How to Beat 5NL: The Definitive Guide [2019]

How to Beat 5NL

People often ask me how to beat 5NL these days. And as someone who has made tens of thousands of dollars in these games (maybe the most ever?), I wanted to finally write this step by step guide.

By the way 5NL refers to the $5 maximum buyin no limit holdem cash games online. Some people also call it NL5, which means the exact same thing.

The blinds in a 5NL game are always 2 cents in the small blind and 5 cents in the big blind. By multi-tabling these games it is actually possible to make quite a bit of money.

The best strategy to beat 5NL is to play a solid tight and aggressive game with a heavy focus on positional awareness. Other keys to beat 5NL include learning how to 3bet light versus the weak regulars and 4bet the aggressive regulars more often. With a little bit of persistence most beginners can learn how to beat 5NL pretty quickly.

However, this is a fairly simplistic answer.

So in this article I am going to provide you with my complete 5NL poker strategy for 2019 games. Study these strategies and you will start quickly crushing 5NL whether you play Zoom, 6max or full ring.

By the way, if you are still struggling to beat 2NL, then I would recommend reading my complete guide to beating 2NL before this one.


1. How to Beat NL5 - You Must Play Tight


My first key to beating 5NL games is to play tight. One of the biggest reasons why many poker beginners especially lose at 5NL is because they simply play too many crappy garbage hands.

As I often advise, if you play 5NL 6max then I would suggest playing roughly the top 20% of all hands that are dealt to you.

How to Beat NL5 Zoom

And if you play 5NL full ring, then I would suggest playing roughly the top 15% of all hands that are dealt to you.

How to Beat 5NL Zoom

By the way these preflop poker charts were taken from my popular free poker cheat sheet, "Massive Profit at the Micros."

If you want to learn my complete strategy for beating micro stakes poker games online, you can get your copy of my free poker cheat sheet right here.

Also I should mention that if you play 5NL Zoom these numbers do not change. Play the top 20% of hands in a NL5 Zoom 6max game and the top 15% in a NL5 Zoom full ring game.

So why do you need to play so tight like this?

Simple. Most 5NL games have a lot of bad poker players in them who like to play a lot of trashy poker hands.

By simply choosing to play better hands than them right out of the gate preflop, you immediately gain a large advantage over them.

You will make a better top pair, a better two pair, a higher flush and so on. You need to play tight to beat 5NL games.


2. How to Beat 5NL - Play in Position


The second biggest key to beating 5NL Zoom, 6max or full ring is to play the majority of your hands in position.

Now what does this mean?

It means that you should tailor your starting hand selection so that you are playing the majority of your hands on the button or the cutoff (late position).

And when you are in early position or the blinds you should play tighter.

So for example, if I am in early position or in the blinds in a 5NL poker game I will often only play the better hands on the charts above.

However if I am on the button or the cutoff in a 5NL game then I will play all of the hands included on the charts above plus many more.


The reason why we want to do this is very simple. The late position seats are by far the most profitable seats at the poker table because you get to act last after the flop, turn and river.

And as I always say, you do not need to take my word for it.

All you have to do is load up your PokerTracker database and filter for hands you played in late position versus early position and the blinds.

You will immediately see the results for yourself. You will be making far more profit from the button and the cutoff than from any other seats at the table.

Therefore, it only makes sense to tailor your starting hand selection to include the most hands from these seats. And to play tighter from the less profitable seats (early position and the blinds).


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3. Advanced 5NL Poker Strategy - 3Bet the Weak Regulars Light


The next thing you want to do in order to beat NL5 poker games these days is start learning how to 3Bet the weak regulars light. A "3Bet" in poker by the way is when you re-raise them preflop.

Now once again, what do I mean by this?

When I talk about a "weak regular" I am talking about somebody who pretends to be aggressive but when the heat gets turned up, they often back down unless they have a strong hand.

If you are using a poker HUD (which I recommend for beating NL5), then you want to look for the players with a Fold to 3Bet of 70% or higher.

And it is still very common to find weak regulars in 5NL Zoom games in particular who are just playing way too many tables and folding to 3Bets at 80% or even 90% of the time.

You want to be 3Betting these guys light very often because it is basically just free money. Check out this video I made which explains how to 3Bet light more thoroughly.


