Short-handed ป๊อกเด้ง ไฮโล Hold’Em:


In the last article, we examined the relative value of starting hands in full and shorthanded games. To summarize, in shorthanded games implied odds are reduced, big cards take down pots unimproved, and hand domination is infrequent. Part II of this topic revolves around the blind structure. Blinds orbit quickly in a shorthanded game. At its most extreme is heads-up hold’em, where both players post a blind. In this article, we will examine heads-up preflop play so that we can review fundamental concepts before moving to larger shorthanded games.


Heads-Up Play


Heads-up play is analyzed by Sklansky and Malmuth in Hold’Em Poker for Advanced Players. If you do not own this book (and study it religiously), then you are placing yourself at a great disadvantage. The first concept offered by Sklansky and Malmuth concerns the preflop play required by the blind structure.


In a $10/20 game, the small blind has anted $5 and the big blind has anted $10. If the small blind raises, he is betting $15 to win $15. So, he must steal the blinds only 50% of the time to earn immediate profit (assuming no raising and all things are equal postflop). If the big blind folds too often, the small blind would earn a significant profit by raising 100% of the time preflop. In fact, since the small blind would also win some hands after the flop, the fold percentage required for profit is far less. In other words, blind stealing works incredibly well!


It Gets Worse…


Furthermore, the small blind has a positional advantage after the flop. Position will allow the small blind to bluff more successfully, earn extra bets with big hands, or save bets in many situations. Not only do heads-up games feature a large volume of hands, but plays such as bluffs and semibluffs hold more consequence. Consider the following examples.


Example 1.

It is a normal $2/4 heads-up game, with one exception. You must pay your opponent $20,000 if you play a ป๊อกเด้ง ไฮโล hand preflop. Clearly, to keep your losses at a minimum, you would never play a hand.

Example 2.

It is the same normal $2/4 heads-up game, except you must only pay $1 if you play a hand preflop. Many holdings such as AA are still clearly profitable, but you would think twice before playing most hands, since there is a hefty fee to overcome each time you compete.


Defending the big blind is similar to example 2 above. The exact amount lost by not having position differs with the competition, but the disadvantage always exists. For each hand that goes to the flop, the player with position will benefit because they will have an enhanced ability to profitably bluff, earn an extra bet on good hands, or save a bet with bad ones. How can a big blind out of position minimize its losses or even earn a profit against such obstacles?

Defending the Big Blind


Sklansky and Malmuth suggest defending with 40% of all hands, and reraising with the top quarter of those, based on the idea that this calling/raising strategy neutralizes the preflop advantage of raising 100% of the time from the small blind. I propose that this advice is too passive. Furthermore, the percentage of hands played should be fluid, based on the competition’s play after the flop as well as preflop.


Before going any further, let’s repeat the authors definition of playable hands, counting up to 40%. “Any pair, any ace, any other two cards that are both nine or higher, any other straight flush combination with no gaps or just one gap (except for 42s and 32s), and any king little suited. (You might add in a few more hands such as J8s, 98, or 97.)”


Many beginning players might wonder how to figure out that these holdings represent 40% of all possible hands. It is possible to double-check the authors’ work by reviewing the number of combinations of each holding. Since there are 1326 possible 2-card combinations, a hand like AA, which can be made six different ways, represents (6/1326) of all possible starting hands. In percentages, this equates to ~0.45% of all hands, or about 220:1. Two cards of unknown suits can be combined sixteen different ways, while a suited hand is only formed with four possibilities (e.g. AK, AK, AK, AK). One resource for an aspiring player who is truly interested in learning the fundamental probabilities is Hold’em’s Odds Book by Mike Petriv.


Reraising Preflop


There are three main reasons for adopting a more aggressive reraising strategy to effectively combat the stealer. Reraising punishes the stealer, sets up profitable postflop play, and establishes variation.


Punish the opposition.

I’m not the first person to suggest reraising to slow down your opponent on future action. In fact, Sklansky and Malmuth make it apparent that it is critical for your opponent to worry that a raise will cost more than it appears. As they say, “He needs to know that he’s in jeapordy of a reraise. Thus you frequently reraise for the sake of future hands, not the hand that you are holding.”

But is reraising 10% of your hands enough? 10% represents the cream of the crop: AA-99 (6 possible combinations each), AK-AT(16 combinations each), KQ(16), KJs(4), KTs(4), QJs(4), JTs(4). These hands are so dominating that many of them would be 3-bet in a full ring game. Versus a steal raise, the selection is too thin.


