Heads Up Hold’em
The hybrid table game known as Heads Up Hold’em was designed and marketed by Galaxy Gaming in 2013. Shortly after that, the game made its debut at the 2013 Global Gaming Expo, before securing a placement at the M Luxury Resort Hotel Casino in Henderson, Nevada.
Eventually, the higher-ups at Galaxy Gaming signed a licensing deal with the World Poker Tour (WPT) to brand the game under a new title: WPT Heads Up Hold’em. This means you’ll often find tables labeled as WPT Heads Up Hold’em, along with the older versions which simply read Heads Up Hold’em.
These games play in identical fashion, however, so the information contained on this page concerns both versions.
Texas Hold’em Variation
Heads Up Hold’em is based closely on another poker based hybrid table game known as Ultimate Texas Hold’em, so it’s a good idea to head over and check out our page for that game before moving on to this offshoot.
The concept behind both games is relatively simple to grasp: transform the popular poker variant of Texas Hold’em, typically played as a ring game between multiple players, into a player versus dealer table game format.
The result is an action-packed gameplay experience which rewards players for applying skill and card sense, along with multiple player decision points, escalating pay tables, and even bonus bets that can create massive payouts.
Whether you’ve spotted a regular Heads Up Hold’em table at your favorite casino or the WPT branded variety, this page was written to help introduce you to yet another poker-based table game. Here you’ll find a detailed breakdown of the game’s rules and procedures, followed by a guide to finding the game, both in brick and mortar casinos and online, and even a strategy guide designed to help improve your play.
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Rules and How to Play
Heads Up Hold’em utilizes the typical table game setup, so up to six players will be seated on one side of the semicircular table, while the dealer runs the game from the other side.
A standard 52 card deck of playing cards is used during each hand, and instead of using a shoe containing multiple decks, a single deck is reshuffled upon the completion of each hand.
Poker Hand Rankings
Just to be sure, let’s review the traditional poker hand hierarchy below, so you’ll know exactly how to form the various hands, and which hands outrank others:
|Royal Flush||Broadway straight (A K Q J 10) in the same suit|
|Straight Flush||Five consecutive cards (9 8 7 6 5) in the same suit|
|Four of a Kind||Four of same card (Q Q Q Q A)|
|Full House||Three of a kind + one pair (Q Q Q A A)|
|Flush||Five cards in the same suit (2h 6h 9h Kh Ah)|
|Straight||Five consecutive cards (6 5 4 3 2)|
|Three of a Kind||Three of same card (Q Q Q 2 A)|
|Two Pair||Two pairs of the same card (Q Q A A 2)|
|One Pair||One pair of the same card (Q Q 4 3 2)|
|High Card||No pair, highest card is rank of hand (A K 4 3 2)|
Playing Heads Up Hold’em
Step #1: Place Mandatory Bets
To begin the game, players must put up a pair of mandatory bets: the Ante bet and the Odds bet, and both of these bets must be made in identical amounts.
To help illustrate the gameplay concepts, we’ll be using a running example hand throughout this section. For that hand, let’s assume we’ve placed a standard $5 wager on both the Ante bet and the Odds bet.
Step #2: Optional Side Bets
Heads Up Hold’em also includes two optional side bets, the Trips bet, and the Trips Plus bet. Both of these bets will be described near the end of this section.
Step #3: Dealer Distributes Cards
Once all players have placed their wagers, the dealer will proceed to distribute two cards face down to each player, along with two cards face down to themselves. Players may examine their own hole cards of course, but no sharing of hole card information between players is permitted.
For the running example hand, let’s imagine we’ve been dealt the As and Ks.
Step #4: Check or Play
After examining your two hole cards, the game’s first player decision point comes into play: Check or Play.
- CHECK: you simply forego the option to place an additional wager. Checking is not the same as folding, so you’ll still be alive in the hand, you’ll just have a smaller wager on the line during the rest of the hand.