So what hands should you 3Bet them light with though? Well, I typically choose hands like:

A9
JT
54

You are of course going to already be 3Betting them with all your premiums (AA, KK, QQ, JJ, AK etc). So by 3Betting them light I mean re-raising them also with these weaker drawing hands.

This once again exploits this key weakness of theirs which is folding too much versus 3Bets preflop. Learn to abuse the weak regulars at 5NL like this (especially when you are in position) and you will profit more.

Learning to use advanced poker strategies like this will be a big key to your success at 5NL.

By the way, my recommended 3Bet sizing for 5NL Zoom, 6max or full ring games is 3x the original raise size when you are in position and 4x the original raise when you are out of position.


So for example:

You have JT on the button and a weak regular has raised it to 15 cents.

You should 3Bet him to 45 cents.


You have JT in the big blind and a weak regular has raised it to 15 cents.

You should 3Bet him to 60 cents.


4. 4Bet the Aggressive Regulars More Often


What about the more aggressive regulars who you will encounter at NL5 though who have learned to start 3Betting you light? Well, here is where the power of the light 4Bet comes in!

A "4Bet" in poker by the way is when you raise preflop, somebody re-raises you, and then you re-raise them back.

Now of course you want to be 4Betting all players at 5NL most of the time with all of your premium hands (AA, KK, QQ and AK). Sometimes you can add JJ or AQ depending on the situation.

But against the aggressive regulars at NL5 who have a high preflop 3Bet, you want to be 4Betting them light sometimes as well.

Once again, just check your poker HUD to find out which players are 3Betting too much. I look for a 3Bet of 8 or more typically.

So what hands should you light 4Bet them with then?

Well as I talk about in my latest book The Micro Stakes Playbook, you want to do it with hands that block the big aces and still have plenty of equity versus big pocket pairs.


So specifically I love to 4Bet light with hands like:

A5
A4
A3

Basically, small suited aces. The reason why I love to 4Bet light versus the aggressive regs at 5NL with these hands is because they block big ace hands like AK or AQ.

And also, these hands typically have some reasonable equity (around 30%) if they happen to have a big pocket pair like KK, QQ or JJ.
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5. How to Beat NL5 - Study Advanced Poker Theory


By the time you get to 5NL I also suggest that you start putting some real effort into improving your game by studying your hands away from the tables and also studying the better players in your games.

However, if you really want to get ahead of your competition, then I would also suggest that you start learning some advanced poker theory with a good training program like the Upswing Poker Lab.

This is the #1 advanced poker training course in the world for small stakes poker players who are looking to take their game to an elite world class level.

5nl poker strategy

The Upswing Poker Lab is taught by some of the best poker players in the world including 3-time WSOP bracelet winner with millions in winnings both live and online, Doug Polk.

This poker course teaches you how to play a fundamentally sound tight and aggressive and loose and aggressive strategy to crush the other good players.

The bottom line is that if you really want to crush the 5NL games, then you need to be improving your game away from the tables by learning some advanced poker strategies.

For a complete list of all the poker training courses I recommend for 2019, click here.


6. Tilt Control


The next key to beating 5NL is tilt control. Now once again what do I mean by this exactly?

I mean that you have to understand that the swings are going to be a lot more severe at 5NL compared to 2NL.

Assuming that you have already beaten the 2NL games at a decent win rate and moved on up to 5NL, you should expect your poker win-rate to be cut in half.


So for example:

If your win-rate at 2NL was 10bb/100, then you should expect your win-rate at 5NL to be only 5bb/100.

And what this means in plain English is that you will have more losing days because a lower poker win-rate always means more variance.

This is why it is really important to start working on your tilt control. For me that is all about regular exercise, healthy eating and getting a good sleep.




You can also try meditation before sessions, playing chill music while you play, deep breathing exercises and visualization.

The bottom line is that all of these strategies allow me to feel more calm, focused and relaxed than the average 5NL player when I sit down to play. And this is because I am better prepared than them to win both mentally and physically.

Treat poker like a professional does and you will get professional level results. Treat poker like an amateur does and you will get amateur level results.

Now, the reason why there is so much more variance at 5NL compared to 2NL is because there is far less of that "dead money" lying around (really, really bad players).

NL5 is basically the 2nd step of the ladder for cash games on most online poker sites.

Therefore, there are far less total beginners at 5NL compared to 2NL. There are more regulars who have "graduated" to this higher limit and they typically have studied a bit and play better.

