ABC Heads Up Poker - Setting Up A Good Default Strategy to Win From the First Hand
“Just play ABC and you'll be fine” is a common response to people who ask how to play against poor players. However, that expression is pretty empty if we all have different ideas of what “ABC” actually means. Some people say it to mean “just bet when you have it, and check when you don't”, others mean it as quite the opposite, focusing on being balanced until you learn what your opponent's strategy is. My definition of ABC is a little different: Optimal strategy against the aggregate tendencies of your population of opponents. In a little less nerdy language, that means doing what's best against the average opponent. Sometimes this means being balanced, sometimes this means being heavily weighted towards value or bluff, all because the basic math of readless situations tells us it is generally going to be profitable to take an action against a random opponent.
Let's get a little specific. Here are some common tendencies of random opponents, especially at lower stakes:
a) Overplays value hands.
b) Plays fairly fit-or-fold on the flop OOP.
c) Tries to see too many flops.
d) Makes transparent betsizings (more = better hand).
e) Not aggressive enough in limped pots OOP
f) Does not do too much critical thinking about your betsizing.
g) Employs a default strategy and does not often adjust.
Along with lots of other traits. This is not to say that every random opponent we play against will call too many 3bets, in fact, our opponent may turn out to be very tight when facing re-raises. Adjusting accordingly after noticing that is very important. However, it is also crucial to start out by taking advantage of typical flaws fish have, even before you have a more conclusive sense of your opponent's tendencies. Here are some ways we do that:
Default button raising strategy
Because our opponent is likely trying to see too many flops OOP and is too stubborn once he hits a hand, I think raising 100% of hands against a fish is an error. The junkiest hands should be folded without further reads. However, the fact that our opponent likely plays fairly fit-or-fold on the flop and calls with some poor holdings preflop means that raising and making a half-pot continuation bet is often best with a wide range of hands. The fact that people play poorly in limped pots OOP means that we can also develop a limping range with middling hands that play well in limped pots, like T8o, although it is certainly debatable whether limping is worth it at all without additional reads.
Default c-betting strategy
Continuation bet when you miss the flop, but your opponent will also likely have missed. ABC poker means following up with a continuation bet with 64ss on a A72r flop – we get folds too much of the time not to bet, even against a loose player. However, that same 64ss is likely not going to be a good c-bet on a JT9ddd flop – too many of our opponent's hands will call our bet, and it is best to give up.
Default 3-betting strategy
Because most opponents try to see too many flops, I think 3-bet bluffing readless against a random player is generally going to be an error, with some exceptions (see the article on when to 3-bet bluff for more information on when to do that). In general, our 3-betting range should be weighted towards value hands. It's important to notice, though, that if our opponent is calling wide, that doesn't mean our 3betting range should be too tight – that trait enhances our expectation from 3betting a hand like KJo.
These tendencies and appropriate adjustments will be completely different once we know things about our opponent. Against a garden variety $100 reg speed nit, for example, it's correct to 3-bet a very wide range with lots of bluff hands in response to their tendency of raising wide and being too tight against re-raises..
The biggest mistake people make is seeing our ABC starting point as a final strategy, with few adjustments needed. In reality, in the vast majority of games against random opponents, if you find yourself employing the same strategy at the start of the match as you are at the end of the match, you're doing it wrong. An ABC strategy should be what is optimal without reads, but after some hands, you should focus on figuring out how to exploit your opponent, not the generic opponent. Adjusting and optimizing based on your opponent's frequencies is the way to maximize your success.
I call the next two sections “frequencies” and “extensions”, and they form a more detailed, rigorous examination of specific situations in heads up sit and go poker. This foundations section gives you a base for how to approach the rest of the ebook. Stay focused on expectation. Realize what errors are significant and which waste your time. Think about how we process new information and what the exploitative starting point looks like for the random opponent in your games. If those fundamentals of broader poker thinking are developed, it makes thinking about the specifics of the game significantly easier and more rewarding.