It’s a weekend and you and a friend or family member are wondering if you can play a game of poker with just the 2 of you. I have been playing for over 10 years and can give you a definitive answer.

Can you play poker with 2 players? Poker can be played with only two players. It is called heads-up. Here are the two-player rules:

  1. The dealer is the small blind, and the other player posts the big blind. Players take turns being the dealer.
  2. The first card is dealt to the player in the big blind.
  3. The Dealer goes first before the flop, and the Big Blind goes first after the flop.

Let’s cover a few more common questions that players typically have about 2-player poker in greater detail.

What Are the 2 Player Poker Rules?

Now that you are set up to play let’s cover how to play 2 player poker. Here are the basic rules that you will need to know in order to play your game.

You may want to keep this page open in your browser in case questions come up during play.

1. How do the blinds work in 2 player poker?

How the blinds work is probably the most confusing thing in heads-up poker. However, once you get the hang of it it’s not that difficult to remember since there are only a couple of differences between 6-max or full-ring rules.

Who Is the Big Blind and Who Is the Small Blind in Heads-Up Poker?

This is the most common question I get about 2 player poker.

The big blind is always the player who does not have the dealer button in front of him or her. That means that the person dealing is always the small blind.

How Do We Determine Who Gets the Button First at the Start of the Game?

The easiest and most fair way to determine who gets to be dealer first is for each player to draw a card from the deck. The high card gets to deal first.

2. How Are the Cards Dealt in 2 Player Poker?

Which Blind Gets Dealt to First Before the Flop?

The big blind gets the first card, and the dealer gets the second card in heads-up play. The easy way to remember this is that the dealer never deals to his or her self first.

Can the Same Person Deal Every Hand?

It’s true that sometimes, one person is better at dealing. In this case, it’s okay for the same person to deal every hand.

Just make sure that you move the dealer button each hand. It would be highly unfair if the same person had to play the big blind every single hand!

3. Who Goes First When Only Two Players Are Playing?

I remember walking up to observe the heads-up match between two friends in pub poker. I quickly realized that they were following the opposite order of play than they were supposed to.

I did not want to embarrass them so I kept quiet. It was apparent everyone else didn’t want to as well since none of the 10-15 observers said anything!

Who Goes First Before the Flop?

In a pre-flop, the dealer always acts first in 2-player poker.

This rule is exactly the same as pre-flop; however, it is easy for inexperienced players to get it wrong. The easy way to remember it is that the big blind player acts last before the flop in 6 or 9-handed games, and it makes sense to work the same way in heads-up.

Who Goes First After the Flop in Heads-Up?

This rule is also exactly the same for normal poker games. The dealer gets to always go last on the flop.

The biggest perk of playing on the dealer button is that you get to act last and have more information than your opponents. This is especially powerful in heads-up since the big blind can never act last.

What If the Dealer Open Folds in 2 Player Games?

When the Dealer decides to not play his or her hand before the flop, the small blind is relinquished to the player in the big blind. The dealer button then moves, and the next hand begins.

Is it better to play Heads-Up, Cash Games or Tournaments?

Deciding what format to play in 2 player poker all comes down to personal preference. Each type of game has its perks.

Why Play Heads-up Cash Games?

There are a couple of reasons people might choose cash games over tournaments:

  1. Blinds Do Not Rise – Perhaps the biggest benefit of 2 person cash games is that you don’t have to worry about the blinds going up like they do in tournaments. You don’t need a special tournament clock, you can just choose your stake level and play indefinitely without having to adjust your style to the rising blinds.
  2. You Don’t Need Poker Chips – In tournaments, you really need to use poker chips that you can “color up” as the game goes on. That means to add higher value chips to compensate for the bigger stakes. Instead, you can use real coins or even paper money to play cash games.
  3. Cash Games Take More Skill – If you really want to practice and improve at poker, then the best way is through cash games. Once the blinds rise in tournaments, the game becomes more and more about who is the luckiest person.

Why Play Heads-up Tournaments?