This doesn't mean that most of the regulars are good by any means at NL5. It just means that they aren't the total beginners like you will often find at NL2.

Therefore, they will make less huge fundamental mistakes like playing out of position too much, calling down too wide and so on.

So it is extremely important to understand that the edges are smaller at 5NL. You need to maintain your composure because the swings will be bigger and you will have more losing days.

Phil Ivey (one of the greatest poker players of all time) even mentions this in his new poker training program. Tilt control is absolutely crucial for making big money in poker.

Now of course, you will still find several crazy aggressive lunatics at NL5 like the guy in this hand below (and yes, sometimes they will get lucky against you).

You have to keep your composure and not tilt against them!



7. The Best NL5 Poker Strategy - Play TAG or LAG


Alright, let's talk about the best 5NL poker strategy you should be using for Zoom, 6max or full ring games next.

In my opinion you should be using either a TAG (stands for tight and aggressive) or a LAG (stands for loose and aggressive) strategy in NL5 games.

These are by far the two most effective NL5 poker strategies in my opinion. Now what do I mean by this though?


Well, here are roughly the stats of a TAG in NL5 6max:

20/17/3 with a 3Bet of 7

And here are the stats of a LAG in NL5 6max:

27/24/3 with a 3Bet of 10


By the way these stand for VPIP/PFR/AF and 3Bet%

These are HUD stats as I have mentioned a few times throughout this article. For a list of all my recommended numbers check out this complete guide that I wrote recently for the best HUD stats.

The bottom line is that both of these play styles will have you applying a lot of pressure on your opponents in a 5NL 6max game (the numbers will be slightly less aggressive in full ring).

In the poker video below I show you how to beat a LAG (advanced strategy):


Anyways, both of these styles of play are ideal for steamrolling the armies of weak tight regulars who pervade most 5NL cash games on the internet these days.

You will be putting a lot of pressure on them preflop with light 3Bet and 4Bets. And you will also be mixing it up a lot after the flop with plenty of semi-bluff raises, floats, double floats, thin value bets and thin call-downs.

The bottom line is that if you want to beat 5NL games for the maximum win-rate you need to start learning to get involved more often and apply pressure in the right spots.

This is something that I discuss in much more detail in Modern Small Stakes.

The reason I have some of the highest winnings in online poker history at stakes like NL5 is because I have worked hard on perfecting both the TAG and LAG play styles.


8. Steal All the Little Pots that Nobody Really Wants


My last tip for beating 5NL Zoom, 6max or full ring is to start stealing more of all those little pots that nobody really wants to fight for.

While it was ok to let many of these go at 2NL and just focus on the big value against the fish, at 5NL you do have to start fighting for those smaller edges if you want to stay ahead of the game.


So for example:

You have 87 on the button in a NL5 Zoom game and there is a raise and a call in front of you. You decide to just flat.


The flop comes:

952

Both players check

You need to bet here!


Yes, you only have a gutshot straight draw but both players have shown weakness thus far and a general disinterest in winning the pot.

You have to start using position to steal more little pots like this. And even if somebody calls it doesn't mean we won't be applying more pressure later on in the hand.

Conversely, if somebody had of bet the flop in the hand above I would also be calling or even raising from time to time in an effort to win this pot.

The bottom line is that you can't just sit around waiting for the nuts at 5NL and expect to win big. That strategy works at 2NL but it doesn't fly with the better players at 5NL.

You need to start fighting for more of these little pots even when you have a fairly weak hand.


How to Beat 5NL Zoom


Now I also want to mention a bit about how to beat 5NL Zoom specifically.

Many people tend to overthink Zoom and they believe it requires some secret strategy to beat it. The truth is that Zoom is still basically the same game.

How to Beat 5NL Zoom

The only difference is that you are placed in a random seat each hand which has a few drawbacks. The first of these is that it literally takes forever to build up any kind of reads or HUD stats on anyone.

This is because the player pools in a NL5 Zoom game can be in the hundreds during prime time hours. Whereas in a regular game you collect data on the same players every single hand.

So what this basically means is that you need to play a more ABC cookie cutter strategy if you want to beat NL5 Zoom.

You often won't have enough information on your opponents to be able to tell what player type they are, loose, tight, aggressive or passive.

Therefore, you can't use some of the advanced strategies that I touched on in this article as much because you often won't have enough information on your opponent to know if it will be effective or not.

