Heads-Up Sit and Go tournaments are one of the purest forms of poker known to man. It’s just you, another player, and a deck of cards in a battle of wits. This level of simplicity is one of the reasons why it is one of the most popular forms of Sit and Go tournaments that you can find on the internet.
These tournaments are offered occasionally in casinos, but it is rare, since they must pay a different dealer for each table, which could get expensive. Most of the time, casinos only offer heads-up sit and go tournaments if the buy-ins are extremely high so that the rake can cover the dealer’s pay. They are also found in special events such as the World Series of Poker and the National Heads-Up Poker Championship.
The payout structure for these tournaments is very simple. Both players pay a small amount of rake to the casino, and the winner takes the rest of the prize pool. That’s all there is to it!
On occasion, you will find heads-up sit and go tournaments that come in the form of a shootout. This is where there is a tournament with a number of entrants that is divisible by a power of two, such as 64 or 32.
Each player in the shootout then plays a heads-up sit and go tournament against one other player, and if they win, they go on to the next round until there is only one player remaining. The payout for these types of tournaments is very similar to that of a freezeout tournament, even though they are in a heads-up format.
Normally, the rake percentage will decrease as the buy-in for the tournament gets higher. For example, on an online poker site like PokerStars, the rake on a normal $10 sit and go is $1, or 10%. If you look at their $200 sit and go tournaments, you will notice that the rake is only $15, or 7.5%.
You would think that this difference means that it is easier to beat the higher-stakes heads-up sit and go tournaments, but this lower rake is usually balanced by an increase in skill level in the regular players at those stakes. We recommend starting out in the smaller-stakes buy-ins, even though the rake is higher, because the difference in skill is greater than the difference in rake at those levels.
Why play heads-up sit and go tournaments? Well, there are a ton of reasons why they are better than other tournaments, due to their unique format and winner-take-all payout structure.
The first advantage that we noticed is that they are finished much faster than any other tournament format that is available, because there are only two people playing. This is especially true for those who play the turbo or super-turbo heads-up sit and go tournaments. Turbo tournaments usually have blind levels that increase about twice as fast as normal, and super-turbo tournaments blind levels usually increase three or four times faster than a regular tournament.
The second perk of playing heads-up sit and go tournaments is that you are able to play more hands per hour. In a regular 9-handed table, you might see 50 or 60 hands per hour. In a tournament, you can play hundreds of hands in that same amount of time. For those people who are interested in getting more hands under their belt as fast as possible, heads-up sit and go tournaments are clearly the way to go.
A third reason to choose heads-up sit and go tournaments over regular tournaments is that you can give yourself breaks here and there to rest your mind. Normal sit and go tournaments have 9 or 10 entrants, which means that these could take up to 90 minutes if they are not of the turbo variety. Multi-table tournaments can last up to 12 hours, leaving no room for mental sanity by the end of the day. The best tournaments to grind if you are interested in resting your mind occasionally are definitely heads-up sit and go tournaments.
A final bonus for those that play heads-up sit and go tournaments is that you are able to find an opponent on the internet at any time of day and for any amount of money. In fact, the stakes that are played in heads-up sit and go tournaments are usually much higher than any other tournaments that run.
The great thing about the internet is that there are billions of people connected to it, so it should always be easy to find just one opponent that fits your criteria. Other poker tournament formats, like freezeout tournaments, do not have this luxury, because there is a set tournament schedule that happens during the times of the website’s highest traffic, and then in the off-hours there is not much to play.
Heads-Up Sit and Go Tournament Strategy
It’s great to have access to a poker game 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, which does not consume much time and allows you to see a ton of hands per hour. However, it does not do much good if you do not know anything about the strategy of how to play these tournaments, since you will just lose money.
Poker is a game of skill, and therefore you should try to acquire some of this skill before you jump right into playing against other people. Skill in poker is knowing the correct action in many situations, even the ones that do not come up often. The only way to acquire this skill is by studying the strategy and mathematics that are involved in the game.
One Life to Live
The first thing you need to keep in mind when it comes to heads-up sit and go tournaments is that you only have one tournament life. Once you lose the first set of chips that you received, you are not able to rebuy or re-enter in any heads-up sit and go tournaments that we have ever seen.
From a strategy perspective, this keeps things nice and simple, since we know for sure that our opponents are not just going to play crazy just to build a stack like they would during a rebuy period. If a player is all-in early in a non-rebuy tournament, they usually have a great hand, due to how deep their stack is. This is backed up by the fact that they cannot re-enter if they lose, so they have to be a little more careful with their stack.
Finally, a word that starts with “re” that we are allowed to do! We may not be able to rebuy or re-enter, but we can certainly rematch with the person that we just played any time a heads-up sit and go is over.
