Before we get into specific hands, let’s recap.
The skills for 1-2 games comprise what most people refer to as
“ABC poker.” Often, the goal is to play tight pre-flop, refuse to pay people off who don’t bluff, and focus on trying to get maximum value for your good hands. This works great on players who don’t realize that you aren’t bluffing often enough for them to justify calling you down with weaker hands. It also gives you a small natural advantage over many players who play too many hands pre-flop.
But if you want to move on to 2-5, you need more, and better, skills. Many 2-5 players have already mastered ABC poker. By and large, like you, they’ll be good at not paying off with second- best hands, and not getting stacked. They can flop a set just as easily as you can. They can flop a big flush draw and run a semi- bluff with it just like you. If you play 2-5 with 1-2 skills, you’ll make money from the occasional player who plays just as badly as 1-2 regulars. But against other regulars you’ll have little to no advantage. This will translate into an experience you’ll no doubt find frustrating.
Our 2-5 skills are focused on exploiting ABC players. First, many of these players don’t play tight enough pre-flop. Even though they shake their heads at the hands of recreational players, they’re also playing too many hands. On top of that, their solution to nearly every situation that puts significant money at risk is to fold. They’re waiting for a sure thing. Their strategy is highly exploitable.
As you’ve learned, barreling is the first skill you can use to exploit this style of play. Simply betting when these players check goes a long way toward beating them. Since they’re so willing to fold, they often unwittingly create situations where you can freely bet any two cards and show an automatic profit.
As I wrote above, when in doubt, bet the turn.
But, you can also refine this strategy with some study of board textures. When the flop comes, it reorders both hand rankings and the relative equities that separate each hand. If you take the time to study these textures by placing flops into different groups with similar features, you can identify flops on which players are more or less likely to fold. This skill will help you decide whether to barrel once, twice, or three times. It’s also a critical skill when you play more accomplished and aggressive players at 5-10 and above. Finally, the skill helps when you’re trying to get value for good hands, because you’ll be more aware of when to expect calls and when to expect folds.
You can further refine barreling (and other decisions) with an intentional study of live reads. Information is everywhere when you play live, but it takes experience and effort to notice it, analyze it, and put it to work.
The live read I use most is the bet-sizing tell. Your opponents when they bet must choose a bet size. Because many unsophisticated players make this decision poorly, bet sizing often leaks substantial information about an opponents’ hands and intention.
Bet-sizing tells are so useful, it’s often better to delay your aggression on a given street and throw the action back to your opponent rather than raising immediately. If you take control of the betting, then you’re the one at risk for giving off bet-sizing tells. This doesn’t mean you should always play your hands passively on early betting rounds. But this factor is worth considering when you’re deciding between raising or calling the flop.
Other live reads are also useful, including your opponents’ personal appearances, betting fashions, and physical tells. You won’t learn all at once how to gather this data, but if you give this skill the attention it deserves, you’ll compile a personal directory of live reads that you can use to inform future decisions.
Finally, when you become a 2-5 regular, it’s time to address the game’s emotional side. Most players who pursue no-limit hold ’em seriously have mostly seen the good side of the game in their early experiences. They won a tournament, hit a jackpot, or just had some modest success at 1-2. But even for the best players, the game is a rocky ride. Huge upswings and downswings are a threat to start on any hand. And even with strong play, downswings can last a long time and become extremely frustrating.
If you’re going to survive and move up, you have to numb yourself to fluctuations. The more emotionally invested you are in
your results, the more you’ll risk poor decisions if you’re winning and feeling euphoric, or if you’re trying to make the pain stop, or if you’re afraid of being embarrassed. Naturally, this is hard, as we are emotional creatures. But it pays to work on it in the same way you work on your game’s more strategic aspects.
For now, we’ve covered the main skills you’ll need to achieve professional-level play at 2-5. Let’s review some hands that illustrate these concepts. These hands assume you’re playing 2-5 in Las Vegas with $1,000 stacks.
Two players limp. You make it $25 to go on the button with
Q♦9♦. The big blind calls, one limper folds, and the other calls. There’s $82 in the pot.
The flop comes J♦8♣5♣. Your opponents check. You bet $70, and the limper calls.
The turn is the K♥. Your opponent checks. What should you do?
Bet. There’s $222 in the pot with about $900 behind. This is plenty of money behind to bet the turn and still threaten a full river bet. You have a gutshot, which gives you some equity if called. Additionally, depending on the river card, you might have
a profitable barrel on the river as well, which adds to your equity- when-called on the turn.
With stacks this deep, I’d bet about $200. This should chase off the vast majority of hands that called you on the flop. If the stacks were smaller, I’d pare down the size of my turn bet to perhaps $140, making sure to reserve enough for a credible river bet. Barreling the turn works so well in part because you threaten to make an even bigger river bet. Many players would rather just fold than face that gauntlet.