The other huge drawback to Zoom is the inability to table select and seat select versus the recreational players. And honestly, this sucks, there is simply no way to sugarcoat this.

However, I don't want to paint Zoom as all bad. There are many benefits to playing it as well and some specific strategies that I use in particular to crush 5NL Zoom games.

I cover it all in my Zoom Poker Strategy guide, the #1 totally free guide available online today specifically focused on Zoom poker games.


5NL Bankroll Guidelines


Let me also touch on what kind of bankroll you need for 5NL.

A lot of people actually shoot themselves in the foot here. Because it doesn't matter if you have the best 5NL poker strategy in the world, if you aren't bankrolled properly, you aren't likely to win.

To put it quite simply, the variance in NL5 games these days can be a lot more than what most people expect. A good winning player could easily lose 10 or 15 buyins through no fault of their own.

Variance by the way is the technical term we use in poker to describe the routine ups and downs that come along with playing a game that has a large short term luck element built into it.

So this is why you need a large NL5 bankroll in order to withstand the swings. I recommend having at least 30 buyins in your bankroll for NL5.

5NL bankroll

Now since a full buyin at a 5NL game is $5, this means you should have a minimum bankroll of $150 before playing this game.

Now I know this might sound a little bit excessive to some. Why so much? Surely I can just deposit $50 and give it a go?

Sure you can, but the chances of you going broke are very high. And I am the kind of person who believes in doing things right the first time.

If you are serious about beating NL5 then I suggest starting with a proper bankroll. Going broke because you aren't bankrolled properly is the last thing you should ever have to worry about at the poker table.

By the way, if you want to know my bankroll recommendations for all small stakes poker games make sure you check out my ultimate guide to bankroll management.


Final Thoughts


So I hope that these 8 principles will give you a better idea of how I beat 5NL Zoom, 6max or full ring online.

The truth is that if you are already winning big at 2NL, then you aren't going to have any problem beating 5NL. You don't really need to spend hours and hours studying advanced poker strategy.

Although I would highly recommend checking out something like The Upswing Poker Lab if you really want to take you game to the next level at this limit.

Now sure, your win rate will go down a bit at 5NL, and yes the players are quite a bit better on average (and there are less totally clueless fish).

However, 5NL is still very much the micro stakes and nobody is a world beater at these limits. If so, they would be playing much higher limits than $5 games on the internet.

So the bottom line is that when you move up from 2NL to 5NL, just largely keep doing the same things that were bringing you success at 2NL.

Just try to start mixing in a few more aggressive plays and bluffs into your game (slowly) against the right regulars. And make sure you start studying and improving your game away from the tables as well.

And when you are ready to make the next jump up to 10NL, I have already written the ultimate guide to beating 10NL as well.

Make sure you take it one step at a time though.

Lastly, if you want to know how to start consistently making $1000+ per month in low stakes games like NL5, make sure you grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

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Let me know in the comments below how you beat 5NL. What is your strategy to crush 5NL poker games online.

How to Beat 5NL

11 comments:

  1. I think, its all about adjusting to average player pool tendencies. The tougher games, the more you need to play “correct poker”, and vice versa. Right now I am playing some 5NL SNAP on 888 because of a promotion, and I definitely note some clear differences to my normal 10NL or 20NL games.

    There are clearly a lot more players at 5NL SNAP, that just cant fold. So value betting light on the river is a great strategy, and its easy to get paid with your big hands. But if I try a triple barrel on a monotone board, more often than not I get called all the way down with bottom pair. Or I get raised, and I look down at my nut flush blocker and wonder, WTF went wrong.

    There are also a lot of players, who are very honest for the lack of a better word. If they have nothing, they just check it all the way, and you win at showdown with your AJ high. If on the other hand they put in a big river bet, they usually have it. So right now I am writing 500 times on the blackboard “I should always fold my bluff catchers, I should always fold my bluff catchers."

    Now some of this is probably not really 5NL specific, since the promotion might have attracted 2NL players, tournaments players and what not. A lot of short stacks certainly indicate this. But the point is, the softer the game, the more unbalanced you can be in your own strategy. So for someone moving from 2NL to 5NL, they need to become a bit more balanced, but still not as balanced as at any limit higher than 5NL.

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    1. Good point Lars. And this is something that I struggle with a bit when people ask me about how to beat 5NL, 10NL or whatever stake. Because the truth is not all 5NL games play the same.

