They are not the same game. Not even close.
As somebody with arguably the most experience in history at these two limits (this isn't really a brag lol), I am going to try and provide a comprehensive answer in this article.
NL2 Versus NL5
NL2 is the lowest stake available to play no limit hold'em cash on most major online poker rooms. The blinds are 1c/2c and the max buyin is typically $2 (100 big blinds).
This is the level therefore that a large amount of people begin playing at. So you get a ton of people coming over from play money, live poker or even those who are completely new to the game in general.
The same cannot be said for NL5. This is typically the 2nd lowest stake available at online poker rooms with blinds of 2c/5c. The max buyin once again is often 100 big blinds ($5).
A much larger percentage of the people that play NL5 have "graduated" from NL2. There are very few people who are complete beginners at this stake. If someone were inclined to skip a few stakes (which I do not recommend) they would probably start much higher than this where it feels more like "real money."
So most of the regs (regulars) who you will encounter at NL5 come from that small subset of players who have actually beaten NL2 over a decent sample. They have probably therefore studied the game a bit and aren't total beginners.
Huge Relative Skill Difference
So this is why I believe that the relative skill difference between NL2 and NL5 is actually among the largest that you will find between any two stakes in online poker.
This is not to say that either of these games are overly difficult. With the right strategy, table selection and tilt control both of these games are still extremely easy to beat.
But for somebody who is fairly new to playing online poker they will problem notice a big jump in skill level. What do I mean by this?
- You will get 3Bet more often preflop
- You will get 4Bet more often preflop
- You will get floated more often postflop
- You will get raised more often postflop
- You will get barreled more often postflop
You should instead just keep doing the same things that brought you success at NL2. After you have played several sessions at NL5 and collected some HUD stats on the regs, then you can start exploiting their specific weaknesses based off of what the data is telling you.
NL2 Regs Versus NL5 Regs
At NL2 you will still find a huge amount of regs whose only real strategy at the tables is to "play tight." They will have little to no creativity in their game. They will often have the nuts when they make a bet or raise at any stage of a hand.
Nearly all regs at NL2 are what are often referred to as "bad regs." This is because they are very easily exploited. For a complete breakdown of all of the different types of regs that you will encounter at the micros check out this article of mine.
Regs at NL2 also typically have very little experience with the long run in poker. Even if they have played live for years they will still have issues due to how slow the cards are dealt compared to online.
Therefore, they are much more likely to tilt hard when things aren't going their way. They will also have a lot more superstitions (favorite hand, bad beat stories etc.) as they are less likely to view the game in a detached business-like manner.
This doesn't mean that all NL5 regs on the other hand are world class professionals. Far from it. Most of them are just learning the game as well. They will also tilt hard on occasion.
But by and large they will have a broader understanding of how the game works on a fundamental level including basic concepts such as position, initiative and tilt control.
NL2 Fish Versus NL5 Fish
There really isn't a ton to say here. Fish are pretty much fish at any limit. They play the game purely for recreation. They don't try to learn or improve.
As you move up the stakes though you will typically notice a significant increase in the aggression levels of the recreational players. Their aggression is still almost always misplaced and devoid of all logic but an aggressive player is always going to be more challenging to play against than a passive donk.
I actually just recently wrote about how to play optimally against the aggro donks. So you can go check out that article for more strategy advice versus these types of players.
By and large though, most of the fish who you will encounter at NL5 will be the exact same as the ones who you encountered at NL2. They will be playing far too many hands, limping a lot and calling way too much postflop.
So all of the same rules apply. Get in lots of pots versus them and value bet them to death.
Winrates Between NL2 and NL5
One of the most popular articles in the history of my website is all about winrates. Everybody wants to know what a "good winrate" is!
As I speculate in that article, you can expect your winrate to pretty much be cut in half when you move from NL2 to NL5. This has certainly been my experience.
So if you are currently winning at 6bb/100 for instance at NL2, then you should probably expect that to be reduced to 3bb/100 at NL5. I don't think that there are any other two levels in online poker where you can expect this big of a decrease in your winrate.
And the reason why just goes back to everything that I have talked about thus far. NL2 is still largely a joke with tons of brand new players. I have long called it "the circus."
At NL5 though, while there are still plenty of fish, there are far less truly awful regs. Since regs will be by far your most common opponent in either game, this will affect your winrate in a big way.
It is important to note once again though that this discussion is entirely relative. If you currently crush NL25 for instance, then the vast majority of NL5 regs will be complete fish to you. If you beat NL100, then most NL25 regs will seem easily exploitable. And so on.
Everything is relative in poker.
Bankroll Differences Between NL2 and NL5
Something else that often gets overlooked between NL2 and NL5 is the difference between the blinds. NL5 is a 2.5x bigger game than NL2 whereas the difference is just 2x between most other stakes in online poker.
So what this really means is that for somebody who is used to playing NL2, the size of the pots at NL5 will probably seem quite a bit bigger at first. Even though the money in either game is still largely insignificant for most, it can be intimidating at first.
So this is why it is so crucial that you employ a proper bankroll management strategy. And it is also important that you take controlled shots when moving up.
This means that you set a certain amount of buyins aside that you are prepared to lose before moving back down to NL2 to rebuild. Of course the plan is to hopefully stick at NL5 the first time so that you never have to do this. But short term variance can sometimes get in the way.
When to Make the Move
Beyond bankroll there are a few other factors to consider before making the jump between NL2 and NL5. The first is a history of success at NL2.
You might say "well duh" to this point but many people make the mistake of moving up way too quickly. I would suggest playing a minimum of 20k hands at any limit before coming to any sort of conclusions about your winrate there.
Just because you had a couple of winning sessions at NL2 does not mean that you have crushed the game beyond belief. It could mean that, but more than likely you were running good as well and therefore short term variance played a role.
There is absolutely no rush when moving up. The games aren't going anywhere. Put in some real time there (at least a week or two of consistent play) to make sure that you are definitely beating NL2.
Lastly, and again this might sound like a "well duh" point, but only move up when you are playing well and feeling confident. Moving up when you are in a downswing (i.e., losing a ton) is about the worst thing that you can possibly do.
Moving up because you are sick of the NL2 donks who never "respect your raises" is also just as silly. The answer to a lack of success against the worst players in the world at NL2 is not to move up and play against better opponents.
The differences between NL2 and NL5 online cash games are much larger than most people think. This is probably the biggest relative skill difference in all of online poker. However, for any seasoned grinder with a solid grasp of the fundamentals and a little bit of tilt control, both games are still very easy.
If you are fairly new to the online poker world though, and are currently trying to make the jump between these two limits, then I hope this article helped shined a bit of light on what to look out for.
If you want more on the differences between these two stakes, and how to crush them, I actually wrote an entire book about it.
If you have any questions or comments about making the jump from NL2 to NL5 please leave them in the comments below. What has your experience been like?
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