Your strategy for rematches should be simple. You should accept the rematch any time you feel like you have an edge over a player, and you should not accept the rematch any time you feel outclassed. The more you play, the less you will feel outclassed, and therefore you will be accepting very few rematches early on in your heads-up sit and go adventures.
This is not a time to become a macho man and bring your ego into the equation. If you are not as good as the other guy, there should be tons of other people that you can play where you will have a higher win rate. The ability to drop the ego and walk away from a losing situation is one of the greatest skills that a poker player can have.
When choosing which heads-up sit and go tournaments to play, you might notice that there are three different tournament speeds to choose from. These different variations of speed are called regular, turbo, and super turbo.
A regular tournament has the slowest increase in blind level, which is usually every 10-12 minutes. These regular-speed heads-up matches require players to have the most patience, since the blinds increase the slowest. This means that you can employ a little bit of patience when it comes to getting your stack all-in, since you will usually start with 75 or 100 big blinds.
A turbo heads-up sit and go tournament usually has blinds that increase every 6-8 minutes. These will go slightly faster than the turbo tournaments, so you do not have as much time to realize your edge by playing a bunch of hands. Due to the high variance nature, your return on investment will be lower in these tournaments, but they will be finished much quicker than a regular-speed tournament.
A super-turbo heads-up sit and go tournament has blind levels that increase every 2 or 3 minutes. This format is meant for people who really love pushing all-in before the flop comes. This is due to the fact that, after just a few hands, you will have less than 10 big blinds. If you are too nervous to go all-in a bunch of times, then these tournaments will not be for you.
One of the biggest leaks that people have in poker is they do not know what size to make their raises. In No-Limit Hold’em, you can bet anywhere from one big blind all the way up to all-in before a flop is even seen, which leaves the door open for a ton of different betting strategies to come into play.
In general, we recommend that your preflop raises should either be a mini-raise, or an all-in. However, if your stack is below 10 big blinds or so, you should never be min-raising preflop at all, because it is more profitable to just go all-in or limp at that point.
If your stack is higher than 10 big blinds, you should have a strategy that includes limping, min-raising, AND going all-in mixed together. This way you can have three different methods of attack, and you can try to balance each range as best you can.
Preflop Hand Ranges
You are not going to get away with doing the same action every time with hands that have a certain level of strength. This is a bad habit, and eventually players at the table will catch on to what you are doing. You need to be sure to have a little bit of strength and a little bit of weakness involved in each action’s corresponding hand range so that your strategy is balanced.
This means that you need to include some garbage hands in your all-in range, your limping range, and your mini-raising range. It is rare to find people that do this, but it is a solid game theory optimal strategy for preflop play in heads-up sit and go tournaments.
Which bad hands should you include in these preflop ranges? Well, usually the hands that we mini-raise with the plan of folding to a re-raise will be the ones that don’t quite qualify as hands that are profitable to go all-in with. For example, if a shove chart tells us that K6 suited is a profitable shove, but K8 suited is not, we can sometimes min-raise K5 suited, instead of just folding it.
In heads-up sit and go tournaments, post-flop play is fast and furious. You are almost never going to see a bunch of hands in a row just check down to the river. There will certainly be more betting and raising than you originally thought.
The main reason for this is that betting is so profitable when you are only against one opponent. This is especially true when cards come on the board that hit your range of hands harder than it hits your opponent’s range of hands.
We recommend coming into a heads-up sit and go tournament with a “take no prisoners” attitude. You do not have time to just see a bunch of flops and fold until you hit one. There absolutely needs to be bluffs mixed into a heads-up strategy, or you will get steamrolled in today’s poker world.
Example Theory Hand
In order to get into this aggressive state of mind, you might need an example to motivate you. Let’s say you were the pre-flop raiser, and you make a bet, otherwise known as a continuation bet, on a flop containing three low cards, even though you did not hit any part of it.
Let’s then say that your opponent calls your bluff, and then an ace comes on the turn. This is an amazing spot to turn on the heat and bet once again, whether you have an ace or not. Not only does this card hit your range harder than it hits their range, but if the bet is half of the pot, it only needs to work 33% of the time to show a profit. Considering the fact that this person would have re-raised you preflop with most of the aces in the deck, you can safely apply pressure here without even looking at your cards. This is exactly the type of “running without the ball” that is necessary in order to be a winner when playing the game of poker.
If you want the rush of winning a poker tournament without having to wait a long period of time to complete it, then heads-up sit and go tournaments are going to be your poker format of choice. By only competing against one person, you keep things simple and quick.
Not only are these tournaments speedy, but they are fun because you get to play more hands than usual. This is the nature of the game, since you are only playing against one person, so the hand requirements needed to stay in a hand are much less than if it was a full table.