Heads up play is a completely brutal form of poker. Almost all of the strategy that you might employ in a tournament situation drops out, and what remains is basically two people locked in mortal combat, utterly bent on the other's destruction.
If you've reached the heads up situation from a tournament position, then most likely the two of you are sitting on long stacks already, which means this could go on for a while.
The important thing to understand about heads up play is that in all likelihood you are not going to be able to easily intimidate your opponent. You are both going to be raising pre-flop like crazy people, and the pots are going to get insane. Don't let the numbers freak you out. Remember why you're here.
Last Player Standing
One of the situations that can lead to a prolonged heads up battle is tournaments play. You have outlasted an entire field of other players, and now it's down to just the two of you.
Now, bear in mind that tournaments tables - especially multi table tournaments - tend to pay out to the top table. This is important because you need to bear in mind that by the time you've reached the point, you are already in the money. You are already well in profit over what it cost you to get here, all that is now being decided is which of the two of you is taken home the slightly larger pay packet.
We're putting this point out there only because heads a play is incredibly stressful. Sure, we all want to win, but if you realise that in terms of cash earnings you've already achieved your objective, then it's easier to relax. Let the other person get freaked out if they want to, you've already done good.
So, keep your wits about you, keep breathing deeply, and don't let the other player get inside your head.
Also, understand that heads up play is far more a game of "the nuts" then any other form of poker. What this means is that the cards you get dealt on the flop are most likely going to determine who wins a hand, because heads up play, statistically, usually ends up seeing the river card.
This isn't actually a bad thing. We mean, yes, it's partially annoying that an element of chance creeps in to an otherwise skill based game. Sometimes the board favours you and sometimes it doesn't. But this also works to your advantage. Let us explain why.
There are 52 cards in a deck, 20 of which are considered “high” - Jacks through Aces. Now, when you've got 9 people sat round a poker table, the odds are high that some fantastic cards are going to wind up in people's hole hands. However, when it's down to just the two of you, these odds drop dramatically. Landing decent royalty and aces becomes far less likely.
So, in a heads up situation, if you land even one decent card in the hole, raise up with confidence. Chances are your opponent didn't get one - and remember, a high card is still a winning hand.
It's all about the money
Things get a little different when you're playing a ring game, or a purely heads up table. The psychology is completely different in this situation because in a tournament situation, you buy in for a fixed amount, and by the time it gets to heads up you've earned a ton of cash even if you lose.
But on a purely heads up table, you're playing with cash. There is no buy in. Your bankroll is your bankroll, and with every hand you are either adding to it or taking chunks out of it. That's a scary concept, and many a green player has logged casually onto a heads up table only to get completely destroyed.
Just remember, your opponent is trying to get you to do something stupid. You cannot scare them, you cannot intimidate them, so don't let them do these things to you. The point of heads up is to get the other player emotionally involved in the hand to the point where they brashly shove all in in the hopes of showing you how serious they are.
Don't let that idiot be you.