Heads up poker is generally believed to be the most skillful variation of the game. With only two players at the table, it’s between you and your opponent. There are fewer random elements that are often present in a full ring or even in six max games. If you have a good strategy and know how to counter the other player, you’ll be winning heaps in the long run.
Doug Polk is a living example of this. Polk has reigned pretty much supreme in online high stakes heads up games for several years and during that period he was considered to be the best HU No Limit Hold’em player around. It reached the point where almost no one would play Polk because they simply didn’t think there was an edge to be had.
So, who better to deliver the course on HU play than the founder of Upswing Poker himself? Polk’s Advanced Heads Up Mastery is a top-quality, high-level course for those who really want to focus on one on one play and learn some of the skills required to succeed in the very competitive world of HU poker.
Going into it, I knew this wasn’t going to be one of those courses you can just skim through. In his blogs and forum posts, Polk has often described his meticulous approach to studying the game that helped him reach the top. So, I expected the Upswing Poker Heads Up Mastery to describe this process in detail – and I wasn’t disappointed.
Here is a summary of this review and what to expect from this course:
Advanced Heads Up Mastery is an elite level No-Limit course with over 80 How-To videos created by Doug Polk, an all-time HU great. Ideal for experienced players breaking into mid/high stakes, this course has everything needed, including exhaustive preflop ranges, high-level theory and hand reviews. Rated 8.4/10.
Note: although Doug has recently retired from poker and this course was released a while before that, we still believe this to be the best HU course you can get your hands on. This is the highest rated HU course that we have taken and one of the most highly rated courses on the market.
Advanced Heads Up Mastery at a Glance
This in-depth course contains more than 20 hours of video materials and goes into every single aspect of heads up play. It starts with deep and detailed analysis of preflop and then moves on to the postflop segment of the HU game, covering all sorts of scenarios.
Although I had some idea of what I was getting into with Upswing’s Heads Up Mastery, I wasn’t really prepared for the level of detail provided by the videos. Using the concept of the game tree, Polk explains the decision process in different spots and shows how different decisions can lead to completely different results.
If I’m being perfectly honest, all of this isn’t easy to keep up and the best way to approach it is by taking it in small chunks and letting things sink in. When taking breaks from the lessons, you can go through your own database of hands and utilize your newly found knowledge to look for any leaks or spots where you could improve, which is what Polk suggests anyways.
Don’t expect this course to be a walk in the park. It’s very demanding and math-heavy but it’s also probably the single best course on heads up play you can get your hands on these days. It’s clearly not aimed at beginners and if you’re new to the HU format maybe you should start with an easier one before graduating to Advanced Heads Up Mastery.
So, with this intro out of the way, here’s a quick overview of what you’ll actually find inside. I won’t go into too much detail because many of these concepts will only make sense once you watch full videos and hear all surrounding explanations. But this overview should give you a solid idea of how the course is structured and what to expect.
Play in the Blinds – Preflop
First several videos cover play from the blinds in what you could call “standard” pots, i.e. in raise first in (RFI) situations. Although preflop play isn’t actually at the heart of heads up poker (as it’s not that hard to master), the course still offers a very extensive coverage of preflop spots, starting with the simplest ones and graduating to more complex spots.
You’ll learn how to handle different situations from both sides of the fence. Whether you’re sitting in the small blind and starting the action on a hand or in the big blind having to defend, Polk goes at great length to explain the math behind every decision and helps students learn how to define ranges they should be going to battle with.
Initial small blind videos mostly focus on the topic of raise sizing with Doug focusing on how to come up with the proper size that provides you with enough fold equity but doesn’t force you to risk too many of your chips. The theory is accompanied by numerous examples of actual hands from his extensive HU database
Lessons covering the big blind play touch on almost every possible scenario you can expect to face, such as:
- Limp from a small blind
- Defining small blind raise ranges
- When to 3-bet, etc.
These lessons are quite eye-opening as Polk is clearly not afraid to defend and 3-bet with a wide selection of hands from the big blind, especially when facing a smaller raise. In fact, as he explains in Upswing Poker Heads Up Mastery, it was this shift in the approach to the game that helped him climb to the top of poker food chain.