- PLAY: you will have to put up an additional Play bet equal to exactly three times the amount of your Ante bet.
Returning to our running example hand, in which we hold the As and Ks as our two hole cards, we’ll go ahead and make the Play bet for an additional $15 wager ($5 Ante bet x 3 = $15 Play Bet). With two high suited cards like this, making a big Play bet would likely be the best play, but depending on your bankroll limitations or tolerance for risk, you could easily decide to check as well.
Step #5: Three More Cards (Flop)
With all Check or Play decisions made, the dealer will then distribute three cards face up in the center of the table. These cards represent the “flop,” or the first three community cards used in Texas Hold’em. The concept of community cards is simple enough: you can fit one or both of your hole cards with the community cards to form the best possible five-card poker hand.
Returning to the running example hand, we’ve decided to put in a Play bet of $15 on top of our $5 Ante and Odds bets, holding the As and Ks as hole cards. Now, the dealer spreads out a flop of Ad 10s 4s. By fitting our hole cards with these first three community cards, we’d create a strong hand with one pair of aces and a king kicker (As Ad Ks 10s 4s). You may also notice that we now hold four spades, so if we were to land one more spade among the next two community cards, we’d improve our hand to a flush.
Step #6: Second Check or Play
After the first three community cards are revealed, each player who previously checked has another decision point in front of them: Check or Play.
You can simply check for the second time and take a look at the final two community cards. Or, you can Play, but doing so will cost an additional Play bet equal to exactly double the amount of your original Ante bet. Players who took the Play bet already can make no further bets, so this step in the hand doesn’t concern them.
For the running example hand, we did elect to make the first Play bet for three times our Ante bet, so we’ll simply skip over this step. However, assuming we checked on the first decision point, we’d now go ahead and make the Play bet for $10 ($5 Ante x 2 = $10 Play bet) holding a pair of aces.
Step #7: Final Two Cards
Once all players have either checked or made this secondary Play bet, the dealer will proceed to turn over the final two community cards.
For our running example hand, the final two community cards come in as the 9d and 6s. With one more spade to add to our hand, we now hold a flush (As Ks 10s 6s 4s) as our best possible five card poker hand.
Step #8: Fold or Play
At this point, players who have previously checked on both prior decision points must now decide between one of two options: Fold or Play.
- FOLD: you simply surrender the hand straight away, forfeiting both your Ante bet and Odds bet to the house.
- PLAY: you must put up a Play bet equal to exactly the amount of your original Ante bet.
Players who have already placed a Play bet on either of the previous decision points simply stay put during this process.
Step #9: Best Possible 5-Card Hand
Finally, with all players either folded out or choosing to play, the dealer will then turn over each player hand and fit it with the five community cards on the board to create the best possible five card poker hand.
At showdown, the dealer must produce a five card poker hand of at least one pair or better in order to qualify and “open” their hand. Simply put, unless the dealer makes one pair or better, they won’t be able to show down their hand.
Step #10: Get Paid
With all the cards in play now turned face up, and the final five card poker hands for all players and the dealer evident, the Ante bet, Odds bet, and Play bets will be paid out according to various pay schemes. Payouts are dependent on whether or not the dealer was able to open their hand, and then which hand (player or dealer) outranks the other.
Ante Bet Payout
For the Ante bet, the following table describes all possible scenarios upon showdown, along with the corresponding payouts:
|Player||Yes||Even Money||Even Money|
|Tie||Yes or No||Push||Push|
As you can see, you’ll be wanting the dealer to open when you hold a strong hand, while the dealer not being able to open helps you on occasions when your hand is beaten.
Win: Even Money
Boiled down to the basics, you’ll win even money on your Ante bet and all of your Play bets by beating the dealer’s opened hands. When the dealer doesn’t open, and you still produce a winning hand, your Ante bet will be returned as a push while the Play bets will pay out at even money.
