HUSNGs, with a number of features setting them apart from the rest:
- More money for less time.
Hyper turbos boast the highest attainable hourly and lowest time commitment of the three forms, making them the ideal choice for aspiring professionals and part-time players.
- Hyper turbo HUSNGs are all about short-stack play.
Hyper turbos start 25 big blinds deep and after 3 levels, there are just 20 total big blinds in play. As a result, they demand a solid understanding of push/fold poker and overall short-stack play.
- You can’t wait around in hyper turbos.
It is paramount to battle for each and every chip in hyper turbo HUSNGs. Successful hyper players will rarely sacrifice chip-EV to ‘wait for a better spot’, in contrast to the early stages of a regspeed HUSNG.
- Skills from many other games translate to hyper turbo HUSNGs.
Hyper turbo HUSNGs suit a variety of players, particular ones that play 6-max hypers, turbo HUSNGs, tournaments or jackpot SNGs.
3 Tips for Hyper Turbo HUSNGs
The action in hyper turbo HUSNGs is fast and the swings are big, so I’d recommend you keep these tips in mind before clicking register:
1. Hypers reward specialization.
Since the game-tree is smaller as stacks get shorter, players who invest a substantial amount of time studying hyper turbos have a thorough understanding of its most common scenarios. This gives players that specialize in hypers a huge edge over those with less experience.
2. Watch out for very weak players.
In contrast to the prior point, recreational hyper turbo players are often just action-junkies or recreational players looking to chase losses after a long unsuccessful session. These players often have huge leaks and are easily exploitable.
The toughest part is getting them to rematch.
3. Play aggressively until your opponent gives you a reason to stop.
Due to their short duration, it is imperative to hit the ground running in hyper turbos. A philosophy of ‘bet until your opponent gives you a reason to stop’ is a good first principle when developing a hyper turbo strategy.
This will be most effective against recreational players and at lower limits. Employ a more fluid strategy against stronger players.
Learn more about heads-up hyper turbo strategy with my Beginner’s Guide to Heads-Up Hyper Turbo Sit & Gos.
Heads-up Strategy by Stack Size
When it comes to specific HUSNG strategy, it’s best we break it down by stack depth rather than by format. Let’s start by diving into…
The Deep End of HUSNGs (50 BBs or more)
As previously mentioned, it’s generally best to avoid big pots in marginal spots in the deep-stack stage of an HUSNG.
Although there is certainly room for bluffing and playing aggressive, risking a stack for a small edge can cost you by not allowing you to reach more favorable situations later in the game. This is particularly important against weak players because they will likely make big mistakes eventually.
Opening the Button
At this stack-depth, we should be opening with at least 80% of hands from the button. Many players elect to raise between 90% and 100% of hands until their opponent gives them a reason not to.
A good open-raise size is anywhere between 2x and 3x the big blind, but most strong players start with a 2.5x strategy. If your opponent has big pre-flop leaks, you can adjust your sizing as follows:
- If the big blind is tight against opens, using a smaller open size will give you a better price on a steal.
- If the big blind is loose against opens, using a larger size will extract more value from their wide range.
(Generally speaking, it is better to adjust your raise range rather than size. Only adjust your raise size against opponents with extreme tendencies.)
Defending from the Big Blind
Optimal defense frequencies from the big blind depend on a number of factors. Here they are in order of importance:
- The size of the raise.
- The button’s pre-flop opening tendencies.
- The button’s post-flop c-bet tendencies.
The size of the raise is the most important factor to consider because it determines the pot odds we are being offered.
Against a min-raise, you will want to defend at least 85% of hands with a 3-bet frequency around 20%. Here’s what a reasonable range with those frequencies could look like:
Against a 3x raise, you will want to defend around 60% of hands with a 3-bet frequency around 22%. For instance:
We can adjust these ranges slightly, both in terms of frequencies and specific hands, based on our opponent’s tendencies.
Figuring out the correct adjustment is like a puzzle. You have to find a way to exploit the weaknesses in your opponent’s game while staying mindful of your own possible weaknesses.
Here’s a few common adjustments I find myself making with deep stacks:
- If my opponent folds to 3-bet frequently, I will defend a wider range, particularly by adding more 3-bet bluffs.
- If my opponent continues often vs 3-bet, I will defend a slightly tighter range and 3-bet a more value heavy range.
- When my opponent has a high c-bet and barrel frequency, I will defend a slightly tighter range weighted towards suited and connected hands with good playability.
Riding the Mid-Stack in HUSNGs (25 to 50 BBs)
We can still play a fairly wide range from both positions with this middling stack size, mostly the same way.
If we continue raising every button as we approach 30 big blinds, however, our opponent gains the ability to 3-bet shove profitably and with a wide range.
The looming threat of a 3-bet shove is a driving factor of our decisions once we fall below 30 big blinds. It has two noticeable effects that are introduced at this stack depth:
- Limping on the button becomes a reasonable play to deny our opponent’s ability to 3-bet shove light.
- Minraising on the button is usually the best open size because it worsens our opponent’s pot odds on a 3-bet shove.
By this point in a regspeed or turbo HUSNG, we will usually gathered some information about our opponents. Hopefully it’s enough to know which adjustments need to be made to our default strategy.
The Shallow, Short-Stack Waters (11 to 24 BBs)
At this shallow depth, a number of important strategy adjustments are needed, particularly as we near 11 big blinds.
We should most definitely use a balanced strategy from the button with both min-raises and limps.
When in the big blind, you should employ the 3bet shoving ranges listed below at 11–16 BBs:
Note that these ranges are most appropriate against players who open a somewhat wide range of hands. So, be sure to narrow these ranges if you are facing a tighter opponent.
The Nash Push/Fold Endgame (11 BBs or Less)
At this super short-stack depth, players often split into one of two camps:
- Strictly adhere to Nash’s push/fold charts, which offers a non-exploitable strategy…
- …or they combine the Nash strategy with a limping strategy, which in theory allows them to see more flops in position and maximize their edge.
I personally recommend the latter for a 7–11BB stack size, but some players utilize a limping strategy at even shallower depths.
The strategy you select should fit your unique skill set and level of experience. If you are relatively inexperienced in the HUSNG format, and particularly in extreme short-stack play, then employing a strictly push/fold strategy at this depth will probably yield the highest EV.
Alternatively, if you are an experienced short-stack player, then you’re better off with the hybrid strategy to maximally exploit your opponent.
To sum up, it’s important to assess your own strengths and weaknesses before choosing which strategy to employ, and, of course, to continue assessing your own ability in light of your results.
(Note: Do you feel stuck & wonder how you are going to become a higher stakes player? Advanced Heads-up Mastery is a training course aimed at making you a heads-up BEAST, which will dramatically improve your overall poker game as well. Click here or on the image below to learn more.)
Yaniv Son, known online by the poker moniker Sentin7, is a professional player and author with over a decade of poker experience who owns and operates the poker strategy site spinandgostrategy.com