      On some poker sites the 5NL games might be full of huge fish and you should play the unbalanced ABC big value style that works so well in most 2NL games. But on some sites the 5NL games might be full of tough regulars and you need to play a more balanced aggressive game to win.

      Sometimes it can even depend on what time of the day you are playing 5NL, prime-time hours vs off-peak. So unfortunately there is never going to be a "one size fits all" strategy to beat 5NL.

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  2. I just moved up to NL5 after some solid results at NL2 and it was a bit difficult. There are still plenty of fish with VPIP of 75 who just play for the thrill, but the regulars are a lot better. They kept blasting me with 3-bets and I had no clue what to do.

    For the first time in a while I studied poker read a few articles and tips and one of the biggest changes was I started 4-betting more. I found that when a regular has a 3-bet of 10% or 12% you can put on occasion 99-JJ on your 4-bet range as well as Ax suited. That gets them back in line pretty quick.

    The other thing that helped is I had to fold more bluff catchers, generally checking more helped.

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    1. Ya people often look at me weird when I say it but the relative skill difference between 2NL and 5NL is the greatest in all of online poker in my opinion. Both games are still easy to beat for somebody with a solid strategy and tilt control, but the regulars at 5NL are considerably better on average than at 2NL.

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  3. I wouldn't completely agree on #5, studying part. While you definitely have to work on your game, learning some advanced concepts may actually bring you more harm than good. I'll take minimal defence frequency as an example, because this one thing brought a TON of pain in my life (and eventually made me study even more, this time to understand why applying MDF is almost never worth it), and it's just easier for me to talk about my own expirience.

    When I learned about MDF and how ranges should be defended against perfectly balanced opponent, it literally made me a calling station for some time. The reason was simple - in order to not let my opponents bluff me, I was trying to call down with "correct" frequencies, sometimes going well above it (because all bluff-catchers are indifferent between calling and folding versus a perfect opponent, so it's just easier to call with most of them).

    The problem is sort of obvious, though - there are NO perfect opponents. Not at NL5-NL10-NL20, and not even at nosebleeds. And in order to realize that, I had to lose god knows how many buyins with my "indifferent" bluffcatchers, that were in fact just terrible -EV calls.

    So after some time I started letting people bluff me again, unless I actually thought they were actively trying to do this. For some mysterious reason my winrate went up and I didn't really feel like I was being run over.

    The morale is simple - learning advanced stuff without understanding of how to apply it can cost you a lot of BBs. I'd really wish that someone told me in the beginning something along the lines of "you don't have to use MDF against people that don't bluff enough, AKA 95% of the population (4.95% - aggrofish, 0.05% - good balanced regs").

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  4. You alluded to my question in your response. Do you find on sites where 5NL is the lowest buy in, it plays a lot like 2NL and we should be implementing those strategies (which aren't that different anyway). For example, Ignition offers 5NL a sits lowest level and I find that plays more like crazy NL2 than NL2 on ACR. I just wondered if we should implement more complex strategies and stuff For NL5 on sites like Ignition.

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    1. Hey Jessica,

      This is a good point that I also should have mentioned. 5NL is the lowest buyin on some online poker rooms. I do find the 5NL games to be a bit softer in general when I have played it on these sites compared to a site like PokerStars for example which offers both 2NL and 5NL.

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  5. Really good article. The hardest part to implement is the light 4 bet. i will 3 bet all day but the 4 bet is quite uncomfortable. I do 4 bet light with the blockers but its ironic because i feel much more confident when i dont hit top pair than when i do. Possibility of being outkicked is a pretty scary thing especially when youve already invested around 30% or more on a 4 bet. Are you calling one bet here? Betting once and shutdown when you pair the blocker? Do we only shoot for 4 bet steals preflop for example by making one huge preflop reraise say 4.5/5x ??

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    1. Hey McBluffN,

      Thanks glad this article helped!

      You definitely don't need to 4Bet light very often (or if at all) at 5NL in order to win. But it is something that you can begin to think about working into your game because it is necessary at higher limits.

      It is definitely a difficult spot when you 4Bet bluff one of these baby aces and hit top pair. I will almost always just check and induce bluffs in this spot because I feel there isn't much value to be gained by CBetting.

      And from there it really depends on player type. If it's a total rock and he bets into me I might find a way to get away because he probably has AK or AA.

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