Strategy Series

Heads-Up Zoom Tournament Strategy

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For late Friday entertainment, I played the $16.50, NLHE, Heads-Up Turbo Zoom, Progressive Total KO, $15 000 GTD tournament on PokerStars. My initial thought was to examine what is the skill level nowadays in Heads Up Zoom tournaments.

Heads-Up Turbo Zoom tournaments have been my bread and butter for years besides heads-up hyper-turbos. You can get my battle-tested strategy if you want a solid deep-stacked strategy for Heads-up Zoom tournaments.

I have a lot of experience playing Heads-Up Zoom and I find this tournament type very entertaining. Heads-up Zoom tournaments are full of action because players get hands in a continuous stream during the tournament. On the other hand, this is the exact reason why Zoom heads-up can be challenging for less experienced players. First of all, you need to have a solid strategy on which hands to play before the flop. Second, you have to be careful in post-flop play and not blow pots too big with mediocre hands. In this article, I will explain my strategy on the different stages of the tournament and describe my observations along the way.

Heads-Up Zoom Tournament lobby

Right before the start, there were less than 200 players registered to the tournament, and only $3000 was collected from the buy-ins. I assumed that the tournament would end up with an overlay, but after the one-hour late-registration period the $15 000 guaranteed was easily exceeded. It was surprising to see how many people are late-registering to a heads-up knock-out tournament. As a matter of fact, I would not recommend doing it. This is because all the money is distributed from knock-outs and in order to get knock-outs you need a bigger stack than your opponent.

The Early Game Strategy on Heads-Up Zoom Tournament

I decided to use a rather aggressive style and raise approximately 60-70% of my hands before the flop. The plan was to fold pretty light if I would face a noticeable raise. I knew that most of my expected value is made on post-flop, therefore I didn’t want to accumulate the size of the pots too much before the flop.

The first hour went quite smoothly and I didn’t need to re-buy or go all-in with my stack at all (except once when I had the nuts). In the beginning, the most notable tendency I noticed was players limping in on the button and then lightly calling big¨raises before the flop. I’m not a big fan of this strategy. The reason is that the villain’s range is rather capped and it makes the post-flop play harder for him (and much easier for me).

In the most significant hand of the first hour, I limped in on the button with T♠7♣ and the villain checked behind. I flopped trips on the flop and I chose to bet $269 in the pot of $500. After that, the villain made a raise to 875$. I decided to call and disguise the strength of my hand. On the turn came a brick and the villain chose to bet 1641$ and I made a call again. The river was a gift from the poker gods because I got the nuts and the villain’s range was evidently strong as well. After the villain made a pot size bet (5424$), I thought I had a clear shove spot (20950$) and luckily the villain made a snap call (15130$) with 2nd nuts. Besides the huge stack, I also won villain’s $16,54 bounty.

heads-up zoom tournament lobby after first break

After the first break, I was in the 4th position. Unfortunately, I lost pre-flop all-ins in three different situations against a short stack. Nevertheless, I was in a great situation because the blinds would start to increase soon, and I could put more pressure on smaller stacks.

The Middle Game Adjustments

After the first brake, I continued my “cautiously aggressive” style but I made one important adjustment into my game. I knew that in later stages of the tournament I would face more and more players, who have a similar pre-flop strategy as mine. My medicine against them was to start raising with a wider range. Therefore I added a lot of suited combos to balance my raise-value range (i.e 75s,64s and T2s).

The most notable hand before the second break was an interesting one. I min-bet on the button with K♣2♦ to 3600$ and the villain called. On the flop we both checked. On the turn, the board paired and the villain made a bet of $5400 in the pot of $7650. In my opinion, the bet size was exploitative and I have used a similar strategy when the turn card pairs the board. That is the reason why I decided to bluff catch on the river if the draws wouldn’t complete. On the river, board paired again and the villain made a bet close to the pot size. I made the call according to the original plan and scooped the pot.

heads-up zoom tournament lobby after second break

The second hour went smoothly according to my stack size but for the bounties, things didn’t work as I had planned. I lost four sequent pre-flop all-ins to smaller stacks and I couldn’t get any of their bounties. I was ahead three out of four times before the flop but nevertheless, my hands didn’t hold in the end.

The End Game Strategy

After the third break, there were only 24 players left, all with massive bounties. I lost a small proportion of my chips in one pointless bluff attempt and soon I was in a situation where I had to double up or I would get steamrolled.

As we can see, the last hand came sooner than I thought, exactly four minutes after the break. I raised 8♥7♣ on the button and the big blind called. The flop came 8♦5♣6♠. The villain checked and I made a half pot bet. Then something surprising happened. The villain made a raise of $50 000 in the pot of less than $20 000. After analyzing the situation for a moment I made a four-bet all-in and the villain snap-called with two pair. In hindsight, I’m not sure if I’m happy with the way I played the last hand.

The huge raise size on the flop left me with only two reasonable options, either to four-bet shove or fold. I went with my intuition and chose the latter. I knew that I’m probably facing a coin flip, but I was prepared to take it because I was second to last in the ranking. As you can see from the screenshot, my intuition was correct. The turn and the river were both blanks and I was out of the tournament in 17th place.

Afterward, I made a simulation of the spot with credible ranges in Equilab. In the end, my four-bet was “ok”, although I don’t think that the villain had any fold equity in tis specific situation.

Equilab simulation

The Conclusion

In the end, it was another day at the office. I learned that Heads-Up Zoom tournaments have excellent value and a lot of mediocre players. For the most part, I was very happy with my heads-up zoom tournament strategy and my decisions during the tournament. I felt that I was in control. The only thing that made my performance disappointing was the number of bounties I got. Not a single one after the first hour of play! I lost 7 pre-flop all-ins to win a bounty, was 17 of 1272 and earned two times the buy-in.

heads-up zoom tournament lobby after finishing the tournament

Get your own Heads-Up Zoom tournament charts

PS. There is a wide selection of Heads-Up Zoom Turbo tournaments ongoing 24/7 on PokerStars.

Heads-Up Zoom Turbo tournaments

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  1. Very interesting article. I started playing this MTT recently, and I think it’s perspective game!

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