Dealing With 3-bets & 4-bets Before the Flop
More advanced lessons on the preflop play focus on tougher spots, namely 3-bet and 4-bet situations. Since this is where pots tends to get big, Polk takes a fair amount to time to focus on different aspects of these hands such as:
- How to handle 3-bets when in a small blind
- Defining your 4-bet ranges
- Figuring out best 4-bet bluff hands
These lessons don’t focus just on your hand ranges, though, but also go on to explain how to best come up with proper bet sizes to achieve the goal you want to achieve. In these spots especially it’s also important to know your opponent’s tendencies and adjust your play accordingly. Making large 4-bets with big hands can be the best strategy against some players but it can also be a costly mistake against players who’ll fold too frequently.
Learning Postflop: The Hard Part
Right at the start of the course, Polk emphasizes that the postflop play is much more important in heads up and the structure of Advanced Heads Up Mastery certainly reflects this. The postflop segment of the course is much longer, much more extensive, and this is where things may start to get difficult to follow.
While Doug hasn’t been actively playing in the recent period, he’s well aware of tendencies in modern heads up games. So, in the first few videos of the postflop section, he provides a general rundown on the state of affairs and things you need to really pay attention to. He also introduces his own strategy, which he’s tweaked for best results.
Play in Single Raised Pots
Once again, the course kicks off with the analysis of what could be dubbed as simpler spots, i.e. single raised pots. Lessons included cover play from both positions, small and big blind.
Small blind videos discuss continuation betting strategy with a special focus on having looser ranges than most of the opponents but still making it work. In some of these videos, Polk goes really deep into explaining the game tree and branching decisions to illustrate how and why this approach can be so effective even if it doesn’t appear so at first.
Videos on the big blind play in SRPs lean on the ideas discussed in previous lessons. If the small blind is likely to continue with a high frequency on the flop, it stands to reason you should be defending more on the flop. It’s on the turn that many of your crucial decisions in the hand will be made as this is where ranges become much better defined and there are new possibilities opening up.
Strategy in Inflated Pots
Like in the first part of Upswing’s Advanced Heads Up Mastery, after discussing simpler situations, the course moves on to more complex one. Final videos (quite a few of them) cover 3-bet and 4-bet pots, i.e. pots that have been inflated before the pot and where the stack to pot ratio tends to be much lower.
While Polk stipulates that these situations usually aren’t as complex exactly due to lower SPR, there are still many fine points he makes about effective strategy changes and possible adjustments. These are explained using the game tree as well as numerous examples from the database.
Play & Explain Videos
Like most Upswing courses, Heads Up Mastery wraps things up with a play and explain section. This particular one contains 11 videos of Polk himself playing four tables of $20,000 NL against another top-tier HU player, ‘Sauce123’.
In these videos, you’ll see Polk actually applying many of the strategies and ideas discussed in the theoretical part of the course and see how they play out in practice. I always find these play and explain videos very useful as visualizing things makes them much easier to understand. Plus, if you love heads up play, this is really a great watch regardless of strategy considerations.
Wrap-up: Should You Pay Money for Advanced Heads Up Mastery?
Most Upswing courses don’t come cheap and this one is no exception. If you want access to the knowledge contained inside, you’ll need to pay a fair bit of money. The question is, is it worth it? Will it be money well spent?
I’m not going to pretend I’m nearly anywhere the level of play required to fully understand everything that’s included in this course. So, I can’t really talk about the quality of content in there. But the fact that it was created by one of the best HU players to ever hit the virtual felt fills me with confidence that he knows what he’s talking about.
What I can say is that the amount of work that was put into putting all of this together must have been quite impressive and the course itself is very detailed. You’ll struggle to find a spot or a situation that’s not covered in detail. Whatever answers you might be looking for about HU play, you’ll find them inside.
If your goal is to graduate to high stakes heads up cash games and stand a chance, you probably need something like this to help you along and the investment will easily pay itself off. Of course, that’s only provided you take the course seriously and apply the knowledge inside to analyze your own game and deconstruct your opponents’ play.
The price of the Advanced Heads Up Mastery course is $999 ($949 using the coupon code Advanced50), but given the amount of knowledge, you will gain you are guaranteed to see a return on your investment and become the best version of yourself as a well-rounded poker player.
A lot of what you’ll find inside will only be as worth as you put it in practice so be prepared to do some serious work behind the scenes. If you aren’t, this one isn’t for you. Mastering heads up poker at the highest level isn’t something that will just happen overnight – but if you’re a serious player you probably knew that already!
To enroll in Advanced heads heads up mastery and save $50 using the coupon code Advanced50, visit the Upswing Poker course page.
If you would like to learn more about the poker training options on the market, make sure you check out our post Best Poker Training Sites where we ranked Upwing poker as the 2nd best training site on the market today.
Last updated: 20th October 2020.