Even though I am a cash game specialist, when I play heads-up I actually prefer tournaments. Here is why:

  1. There Are Logical End Points – While cash games drag on and on, a tournament always ends up with one person having all the chips. You can then decide whether to start anew or call it a night. So, if you want to play best of 3 or best of 5, you have a better idea of when the night will end and can plan for it. For this reason, it’s also a great format for hosting a home poker tournament with multiple players.
  2. Tournaments Tend to Be Much More Exciting – There’s nothing more fun in poker than getting to the shove-fold phase of a tournament or sit and go. Chips change hands rapidly, and anyone can win at that point. Who doesn’t love a race for all the chips?
  3. The Games Are Usually More Fun for Beginners – Many people that get into poker are used to watching the World Poker Tour or the World Series of Poker. Therefore, tournaments are what they are familiar with and likely to understand better.

If you don’t have poker chips, there are likely plenty of poker chip substitutes lying around the house or office.

A Fun Alternative Format: Play Short-Stacked Cash Games

Another idea is to mix both a tournament and cash game feel by playing short stacked cash games.

The way it works is that each player starts with 20, 30, or 40 big blinds and then play cash games. The blinds do not rise, but there is still plenty of heavy pre-flop action with lots of reraise shoving.

Post-flop also plays a lot easier as a short stack. Top pair is an easy hand to get all-in with when short whereas it can be difficult to play when deed-stacked.

What Is the Best 2 Player Poker Strategy?

The biggest adjustment when playing heads-up poker is that marginal hands go way up in value. 3rd pair or even high card Ace can often win at showdown.

So, loosen up, and don’t let your opponent run you over if he or she bets a lot! Conversely, you should bet often when you have any piece of the board or a credible bluff. There is a good chance your opponent might fold a better hand or pay you off with a worse hand.

What 2 Player Games Can We Play Besides Texas Hold’Em?

If you are tired of heads-up No-Limit Hold’em and want to mix in another game occasionally, there are several good options:

  • Pot Limit Omaha: In PLO, the heads-up rules are exactly the same as Hold’em except that both players get four hold cards. You also have to use both cards at showdown. Having one Diamond in your hand does not make a flush on a four Diamond board in PLO.
  • 5-Card Draw: This is the traditional “old-fashioned” game that most people used to learn poker before No-Limit Hold-em became the dominant game. Both players have a designated ante that they pay before the cards are dealt. Then, you simply deal out 5 cards to each heads-up player. Instead of having a flop, turn, and river there is instead two betting rounds. Once when you get your initial cards and then after a discard round. You may discard up to 3 cards (4 if you have an Ace) and get those cards replaced by the dealer. There is then another betting round, and then the cards are shown, and a dealer is determined. You can, of course, fold any time during the hand and only lose the money you have invested up to that point.
  • 7-Card Stud: This game is similar to draw, except that you start with two cards down and one card up. There is then a betting round. Afterward, another card is turned up one by one with a betting round happening in between. Once both heads-up players each have 7 cards, the dealing is complete, and showdown can be reached.

Accessories to Make Matches Even Better

If you want to make your games more classy, then I recommend picking up quality accessories. I wrote recommendation articles for each category, just click the links to learn more:

Final Thoughts

Playing heads-up only happens in tournaments if you are the last two players left in the field. However, 2 player poker is something you can do for fun either as a cash game or tournament at home.

If you want to read more about heads-up poker, I wrote a detailed article on Heads Up Poker Rules for Texas Hold’em.

Related Questions

Do you have to use both cards in Hold’em? In order to make your best 5-card hand in Hold’em, you can either use both cards or just one.

Is Ace high or low in poker? In Poker, an Ace can usually either be the highest card or the lowest. It can make the highest straight of TJQKA and the lowest straight, often called the wheel, of A2345.

Do you have to match the big blind is poker? In order to qualify to see the flop, you must at least match the amount of the blind.

For more, check out Can You Play Poker by Yourself? | Single Player Poker Ideas

Jim James

Jim James has over 15 years of experience playing professionally and is the author of the best-selling book called Automatic Poker. Using a no-nonsense mathematical and logical approach to beating the games, he has won 7 figures at the poker table. Jim is well-known as the world’s leading expert on playing short or mid-stacked poker.

Today, he helps other players demystify what it takes to win money in No-Limit Hold’em and has helped countless people become winning poker players through his Online Poker Academy.
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