This is the second in my three-part series about mistakes that live no-limit players make. In this article I talk about mistakes typical of regular $2-$5 players. For the purpose of this article, I’m talking about $2-$5 as it plays in Las Vegas. It’s entirely possible that in your area, players at $2-$5 play more like the ones I discussed in the $1-$2 article—or that they play more like the ones I’ll talk about at $5-$10.
In general, regular $2-$5 players have learned a few important lessons since they’ve moved up from $1-$2. They’ve learned how to do a little hand reading. In particular, they’ve learned not to call all-in bets with weak pairs and wild hopes. They’ve learned how to pot control—they try to keep the pot small with modest-strength hands with showdown value. And they’ve learned that they can beat weaker players by pushing the betting when they hit strong hands.
Still, $2-$5 players make tons of mistakes that are easy to exploit if you know what you’re looking for.
They Wear Their Hand Strength On Their Sleeves
The hand-reading skills of $1-$2 are generally poor, such that these players often don’t know what they want from their hands. At $2-$5, players are much more aware of where they are in hands. For instance, a $2-$5 player holding A-T on an A-9-7 board will know that it’s likely that they have the best hand, but that it becomes much less likely if there’s a lot of action.
In response to this understanding, $2-$5 players will try to get their A-T to showdown with only moderate betting. To accomplish this, they will check a street or two, or they will shade their bets to the small side.
In contrast, holding 9-9 on the same board—or even A-K—these players would have a different outlook. They’d be trying to get money into the pot. After all, this is one of the things they’ve learned to do that helped them to move up. They’ve learned to consistently get value from strong hands. So they won’t check streets with these hands, and their bet sizes will shade larger.
In many cases, all you have to do is observe the flop and turn action, and you can have a very strong idea about your opponents’ attitudes toward their hands. You may not know the specific cards they hold, but you can fairly easily reverse engineer their strategy in the hand. This will often give you clear opportunities to exploit on the turn and river.
Let’s look at a few different theoretical flop and turn betting sequences and try to decode them using the logic of a $2-$5 player.
A typical $2-$5 player opens for $20 from two off the button, and you call on the button. The blinds fold. The flop comes . There’s $47 in the pot and $500 behind.
Scenario 1. The preflop raiser bets out for $65.
The bet is bigger than the pot, which indicates that the player is not concerned about keeping the pot small. But it also suggests that the player wants to protect a hand to the maximum, so the preflop raiser perceives his hand to be vulnerable. I’d expect to see a hand like A-Q or K-K after this action.
Holding two pair or a set, I’d just shove the flop, expecting to get called. With a draw—particularly a straight draw like 8-6 that is fairly hidden—I’d call the overbet planning to bluff for stacks on the turn and river if a spade hits.
I’d just fold the flop with a hand like J-J.
Let’s say you call and the turn is the . Typically on a brick like this, the preflop raiser will come out with another whopper of a bet—$150 or more. This bet would confirm my read, and I’d act accordingly. I’d never try to bluff (even with a combo draw), and I’d just shove any hand that could beat A-A.
Let’s say you call and the turn is the , putting both the flush and several straights on board. On this card, the preflop raiser will typically either check or make a small bet—perhaps another $65 or just slightly more. Either action tends to confirm my read. Against a check I’d make a small bet (perhaps $100), planning to shove most rivers. Against a small bet, I’d tend to minraise, again planning to shove most rivers.
You don’t want to commit your opponent with too large a turn bet, since it’s possible your opponent will feel compelled to call with a hand such as . I’d prefer to let the river brick, leaving my opponent with one pair, and then apply the maximum pressure.
Scenario 2. The preflop raiser bets out for $30.
This thought behind this bet is less clear. It could be a draw, a weak-pair hand like T-T or Q-T, or it could possibly be a big hand like 9-9.
Because the bet is small compared to the pot size, however, I will tend to call with most of my hands (the ones that connect with the
board—not 3-3 or ) and watch my opponent’s reaction to the turn card.
Let’s say you call and the turn is the . If the preflop raiser checks, it’s an automatic bet. On this board, if the preflop raiser held something of value, he’d almost certainly want to protect it with a bet. So against a check I’d bet the turn and likely, if called, the river.
If the preflop raiser bets big—$100 or more—he’s got a hand. Either he’s got something like a set, or possibly he has what he considers to be a very strong draw. You won’t see hands like Q-T after a betting pattern like this. I wouldn’t bluff against this bet size, since you’re likely getting called. With a legitimately strong hand like A-Q, it might be worth a call in hopes your opponent has a draw, bricks the river, and checks so you can check it down. If I called the turn with A-Q and my opponent shoved a river brick, I’d fold without much thought.
If the preflop raiser bets small, I will frequently call once more due to the good pot odds and gauge my opponent’s reaction to the river card.
Scenario 3. The preflop raiser checks the flop.
Most of the time, this will mean the raiser doesn’t have much and is concerned about the flop. I’d bet the flop small (about $30), planning to bet many turns if called. Most of the time, the raiser won’t last past the turn. On the off chance he is playing possum with a big hand, he’ll usually checkraise the turn, and at least I won’t have to worry about losing a river bluff.
While $2-$5 players have learned not to make gross errors, they don’t do enough to disguise their hands. If you observe their actions and use some logic, you can usually figure out what they’re trying to do. Then you just make sure they don’t get what they want.
[This article appeared originally in Card Player Vol. 27, No. 10.]