Lose: All Bets
On occasions when the dealer does open and their hand beats yours, you’ll lose all of your Ante and Play bets to the house. But when the dealer beats your hand but can’t open, you’ll only lose the Play bets, will the Ante bet will be returned as a push.
Push: Equal Hands
Finally, when your hand ties the dealer’s hand exactly, it doesn’t matter whether they’ve opened or not, and all Ante and Play bets will be returned as a push.
Returning to our running example hand for a moment, we’ve wagered $5 on the Ante and $15 on the Play bet, before making an ace-high flush in spades. Assuming the dealer turns over a qualifying hand (something like 3d 3c 4h 9d 10h for one pair of 3s), our flush takes the pot, so we’d earn even money payouts of $5 on our Ante bet and $15 on the Play bet.
If the dealer didn’t manage to make one pair, their non-qualifying unopened hand would still lose to our flush, but we’d receive our Ante bet back in a push, before being paid out the $15 even money reward on our Play bet.
Odds Bet Payout
Even money payouts aren’t all that exciting, though, so Heads Up Hold’em has included the ever popular escalating pay table for the Odds bet. Here’s how the Odds bet pay table stacks up:
|Royal Flush||500 to 1|
|Straight Flush||50 to 1|
|Four of a Kind||10 to 1|
|Full House||3 to 1|
|Flush||1.5 to 1|
|Straight||1 to 1|
As you can see, the game’s allure comes from the huge payouts you can earn for landing monster poker hands like a royal flush or a straight flush. Even better, you can’t lose this bet to the house when your hand beats the dealer, as it will be returned as a push if you fail to make at least a straight.
For our running example hand, our ace high flush would be good for a 1.5 to 1 payout on our $5 Odds bet, so we’d receive a $7.50 bonus.
Odds Bet With a Losing Hand
Heads Up Hold’em keeps the kicks coming with a second pay table which awards payouts on your Odds bet if you make a big hand and still manage to lose against the dealer’s hand. The pay table for losing Odds bets can be reviewed below:
|Straight Flush||500 to 1|
|Four of a Kind||50 to 1|
|Full House||10 to 1|
|Flush||8 to 1|
|Straight||5 to 1|
Let’s say that ace high flush we tabled has been brutally beaten by the dealer’s miracle full house. In this case, a losing Odds bet holding a flush pays out at 8 to 1, so we’d receive a “bad beat” bonus of $40 on our $5 wager.
Optional Wagers: Trips Plus & Pocket Bonus
Now that we’ve covered the game’s base bets in exhaustive detail, we can move on to the pair of optional side bets found at the Heads Up Hold’em table: the Trips Plus bet and the Pocket Bonus bet.
Trips Plus Bet
When making the Trips Plus bet, you are essentially betting on the strength of your own five-card poker hand to rank as at least three of a kind or higher. For this side bet, it doesn’t make a difference if the dealer opens, nor if the dealer’s hand beats yours.
When you make a hand of three of a kind or better, you’ll always earn a payout on the Trips Plus side bet based on the pay table below:
|Trips Plus Bet Pay Table|
|Royal Flush||100 to 1|
|Straight Flush||40 to 1|
|Four of a Kind||30 to 1|
|Full House||8 to 1|
|Flush||7 to 1|
|Straight||4 to 1|
|Three of a Kind||3 to 1|
Most side bets are made for just a $1 chip, so assuming we did the same, our ace high flush in the running example hand would earn an additional payout of $7 at 7 to 1 odds.
Pocket Bonus Bet
When making the Pocket Bonus side bet, the premise is slightly different: payouts are awarded based on the strength of your two hole cards alone.
The pay table for the Trips Plus side bet can be reviewed below:
|Pocket Bonus Pay Table|
|Pair of Aces||30 to 1|
|Ace + Face Card (Suited)||20 to 1|
|Ace + Face Card (Unsuited)||10 to 1|
|Pair of 2’s – K’s||5 to 1|
Once again, returning to our running example hand, a $1 wager on the Pocket Bonus side bet would produce a payout of $20 at 20 to 1, as our As and Ks fits the Ace + Face Card (Suited) category.
