"I rob banks because that's where the money is."
—Attributed to famed bank robber Willie Sutton
An anonymous commenter from my post about a recent poker trip to Kansas City inquired:
Curious as to why you do not play 2/5 [NLHE]? Seem to have the experience and game to win at this level.
I do, in fact, play 2/5 NLHE and 1/2 and 2/5 PLO from time to time, though in the past three years I have only played PLO in Vegas (1/2 at Aria and Venetian, and 2/5 at Aria). In Iowa, I used to regularly play 2/5 NLHE at the Meadows, the Horseshoe in Council Bluffs, and Riverside near Iowa City. In Vegas, I have played 2/5 NLHE mostly at Bellagio and Venetian, with a couple of sessions at Wynn. Frankly, back when 2/5 NLHE was the smallest game spread by Bellagio, that room was consistently my most profitable place to play in Vegas (though I hated the crowded room layout and snooty management).
However, I have definitely played a lot less 2/5 NLHE over the past year and a half. There are a number of reasons:
- Bankroll: There have been a number of home projects, vacations, etc. that I have paid for by dipping into my poker funds (and yes, I have kept a dedicated poker bankroll for several years now). So, with a smaller bankroll, 1/2 NLHE is a better fit, since $1,000 is four or five buy-ins at most games, while it would be two buy-ins at most 2/5 games.
- Variance: Closely related to bankroll, the swings at 2/5 NLHE are proportionally bigger. The Iowa 2/5 games can play loose and wild at times, with several regulars at each poker room willing to gamble with marginal hands and draws for big stacks. About a year and a half ago, I was regularly playing 2/5 at all of the Iowa rooms, and went on a serious cold streak, losing numerous huge pots and buy-ins when I was run down by a series of suckouts, bad beats, and coolers, including a streak of six consecutive sessions where I flopped the nut straight, got it all in on the flop against two pair, and got run over by a boat. Seeing my then $12K roll cut in more than half in two months made me a little gun shy for a time.
- Mental game: 2/5 NLHE plays at a higher level—or at least on a different level—than 1/2 NLHE. My playing time has been cut the past two years from two or three times a week to roughly once a week. It's simply tough to keep my game sharp enough to play 2/5 at a strong level without playing more often, which is compounded by the fact that 2/5 games aren't always running in Iowa rooms. 1/2 games, by contrast, play at a generally basic level, and I can jump into most 1/2 games and knock the rust off in short order.
- Novices: For most players, 1/2 NLHE is the entry level no-limit game. It's easy to spot the newbies, and easier to take advantage of their particular weaknesses.
- Bad players: Calling stations, bad bluffers, loose-passive players, scaredy cat nits, you name the leak, there's a player with it at most 1/2 tables. What's even better is that the lower stakes and buy-ins at 1/2 keep these folks coming back for more losses, without any real improvement in their games.
- Gamblers: When folks who are at the casino to gamble decide to give poker a whirl, they often will treat poker like any pit game, and throw away buy-in after bad bluff after loose call. Often, they augment the gambling rush with a liquor buzz. These folks view the game as pure entertainment, and don't think twice about feeding the game as part of the fun. If you have ever sat in a late night 1/2 game at the Venetian when the drunk trust fund babies come down after enjoying bottle service at Tao nightclub, you'll know exactly what I mean.* Cha-ching!
So, while 2/5 NLHE is unquestionably more intellectually challenging, when it comes to consistently combining fun and profit, 1/2 NLHE is the nuts.
"Why did I rob banks? Because I enjoyed it. I loved it. I was more alive when I was inside a bank, robbing it, than at any other time in my life. I enjoyed everything about it so much that one or two weeks later I'd be out looking for the next job. But to me the money was the chips, that's all.
Go where the money is ... and go there often."
—Willie Sutton, Where the Money Was: The Memoirs of a Bank Robber (Viking Press 1976)
* Of course, a similar "drunkathon" phenomenon can be observed at many Vegas casinos. In addition to the Venetian, my personal favorite late night fishing holes include Bally's, Planet Hollywood, and TI. Other folks I know swear by the MGM poker room for drunkfest poker, though I have never run particularly well at that room. Frankly, though, if a casino serves alcohol at the poker table, you will likely find a steady stream of heavily lubricated, heavily bankrolled gamblers feeding the action in the 1/2 NLHE games. This phenomenon is notably less common at the higher stakes games.