In this lesson we’re going to run through a number of heads-up match-ups that will help give you an idea of where you stand in a variety of pre-flop situations when playing hold’em. Be aware that we’re only going to focus on individual hand match-ups. When playing hold’em it’s essential that you put your opponent on a range of hands, rather than specific holdings. However, knowing the odds of common pre-flop match-ups is a good starting point. Pick out and study what will help you. While it’s not essential that these statistics be committed to memory, it won’t hurt you if you do.
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Let’s start by looking at hand match-ups when holding a pair:
Pair vs. Pair
The higher pair is an 80 percent favourite. We can get very technical and highlight the fact that if the underpair didn’t have any clean suits and/or the maximum number of straight outs then the high pair’s equity would increases by one or two percent.
Pair vs. Overcards
This is the classic coin flip hand that you’ll see many times late in tournaments with one player being all-in. The term coin flip indicates an even money situation which is really a 55 to 45 percent situation, as the pair is a slight favourite.
Pair vs. Undercards
In this situation the pair is normally about a 5-to-1 favourite and can vary depending on whether the two undercards are suited and/or connectors.
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Pair vs. Overcard and an undercard
The pair is about a 70 percent favourite. Another example of this holding would be J-J against A-9. The underdog non-paired hand has three outs while the favourite has redraws.
Pair vs. Overcard and one of that pair
The classic example of this situation is the confrontation between a pair of cowboys and big slick. The A-K has three outs and it becomes a 70-30 percent situation or a 2.3-to-1 dog for the cowboys. This is a far cry from the next situation where even though one of the pair is matched the other card is lower. Casino games slots free.
Pair vs. Undercard and one of that pair
The non pair has to hit its undercard twice or make a straight or flush to prevail. The pair is better than a 90 percent favourite or slightly better than 10-to-1 odds. I’ll take those odds anytime.
Pair vs. Lower suited connectors
You see this match-up late in tournaments when a player is getting desperate and pushes all-in with middle suited connectors. A hand such as Q-Q against 7-6 suited would be a prime example. The pair is a strong favourite to win.
Pair vs. Higher suited connectors
Here is the real coin flip situation. A pair of eights heads-up against a suited Q-J is a fifty-fifty proposition. The higher suited cards would have an edge against a lower pair, such as 2’s or 3’s, since the board itself can sometimes destroy little pairs.
Common Pre-Flop Match-Ups (Non Pairs)
The following heads-up confrontations contain no pairs.
Two high cards vs. Two undercards
The two higher cards are usually a 65% favourite to win, but it can vary depending on whether any of the cards are suited and/or connectors.
High card, low card vs. Two middle cards
In this match-up the high card gives it the edge. But it’s only a marginal winner, approximately 57% to the hand containing the high card.
High card, middle card vs. Second highest, low card
The edge is increased by around 5% when the low card becomes the third highest card, as shown in this example, which gives approx 62% to 38% for high card/middle card combination.
High card, same card vs. Same card, low card
In this example the A-J is in a very strong position. If we discount any flush or straight possibilities, it only leaves the player holding J-8 with three outs (the three remaining 8’s).
Same high card, high kicker vs. Same card, low kicker
The high kicker gives this hand a fairly big edge. It’s very common for A-K run into A-Q, A-J, and lower, and it’s why Ace-King is such a powerful hand, particularly at the business end of no-limit hold’em tournaments when people move all-in with any sort of Ace.
For any math maniacs reading this who do not find these odds precise enough, I acknowledge that the math is rounded and for the most part does not take into account the possibilities of ties and back door straights and flushes. What players need to be equipped with is the general statistical match-up – not the fact that in the example of a pair of eights against a suited Q-J the percents are exactly 50.61 for the eights to 48.99 for the suited connectors with the balance going to potential ties. I call that a fifty-fifty proposition.
Of greater importance than quibbling over tenths of a percent is the fact that in most heads-up confrontations you can never be a prohibitive underdog. That is one reason why poker is so challenging and fun. Of course, while true, I’m not attempting to embolden the reader to ignore the odds and become a maniac. Math is the underpinning of poker and if you regularly get your money into the middle with the worst of it you will go broke.