Try the Game Out
Now that you’ve digested this lengthy instruction manual for Heads Up Hold’em, feel free to experiment with the game concepts here using this play money learning tool. This resource perfectly replicates the game conditions of Heads Up Hold’em, allowing you to set your wagers, make player decisions, and see how payouts are awarded.
Best Places to Play Heads Up Hold’em
As a relatively new addition to the crowded and competitive casino table game landscape, Heads Up Hold’em is still struggling to secure widespread placements throughout the U.S.
The folks at Galaxy Gaming are always working to expand the game’s presence, but currently, the list of brick and mortar casino properties known to carry Heads Up Hold’em is rather slim.
Brick and Mortar US Casinos
The following venues are currently advertising Heads Up Hold’em tables, so you should be sure to find a table by visiting one of these locations:
- Dover Downs Hotel & Casino – Dover, DE
- Harrington Raceway & Casino – Harrington, DE
- Riverwalk Casino Hotel – Vicksburg, MS
- M Luxury Resort Hotel Casino – Henderson, NV
- Hawk’s Prairie Casino – Lacey, WA
- Little Creek Casino Resort – Shelton, WA
- Lucky 21 Casino & Oak Tree Restaurant – Woodland, WA
- Muckleshoot Casino – Auburn, WA
- Slo Pitch Sports Grill & Casino – Bellingham, WA
As you can probably tell by now, Heads Up Hold’em has caught on mostly in Washington state, and the game can probably be found in more card rooms and casinos there than have been listed above. If you live in or near Washington and want to play Heads Up Hold’em, your best bet is to make a few phone calls to casinos in the area and ask around. The odds are good that you’ll locate the game this way, but if not, you have five verified venues to choose from.
US Online Casinos
Galaxy Gaming has also broken through into the online casino industry of late, and Heads Up Hold’em has been licensed for play through two major online casino platforms:
- PokerStars Casino
- William Hill Vegas Casino
Once again, as Galaxy Gaming continues to expand its marketing efforts and secures additional licensing, Heads Up Hold’em is sure to appear on additional online casino brands. If you’re unable to access either of the online casinos shown above, chances are the game will be adapted for play at your preferred internet based gambling location sometime in the future.
Strategic Considerations for Heads Up Hold’em
First things first in terms of strategy: the house edge for Heads Up Hold’em stands at 2.36 percent, while the element of risk is 0.64 percent. The latter figure simply means that for every $1 you wager on the base game bets, you’ll stand to lose $0.64 over the infinite long run.
When you compare those numbers to their equivalents in Ultimate Texas Hold’em – which offers a house edge of 2.18 percent and an element of risk of 0.53 percent – Heads Up Hold’em simply doesn’t do players justice.
First Decision Strategy
When contemplating the first player decision point, in which you can Check or Play for a 3x bet, the following rules should be used at all times:
- When you hold any pair, you should Play for 3x
- When you hold an ace with any other card, you should Play for 3x
- When you hold any K Q through K 7, you should Play for 3x
- When you hold a suited K 6 or K 5, you should Play for 3x
- When you hold any Q J or Q 10, you should Play for 3x
- When you hold a suited Q 9 or Q 8, you should Play for 3x
- When you hold a suited J 10, you should Play for 3x
- When you hold any other hands, you should Check
These guidelines will keep you on track when making the game’s pivotal decision on whether to check or make the big Play bet for three times your ante.
When it comes to the other decision points, after you’ve checked the first time around, experts agree that James Grosjean’s strategy chart for Ultimate Texas Hold’em can be seamlessly adapted for use in Heads Up Hold’em.
From a purely strategic standpoint, you should be passing up the Heads Up Hold’em tables in favor of Ultimate Texas Hold’em.
On the other hand, gamblers can do whatever they please with their money, and if Heads Up Hold’em is your game, here’s how to play it correctly.