This isn't really meant to be a brag. After all, as I discussed recently, if you are from any Western country (which I am) then your time would probably be better spent flipping burgers than relying on these stakes for any serious part of your income.
These limits do represent the very bottom levels of online poker though and therefore getting past them is a crucial step to reaching the higher stakes where some decent money can be made.
However, many people never get to this point because they have problems beating, let alone crushing, the very lowest stakes. This has always struck me as odd. I know that poker is a game where only a relatively small percentage of people actually win big in the long run. But this is NL2 and NL5!
I still play these games on occasion today and let me tell you that they are both still a complete circus! Some of the biggest donkeys that you will ever find populate these stakes around the clock especially at NL2. And the regs at both limits are all beginners to put it kindly. They are not good at poker...at all.
So What is the Biggest Key to My Success at These Stakes?
Well, let me first say that the standard line that you will often hear people say of value betting heavily at these limits and not bluffing too much are indeed key. I agree completely and these two things do factor heavily into my success at these stakes. But there is a third rule for me at these limits which gets little fanfare when these stakes are discussed. In fact, I am not sure that I have ever seen it talked about in depth anywhere. As I mentioned, this may shock you so please brace yourself.
I fold a lot.
Yup, a lot of the time when I don't think that I have the best hand (or it's really close) I just give up and let them have the pot. I don't fight for marginal edges in these games because they are not important to my success at all. I focus on what really matters which is making big hands and stacking terrible players.
I don't get into "reg wars," I don't make fancy plays very often and if I am in control of the pot (which I usually am) I simply make my flop CBet and then give up most of the time. Thoroughly boring. Terribly un-sexy. But highly effective at these stakes.
But What About Your Red Line?
There has been an absolute obsession with red lines on poker forums and other places for several years now. For those of you who have never heard of a red line it is the measure which indicates your non-showdown winnings in Hold'em Manager or Pokertracker. I have to admit, my red line is not very good. I have posted it on this blog before. It basically goes at a 45 degree angle in the wrong direction. I fail terribly at red lines. Sad face.
However, truth be told I haven't lost a lot of sleep over this. This is because during this period of red line mania I have had my own little private obsession with the green line. Once again for those of you who are not familiar this is the indicator of your total winnings in HEM or PT.
You know, the one that actually matters.
I fully accept the fact that I will never be the non-showdown bluffing king of NL2 or NL5. My red line is destined to always suffer at these stakes. However, my green line is sexy as hell. It goes at a nice 45 degree angle in the proper direction. I suppose I can live with that.
But These Are Terrible Habits Aren't They?
Folding in most marginal spots is not a good idea for your winrate at NL10 and higher versus the more competent opponents at these stakes who are more likely to be able to exploit this.
But of course you will notice that I have not mentioned these limits anywhere so far in this article. This is because I am not talking about these stakes in this article. Some people have criticized my approach at the lowest stakes because it leads to "bad habits" which need to be changed at higher limits.
My answer to this is always the same. Have you not realized yet that success in poker is all about adapting? When I teach this "keep it simple approach" for NL2 and NL5 here on my blog, in my first book and in my videos I do so because it is the most optimal strategy for success at these stakes. I let my results in these games speak for themselves.
Nowhere however do I claim that you should play like this at NL25 or NL200. In fact I repeatedly say just the opposite. You should battle for marginal spots much more often at these stakes because they are completely different games which require a completely different set of strategies to beat them.
This is part of your job as a winning poker player to be able to adjust to the game that you are playing in to achieve the maximum EV. The play money games offer a perfect illustration of this. For anyone who has ever played fake money poker on the internet you will know that nobody folds anything at all. It's 7 people to the river in every hand. Even if you simply shove preflop you are likely to get a few callers.
So raising it 3x the big blind with AA in play money would be absolutely horrible. The entire table will call and you will be in a very difficult spot postflop with the best starting hand in Hold'em but with a solid chance of now being behind. The optimal play here was indeed to simply go all in preflop.
Would I ever suggest just going all in preflop with AA in any real money cash game? Of course not. People play far differently when there is real money on the line and everyone will just fold literally every single time. Success in poker is about adapting to your opponents. This is why there is no single set of strategies that applies across all limits.
Hidden Benefits of Keeping it Simple at NL2 and NL5
There is another big reason why I suggest folding a lot in marginal spots at the lowest stakes. And I have never seen this discussed anywhere even though it is absolutely crucial to your success at these limits. This is the idea of keeping yourself off of tilt.
Most of the people who play at these limits (and this shouldn't be a shocker) are relatively new to poker. Newer poker players are notoriously bad at managing their tilt. When I talk about tilt I mean anything from the odd bad call on the river to full blown shoving every hand preflop. 99% of people tilt in the former way. However, this still has massive long term implications on their winrate.
I used to run "spew tests" where I would spend an hour or two poring over every single major losing hand of the month and asking myself how much I should have lost in each hand had it played it optimally. I took all of the unnecessary losses and added them together. I remember counting some $800 in spew in just one month when playing heavy volume at NL25.
Yes that's right, 32 buyins down the drain due to bad calls and tilty decisions. Keep in mind that I am also a very experienced player who prides myself on being pretty solid in the anti-tilt department. I don't think I need to tell you how much nicer my winrate would have looked for that month with an extra $800 in the winnings column.
So this is why I suggest that newer poker players simply avoid big pots in marginal situations at all costs. This is because tilt is almost always set in motion by losing a bunch of big pots in a row. When you are constantly putting yourself in marginal spots where your edge is not much higher than a coinflip, then the likelihood of losing a bunch of these pots all in a row is high.
This hidden cost of all of the buyins lost due to tilt when this happens is something that we never really discuss. I have never heard of anyone else running "spew tests" like I mentioned above yet clearly if my results are anything close to the norm, this can absolutely be the difference between winning and losing poker for a ton of people at these stakes.
Winning at NL2 and NL5 is Boring
Lastly, as I mentioned above there is nothing exciting about having big success at these stakes. Many newer players first found their interest in poker by watching high stakes tournament final tables on TV. I did too.
But what you have to remember is that these are heavily edited programs (what you are seeing is 1 hour of the most exciting spots over 12 hours of play). Furthermore, this is final table tournament poker where the money on the line is often massive and the stacks are really shallow.
Neither of these conditions are the case at NL2 or NL5. The money is certainly not massive. Also the stacks in cash games are typically 100bb in online play whereas they might be 40bb at a final table in most live tournaments. This completely changes the way that the game is going to be played. There are going to be way more all ins with marginal hands when the stacks are shallow like this.
Winning at poker is boring, especially at the lowest limits online. [Click to Tweet]
Even most of these TV pros that you watch grinded away for days just to get to that final table. They never show you this. They will never show you how many times they simply folded their hand in smaller pots and gave up either. Why? Because that isn't exciting! That doesn't boost the ratings. No TV executive in their right mind would ever allow that crap on the air.
But that is what winning poker is actually about. Grinding it out and being disciplined. Losing your ego when playing against the hordes of massive donkeys and calling stations at NL2 and NL5 is vital to your success at these stakes. You can try and play like your favorite high stakes online or TV pro at these limits but I promise you that your winrate will suffer because of it. Keep it simple and profit the most.
If you want to learn more about how to crush these stakes I wrote the definitive guide for them here.
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