One statistic that hasn’t been mentioned, and it’s one that I particularly like is this – the odds of both players being dealt Aces when playing heads up (one on one) is 270,724-to-1. It’s my favourite statistic because it provides me with almost total confidence when I’m playing heads up and receive pocket Aces that I’m the boss! That confident feeling lasts right up to the river when my Aces get cracked by some rotten piece of cheese which my opponent elected to play. As mentioned already, rarely are you a prohibitive underdog – so remember that to keep those losing hands in perspective.
By Tom 'TIME' Leonard
Tom has been writing about poker since 1994 and has played across the USA for over 40 years, playing every game in almost every card room in Atlantic City, California and Las Vegas.
Heads Up Hold’em is a relatively new table game in Las Vegas. It replaced a few Ultimate Texas Hold’em tables in the market in the past few years, as noted in our Las Vegas Table Game Survey.
The game plays like Ultimate Texas Hold’em. It adds a bad beat bonus where the player wins if a straight or better loses to the dealer. To offset this, the preflop bet is capped at three times the ante. The other betting rounds are identical to Ultimate Texas Hold’em.
Where to play Heads Up Hold’em in Las Vegas
Heads Up Hold’em is dealt at six Las Vegas casinos. Jerry’s Nugget in North Las Vegas offers the game with a $2 minimum bet. That is an exceptional deal for players. Players can complete a hand to the end with maximum raise and only have $10 invested. Alternatively, there is a $5 minimum to play only the bonus bet.
Jerry’s Nugget is just north of downtown in North Las Vegas. Other Las Vegas Heads Up Hold’em tables have a $5 or $10 minimum bet.
Las Vegas Head Up Hold’em minimum bets
Heads Up Hold'em Galaxy
How to play Heads Up Hold’em
Heads Up Hold’em is best described as a variant of Ultimate Texas Hold’em. The rules are nearly the same between the two games. The two major differences are that a player may only raise three times before the flop in Heads Up Hold’em as opposed to four times in Ultimate Texas Hold’em, and that Heads Up Hold’em offers players a bad beat bonus in its place. This pays when the player loses with at least a straight. The losing hand can be the entire five-card board with the dealer using its hole cards to improve on it.
The hand starts with the player making an ante and a blind bet. These must be equal. Each player and the dealer are dealt two cards. Players have two options here. One is to check. The other is to raise three times the ante. A raise here ends action with cards placed in front of the bets.
Three cards are shown in the center of the table. This is the flop. Players may check or bet double the ante. If there is a bet here, the cards go in the center. The turn and river are shown. Players that checked the other two rounds must fold or bet an amount equal to the ante. A folded hand loses the blind and ante. Side bets stay in play and are graded on the community cards.
Once all players have acted, the house shows its two cards. If the dealer does not have a pair, the antes push because the dealer does not qualify. A pair can include community cards. If the house qualifies, the hand is compared with each player. The ante and raises are paid if the player beats the dealer. The house wins these bets if the dealer wins. A tie is a push.
The blind loses with the ante but pushes on ties and most wins. The payouts per dollar bet are:
- Royal flush: 500
- Straight flush: 50
- Four of a kind: 10
- Full house: 1.5
- Straight: 1
The bad beat bonus pays as follows when the player loses to the dealer. The hand may be on the board with the dealer using a single card to improve. For example, if the board has a flush, and the dealer has a card that makes a bigger flush than the board, the player wins the bad beat bonus. The amount shown is multiplied by the bet.
- Straight flush: 500
- Four of a kind: 25
- Full house: 6
- Flush: 5
- Straight: 4
Las Vegas Heads Up Hold’em FAQ
Can I play Heads Up Hold’em in Las Vegas?
Yes. Six Las Vegas casinos deal it.
Heads Up Holdem Casino
What is the minimum bet for Heads Up Hold’em?
Jerry’s Nugget deals it for $2. Other casinos have it for $5 or $10.
What is the difference between Heads Up Hold’em and Ultimate Texas Hold’em?
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In Heads Up Hold’em, the preflop bet may only be three times the ante. There is a bad beat bonus that makes up for not being able to bet four times like in Ultimate Texas Hold’em.