Valuable Lessons from 263 Heads Up Sit and Go Matches (HUSNG) | Episode 175

I discuss the valuable lessons I learned from playing a full month of HUSNG matches including play the player and staying aggressive.

In episode 174, I interviewed poker coach and author Peter “Carroters” Clarke, author of ‘The Grinders Manual’ and ‘100 Hands’.

My HUSNG History (2:40)

I started as an MTT and SNG player.  I loved this form of poker, but moved to cash games because I think they’re more profitable for me.  But, I still love them.

There was a time when I struggled with SNG’s and I found myself coming in 2nd and 3rd place too often.  All the money in SNG’s is up top in first place.  Min-cashing isn’t that profitable.

I wanted to improve my SNG results and I was tired of losing when it came to HU play.  So, I figured I’d work on this by playing 100 HUSNG’s.  This seemed like it would be the quickest way to improve my HU skills.  And it worked as my win rate started to gradually inch up.

A few months ago in November, I felt that my cash game play was becoming too robotic.  I was making decisions based on my cards and my position more than on the opponent I was up against.  I wasn’t exploiting my opponents post-flop like I should have.  It was like I viewed every opponent the same and I was making “standard” plays over and over.

By not adjusting specific opponents, I had a terrible month of cash game losses in November, totaling -$113 (4.5 bi’s) and had a -9.3bb/100 hands win rate.

I knew what my issue was and I figured going through another HUSNG Challenge would really help.  It would force me to play the player over and over again.  My plan was to play 100 HUSNG matches, but I far exceeded that with 263 matches.

HUSNG Challenge Results (5:00)

I played 263 HUSNG matches from $1.50 to $7 each.

I won 50.2% of them, which was not enough to break-even.

My total losses were $20.04.

The total rake I paid was $22.00.

ROI was -3.55% and I lost $.08 per match played.

Altogether I bought in for $564.16 and my winnings were $544.12.

HUSNG break-even points

Calculating the break-even point: BE% = entry fee / $ amt to win.

Example: $1.50 hyper turbos pays $2.88, so 1.5/2.88 = 52.1%

I played many more hyper turbos than the other formats because the value was better. I can play more matches in one day and I pay less rake per match.  If I ever become a HUSNG expert, I would probably stick to hypers.

Lessons Learned (8:00)

Play the Player

This challenge forced me to pay attention to the opponent I was up against.

If they were passive and calling everything, I would only build the pot pre-flop with strong hands, and would keep my bluffs to a minimum post-flop. If my opponent was foldy, then I would open wider, 3bet bluff a bit more frequently, and I would throw out plenty of cbet bluffs and bet when they checked post-flop.

Since completing this challenge, I’m playing the player more often, and my January and February cash game play is much improved.

Stay Aggressive Until They Fight Back

Poker is a game of aggression because aggression collects chips. It’s a great strategy in HUSNG’s to play aggressively until your opponent fights back.  If they keep limping then folding pre-flop… keep raising. If they continually fold to cbets, keep cbet bluffing (but check behind when you have a value hand).

If they fight back against your aggression, then tighten up. Choose stronger, more narrow ranges pre-flop, and make most of your cbet’s for value as opposed to bluffs.

There’s no place more profitable to do opposite of your opponent than in HUSNG’s. I’ve always said don’t fight fire with fire. If your table is full of nits, don’t nit it up along with them.  Instead, get loose and start stealing more and pushing them off their hands. If your table is full of maniacs, tighten up and strictly go for value.  If everyone’s a TAG, get slightly more aggressive than they are. 3bet them a lot with position in the CO and the BTN, and also do a lot more calling from there as well. Basically, be looser IP.

All the HUSNG matches I played taught me the value of remaining aggressive as long as your opponent lets you.

Keep Your Cool

It’s critical to keep your cool in HUSNG’s.  There’s no quicker way to get angry and go on tilt when you lose hand after hand to a weaker opponent.

I experienced this over and over.

My tendency towards revenge tilt and entitlement tilt were a problem early on.  For me, it was worse at regular speeds and turbo speeds.  The longer tournaments went on vs weak players, the more likely I was to get frustrated that I hadn’t beat this fish yet. In regular speed matches, the action is so slow and mistakes made at the lower blind levels don’t cost you the match so often.  In turbos and HT’s, your opponent’s mistakes happen more frequently and cost them more.

Try to keep your cool and wait for your opponent to make a mistake.

Position Rocks!

Position is an incredible advantage in poker, and it’s critical in HUSNG’s.  Just try pulling off a few OOP bluffs against competent players.  LAG’s and LP players make bluffing OOP post-flop extremely difficult. In general, you should be running way fewer bluffs OOP, especially versus opponents who are not going to fold. HUSNG matches see the flop, the turn and the river so often, especially in the early levels. You must make good pre-flop decisions when you know you’ll be OOP post-flop.

