We are forced to make tough decisions when playing heads-up. We can't wait for big hands since the blinds are hitting us all the time. We have to loosen up and play more aggressively, but of course our opponents are doing that as well. However, there is one thing that helps observant players to make better decisions: Betting patterns.

 

The process of decoding betting patterns is similar to trying to put the pieces of a puzzle together. The key difference is that we don't always have all the pieces we need in poker. These two hands I played illustrate this. I was in a regular US$ 3.50 sit 'n go. My opponent started to open very often from the button, but he was somewhat passive postflop. As far as I knew, he had a pretty strong hand every time he raised one of my bets. 

In this hand, I decided to three-bet pretty light. As I said, he was opening frequently from the button, so I figured there was a decent chance he would lay down a mediocre hand. He called, though, and we went to the flop.

I missed it completely but made a continuation bet nonetheless. The flop was pretty dry: King high with two baby cards and two diamonds on the board. If he called my preflop reraise with an unpaired hand, he probably had missed the flop as well and would give it up. But he raised me. At this point, my first guess was that he had a king. He could have a draw too, but in any case my only choice was to fold.

The following hand was played just a few minutes later. It was very similar to the first one: He min-raised on the button and I three-bet light. The flop was pretty much the same: a high card and two low ones with two spades. I made the continuation bet just like in the other hand. But this time he called. At this point, I started to consider his possible holdings. If he had a queen, I thought he would have raised me. The same holds true for any monster hand, like two pair or a set. After all, the pot is quite large, and he wouldn't want to give me a free card. Besides, if a spades hit the turn and he had a good made hand on the flop, he wouldn't be able to get much value from me.

With this in mind and the fact that he raised me in the other hand on the flop, I inferred he had a draw. Of course I could be wrong, especially if he decided to get tricky and slow-played a set. But in my mind it clicked perfectly: he raised me with a made hand, and now he was calling me with a draw.

When the turn hit, I got a piece of it. I decided to check, which was a dubious play. If he actually had the flush draw, betting to protect my hand would be the best play. But the information I gained by checking was really valuable. He bet less than half the pot. Usually a player with a strong hand wouldn't have done that. It just gives me the right odds to call and see the river. That just confirmed my hypothesis that he was on a draw.

It must be said that he could be a very sophisticated player underbetting the pot with a monster hand precisely to get a call, but his plays throughout the tournament didn't show he was capable of such refinement. Moreover, on a micro-stakes sit 'n go it is better to just be really straightforward. These advanced plays won't work so well against the opposition we encounter in those tournaments.

The river paired the board and no spades came. I decided to call his last bet.