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HU Strategy: Blinds by Hand v. Blinds by Time

I've been playing a slew of HU poker and have had some great success. Sunday was particularly great. I had started the day playing HORSE on Stars (1/2 Limit), but hit a period of dead cards and missed draws to find myself down $35 or so. I had won that amount twice-over the day before, but I just didn't feel like the HORSE was working for me, so I decided to change it up.

Heads-up SNGs are a great thing if you are looking for a quick game with a beginning and an end. That was exactly what I was looking for, so I decided to fire up Royal Vegas, where I received some bonus dollars that I had to clear to withdraw. I have kept Royal solely for the HU SNGs, since I don't feel like taking the effort to actually grind out the raked hands required to withdraw, but I knew I could withdraw any profit. With this in mind, I put it all on the line with a $50 HU SNG. It was a quick win, due to my expert play (I only joke a minor fraction). I was able to get my opponent to push all-in with middle pair to my top pair, and when I called, I knew I was good.

I then withdrew my funds (I attempted to withdraw it all), and since Royal will take 2 days just to reject the original bonus withdrawal, found myself with no money to play HU. With that in mind, I moved over to, where I have had some mixed HU SNG success in the past. One of the great things about is that they actually have some traffic in their HU Omaha (Hi and Hi/Lo) tournaments. My general strategy was to peruse the rooms and find one with a player already waiting. Then I'd join, win and leave. In total, I won five or six of these SNGs in a row before losing one. Part of what made it interesting was that I would enter whichever tournament had another player waiting. So, I played two $10, one $5, and two $20 (one of which, I lost).

Across the board, I realized something. Both and Royal Vegas raise the blinds after a certain amount of hands (it may have been 10 hands on Royal, 8 on Other sites, including PokerStars and (I believe) Full Tilt raise the blinds based on time. The difference between the two may seem minor, but in fact, it is a huge difference, especially if you are a student to the game, and are willing to use any edge available.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about the Inverse Theory of Aggression in Heads-Up games. The basic concept (created by yours truly) held that you should be your most aggressive when you are even stacks. As you start to take the lead or start to become shortstacked, you should tighten up. As you near the end-game when one player is on the felt, you should return to ultra-aggressive poker.

Interestingly, if you are playing a HU tournament with timed blinds, I would hold true to the Inverse Theory of Aggression. However, if you are playing a tournament in which the blinds raise based on the amount of hands played, some adjustment is necessary.

In the early stages, when blinds are low, you can fold a lot easier. Some actually believe that folding is a very aggressive play, and I'm inclined to agree. By folding your small blind with less-than-optimal hands, you do three things: (a) you control the pace of the game INCLUDING the blinds, (b) you move the game along to when the blinds matter and stealing is more important, and (c) you build an image that you are weak and encourage your opponent to play loose at you in the later rounds.

Controlling the pace is actually quite useful. It allows you to set the rhythm of the game, since your opponent will be reacting to your constant folds. Your folds are not dependent on your opponent, because in the SB you have no information on your opponents cards/action, and in the BB, your opponent's raising range can be anything in a HU tournament, from a pocket pair to JTo to Ax to even 34s. Meanwhile, your opponent will be eying your play and mentally preparing to act accordingly when the action heats up. More importantly, whereas he is paying attention to your play, you are forcing the game to move forward and are keeping an eye on the amount of hands until the next blind. You are entirely in control of the game (save the luck of the cards), and you will be ready when the blinds move from the innocuous to the deadly.

Moving the blinds are important, because in the early-goings, a general raise could be a minimum bet to about 3-4x the BB. You might be able to convince your opponent to call a siginficant raise preflop (think 10x the BB, which might actually matter when you compare the early BB to the starting stacks), but more likely than not, he will fold unless he is holding good cards. In later rounds, a minimum bet/call is enough to build a substantial (and steal-worthy!) pot. As a result, those first rounds are little more than a warm-up. It's a chance to get to know your competitor, and for him to get to know you.

If you start folding with K5 in the SB, T8o, etc. your opponent will gain nothing. When he is in the SB, you, however, will see him complete, raise, or maybe even fold once he sees what you are doing. If you see him complete, then you don't get much in the way of information immediately, but you will once you see the flop. If he raises, then you can get a feel for how often your opponent raises. He may be dealt pocket pairs for six out of the first eight hands, but its a lot more likely that he is a betting fool, and you will make him pay for that later. Finally, if he folds his small blind, beware. He is a smart player, and he sees that you are tightening up. He knows he can dump some small blinds without fear, either because he, too, realizes that the blinds are low, or, more likely, he feels that he gets your SB so he can fold his SB if he doesn't like what he sees without incurring a net loss.

Perhaps I am making this too complicated. The point is, when you push the game forward, you can get yourself to a point where the blinds matter. Then you can start betting like a madman, exploiting your tight image (image actually DOES matter in online HU play, as opposed to some online ring games where players come and go or play while watching TV) and your read on your opponent. This is when your opponent starts to make plays with middle-pairs, trying to regain his fleeting dominance from earlier, cheaper rounds. In the meanwhile, you push your edges and push your decent hands even harder.

This simply does not work in timed-blind HU SNGs. Instead of 10 hands of 10/20, you face several minutes or so of that level. In any minute, heads up, you will play countless hands, especially if your strategy is to fold your SB at the slightest provocation. As a result, your folding gets you nowhere but shortstacked. There, you are better off playing your real game from the get-go, establishing dominance (or subservience) as you work your opponent into a rhythm that you hope to exploit in the later, higher-blind rounds.

I suppose it also serves to mention that HU SNGs where both players have 1000 starting chips (for example) is not a game of stealing 10/20 blinds or even 60 pots. It's a game of $100-200 blind steals or earned pots. The rest is merely posturing, establishing dominance, and setting patterns.

I hope this is somewhat coherent. I never outline these things. I just let it out. Whatever the case, I'm now aching to go home and play HU poker. Maybe I'll start my own HU challenge and play 50 or so. We shall see. Until then, make mine poker.

posted by Jordan @ 3:33 PM,


At 11:19 AM, Blogger 23skidoo said...

Very good post Jordan! I may have to hit the HU tables again! Thanks.

AND Good Job on taking down MATH last nite.

At 12:05 PM, Blogger MHG said...

I've had the same up-then-down HORSE experience you've had. I went to bed Sunday night thinking I might actually make some money playing poker this week at those soft $1/$2 Stars HORSE tables. I doubled up on Sunday night, but not hitting my draws brought me right back down on Monday night!

Good idea with the change of pace, I think I'll try some NL ring games to switch it up a bit.

What is the plan for DADI in September? HORSE? Stud Hi/Lo?

At 12:44 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

Actually, it looks like DADI is taking an August hiatus (the last tournament was DADI 8: Rebuy in July). We were throwing around the idea of Stud h/l, but with HORSE's addition, we might have to do a HORSE DADI in September.


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