Pay Attention to Bet Sizing

One of the most useful tells I saw was bet sizing. Far too many players make a minbet when bluffing while simultaneously betting 2/3 to 3/4 pot with their value hands. It’s like they’re trying to win the tournament right now with their TP or 2p or set.

Here’s a great study method after playing 2 or 3 matches with one opponent: go through their SD hands and see the bet sizing they use.  Also look at their bet/fold hands.  Take note on their bet sizing and look for patterns to exploit in your next match with them.

All this HUSNG play and study helped to solidify an important poker maxim:

Small bets = bluff, and big bets = value.

Improve Your Short-Stacked Play

For HUSNG players, the short-stacked game must be studied.  You’ll often find yourself below 20 BB’s versus a patient opponent.  When this happens, it’s easy to get to sub 10 BB play. Get comfortable with using push fold charts and with calling all-in shoves. I recommend Jonathan Little’s Float the Turn Push/Fold App. It’s been updated to include all-in calling ranges as well as the push/fold charts.  Have the app open on your phone as you play your matches. The more you use it more, the more comfortable you’ll become and the optimal hands will start to become ingrained in your game.  It’s going to take some practice and off the felt study to become comfortable with short-stacked play.

Why take on this challenge? (16:30)

3 reasons for cash game players:

  1. Get experience adjusting to just one opponent. You adjust your game to them, and they adjust theirs to you.  Then, you’re forced to readjust to their adjustments.  This is great practice for cash games when you never know who you’ll face in any given hand.
  2. Experiment with post-flop plays. With so many hands getting to the flop, you have so many opportunities to experiment with bet sizing, donk leads, floats, raises and check-raises.  You also get plenty of OOP experience.
  3. Have fun and to shake things up. Get out of your cash game rut if you feel it.

For SNG and MTT players:

  • Ditch the tight playing style you may be comfortable with
  • Tryout different styles of play and see how they fare vs differing opponents
  • Practice adjusting to different opening and defending ranges
  • Learn how hands change in value in HU play vs 6max or full-ring play (ex. TP is more valuable HU than in a full-ring game)
  • Get plenty more flop, turn and river experience which is what every SNG and MTT player needs.
  • Play out of position a lot over various streets which will make you a stronger, more adaptive player
  • Get in the habit of paying attention to game flow and tailoring your moves based on your recent history in the match
  • Get plenty of short-stack experience to improve your push/fold game
  • Looking for a site to play SNG’s on?  Check this out.

HUSNG Excel Tracker (18:30)

About the tracker (get it by signing-up for the Weekly Boost above):

  • The Excel spreadsheet calculates your Total $ Won or Lost; $ Won or Lost per match; ROI and the % of matches you won.
  • There’s space to record 100 matches, but you can easily elongate the sheet by adding more rows.
  • It allows you to record the date, buy-in, rake, amount won, the site you played on and any notes you may want to take.

Re-doing the Challenge (19:05)

I may end up doing this challenge again in the future.  Three changes I would make:

  1. Study.  I did just some cursory studies, but nothing like I could’ve done.  There’s so much HUSNG material out there and next time I’ll get more out of the challenge by studying properly.
  2. Create ranges. I will take the time to create ranges for opening the pot and for defending against open raises.  I flew by the seat of my pants as I played, and I did fairly well.  But, I’d like to create well planned ranges using Flopzilla and while considering the wider ranges I’ll be up against.  There’s probably some optimal range of hands I could be playing.  I would deviate as necessary, of course.
  3. Create a HUSNG HUD. I just used my Smart HUD as I played. About 5 matches in, I realized that this HUD isn’t good enough for HUSNG play.  There’s so much more space on the table now. You’ve only got 2 players, so there’s 80% of the table available for detailed HUD’s.  I can have separate BB and SB HUD’s, and I can make post flop IP and OOP HUD’s.

Challenge (21:25)

Here’s my challenge to you for this episode:  Take up your own HUSNG Challenge.  Try it out for just 30 matches.  You can do this in a couple days easy, especially with the less costly hyper turbo format.  Download and use the tracker (above) and let me know how it goes.

Now it’s your turn to take action and do something positive for your poker game.

Support the Show

Cody T picked up PokerTracker 4 through me.  This is fabulous and good luck with using the Smart HUD and learning from your hands, Cody.  I also sent him my Smart HUD in thanks for his support.  Get PokerTracker 4 here.

Nathan Siegrist is about to take down the micro stakes world.  He purchased my Mashing the Micros Webinar.  Study hard, Nathan!  Pick up your own copy of the webinar here.

Sky Matsuhashi