More importantly, reraising 10% of the time will likely not even affect a blind stealing opponent who is raising 100% of the time preflop. Out of 10 hands, the stealer will immediately win the blinds 6 times, play on the flop against an out of position caller 3 times, and face a reraise only once. In this situation, even against a reraise, it becomes pretty easy for the small blind to fold if the flop doesn’t hit him hard, since he knows he is competing against a premium hand.


Set up Flop play.

‘If you’re going to be in the hand to the end, you might as well get the money in early.’ I’m not sure where I read or heard the above advice, but it makes a lot of sense. With a powerful hand, you want to put pressure your opponent and make him pay for the right to outdraw you. You want to earn the most money possible, and fundamentally, you want to get your money in while you are ahead. (This is an oversimplification, but it works for shorthanded play due to a concept called ‘clustering’.)

Mason Malmuth wrote about shorthanded play in Poker Essays, a good book for advanced players to hone specific theories. “Concept No. 3: Be prepared to go to the river.” Basically, if your hand is strong and unless the board develops in a very scary manner, you will often want to showdown. Since you will be going to the river with many hands, you should get the money in early, which makes a showdown strategy more likely to be correct and profitable in the long run.


A second factor is initiative. I mentioned above that most preflop stealers will not be affected by reraises, especially those raising 100% of the time preflop. In my experience, most opponents simply fold if the flop didn’t hit their hand since they expect to be against a monster hand. Even those who do not habitually steal raise will still respect an opponent who reraised preflop. In other words, if you are the big blind and raise with a hand like JTs, you should virtually always bet on the flop, even if the flop misses entirely. Putting the pressure back on your opponent is critical. Opponents may simply concede on the flop, expecting to be against a very powerful hand and not wishing to pay a turn and river bet to see a showdown.


Establish variation.

The third reason to increase aggression preflop and reraise with a wider selection of hands addresses the predictability of the play. 10% narrows the possible hands considerably, and it creates an undeniable problem if the flop arrives with 3 rags. Under Sklansky and Malmuth’s advice, you would be reraising with big cards 3 out of 4 times; this is simply too predictable against even average competition.

So, what is appropriate for a reraise preflop from the big blind? What if we added 88-66(6 combinations each), KJo(12), KTo(12), QJo(12), QT(16), A9s-A2s(4 combinations each), T9s(4), and 98s(4)? The total is an additional 110 hands, which progresses the amount of reraising hands to 18.25% of total hands. Notice that most of these hands can be taken to a showdown, yet they create enough variation to make any flop potentially dangerous for your adversary.


Watching the opposition

An aggressive counterstrategy is only part of the equation. You will still be calling with other hands. You will still need to vary your play to keep your opponent off your scent. I recommend slowplaying AA or KK sometimes, reraising with lesser holdings on occasion, and following up with occasionally unpredictable flop play. Keep them guessing. Meanwhile, watch your opposition. Preflop, you will adjust your standards in the same direction as your opponent. If the small blind stops raising half the time, you should not call as often, since you will too often be playing bad cards with bad position, a costly combination. Reraising is still valuable but should be reduced as well. You want to slow down against an opponent who raises only with legitimate hands.


In addition, you must consider the postflop play of your opponent. If the opponent plays very well with position: earning extra bets, staying aggressive, and following a solid bluffing strategy, then he will earn a significant advantage each hand played on the flop. With your higher postflop burden, you must adjust by folding more preflop. Against an expert, you will fold quite often (and therefore call less than Sklansky and Malmuth’s recommended strategy). The important thing to note is that you will be losing money by folding the big blind more often. Repeat: YOU WILL BE VOLUNTARILY LOSING!!!! But you will lose less money folding than playing marginal hands that cost extra bets after the flop. Sometimes (often) you cannot win in the big blind of a heads-up matchup; your best choice is simply to minimize losses. Don’t worry; you’ll make your profits when you are in position and have the advantage.


Slow ’em Down


Finally, a good preflop game will complement the overall strategy. Getting the money in early with the best hand will help to mitigate your positional disadvantage to some degree. But the best reason to stay aggressive may be intimidation. If you can scare your opponent into slowing down, you will begin to win the blinds for free, and you will not be forced to play at a disadvantage so often. In other words, you want your opponent to stop raising your blinds. So snarl (metaphorically) and attack back! Until next time, good luck!


If you have any questions, or comments, please feel free to email me at I received a lot of great emails in the last month, and I hope to hear from more of you in the future.