It’s February 2022. Ben Adler is back from vacation in Chicago, recovered from some medical issues, and completely embedded as a working poker pro in Las Vegas.
“So, how’s it going?”
“Honestly, things are going as well as they possibly could. I’ve been back from vacation and grinding for a solid month, working with Benton on some Hand History Lounge stuff – it’s awesome. Heck, I even made a video.
“Oh, and I’ve been playing mostly $2/5 rather than $1/3, and…”
“Whoa there, cowboy. Talk about burying the lede. The one question every poker player wants answered is, ‘How do I move up in stakes?’ Please walk us through this slowly.”
“So, I had been playing mostly $1/3 at Aria, and some $2/5 at Bellagio, where they have a $500 buy-in cap. I was winning a little, but not a lot – I’d book some small winning sessions, then a larger losing session.”
“No doubt rake plays a part in that.”
“100%. The rake in the $1/3 represents a much larger percentage of the money in play than it does in the $2/5. It’s much harder to beat the rake in a $1/3 than in a $2/5, all other things being equal. Tommy Angelo says you can’t beat the rake in a $1/3. I don’t know if that’s true, but you see the problem.
Anyway, it was Friday afternoon – I usually get there about 3:00pm because the games are gooooood on Friday, and I want to get a seat early. Benton and a few other folks are regulars at Aria on Friday. I was chatting with him and he said, ‘Ya know, those $2/5 games look pretty juicy.”
“Benton should know.”
“Right? So I picked up from my $1/3 game. Now, the Aria $2/5 has a $1,000 max buy-in. That’s more than three times what I was used to in the $1/3 game, and twice the $500 cap at the Bellagio $2/5. But hey, Benton said the games were good, so there I sat. I had played the game before as an amateur, but that was my first time playing it as a professional.
“Very big difference. Not only that, but within a few minutes, I got all my chips in bad, and was stuck $1300.”
“Yeah, I was devastated. I went over to Benton, and said, ‘Man, I just dumped $1k into a pot bad, and now I’m stuck $1300.’ He looked at me, and said something to the effect of, ‘That’s what we call “Friday”.’
So I went back to my seat, rebought, and started grinding. And I grinded from minus $1300 to plus $600.”
“Yeah, and from there, I’ve been on a tear. That first day was January 21st. I played that $2/5 game every day since, up until two days ago, and two days ago was my first loss in the game – I went something like 13-1.”
“I just killed the game – it felt like a really big $1/3. The end of January, I made $8,000 in the game. Maybe it’s a fluke, and obviously it’s a tiny sample. Maybe the weekend games have been particularly good. I just know that I’ve been printing in that game.”
“Sure, that’s a short sample. But it’s hard to go 13 and 1 in a game in which you’re not a comfortable favorite. Let’s go back to that shellacking you took in the first few minutes. What did it feel like, and how did you get your feet back under you?”
“Can I tell you the hand that I did it with?”
“I had AJ on the button, and the board was 7-8-9. I hit my gutter ten on the turn to make the jack-high straight. The big blind bets out, gets a caller, I raise to $200, and the big-blind 3-bet shoves for $1k. I’m thinking, ‘Am I calling $800 more just to chop?’ Apparently I was doing exactly that. But obviously – obviously – he had QJ for the nuts.”
“Yeah, I’ve never done that, and nobody I know has ever done that.”
“I knew better before, I knew better then, and I know better now. I was destroyed. December had sucked – I was barely breaking even in the games, I had those health issues, and now I was taking a shot at a bigger game, and I played like an idiot.
“The worst part is that on the basis of that one hand, I was saying to myself, ‘I’m a failure.’ It makes no sense, it’s not rational in any way, but I totally see how people do it.
“But talking to Benton made all the difference. He said, ‘Get back in there – you know you can do this.’ I went back and started grinding. I was playing tight, I was playing in position…”
“Hey, wait a minute – I should write this down.”
“Heh. Giving away my professional secrets here. Everybody else was enjoying Friday night, drinking, partying. I was in the zone. And I’ve kept doing that for 12 days straight. And it’s damned gratifying.
“Not least, it’s gratifying because I feel that I deserve the confidence that Benton – my coach – has placed in me. And I now am sufficiently sure of myself… two nights ago, I lost $2300 in the $2/5 game. That’s a big number. But I don’t really care. Because I believe in myself, Benton believes in me, and we both know I’m beating that game.”
“I now feel that I really have the ability to focus on the big picture, and not each session.”
“Everybody is going to ask this: what’s the difference between the $2/5 and the $1/3?”
“I guess in the $2/5 you need to be a little more creative. But really… really, the big difference is the importance of table selection. I’ve literally picked up and left a $2/5 table after 15 minutes. I’m in there every day, so when I spot a few of the same tough players at the table, I’m gone.
“Also – pay attention, this is crucial – you have to be absurdly greedy about playing in position. I play 80% of my pots in position.”
“Somewhere, Tommy Angelo is smiling, but doesn’t know why.”
“It’s really quite simple. When you start playing hands out of position, you find yourself in tough, marginal spots. You open ace-jack offsuit under the gun, get three callers, an ace-high flop, and you have no idea of what to do.
“In the $1/3, when somebody 3-bets you, that’s an absolute premium hand 99% of the time. That’s not necessarily true in the $2/5 game – usually it is, but it’s not something you can take to the bank, like you can in the $1/3 game.
“Also, because we’re playing 200 blinds deep, you have some more tricks in your arsenal than you do 100 blinds deep. In the $1/3 game, all you really need to do is make hands in position, and collect.
“But honestly, that’s mostly what I do in the $2/5 game, too. People ask how it’s different – well, when you’re $1000 deep instead of $300 deep, you can win some serious money by making hands in position and pounding for value.
“It’s nuts – I hear people say, ‘Oh, I have to defend 86s in the big blind.’ Why? It’s one big blind of 200. I can give away that one big blind, wait for a better spot when I’m on the button or cutoff, and then win a hundred big blinds. People talk about defending the blinds – I defend the button.
“So many people ‘defend’ marginal hands, like suited connectors, in the blinds. And then they find themselves in awkward situations. You don’t have to do that – ‘Let the game come to you,’ is what Benton says.”
“I love that. And I love ‘defending the button,’ too.”
“What I’m really looking for… you know, a few days ago, a guy sat down with an MGM Noir player card. You don’t ever see loyalty cards that color – he’s probably betting $1,000 per hand at blackjack. That guy uses the chips from our game as tips for the cocktail waitresses at his regular tables – he came to gamble.”
“Certainly he could afford to play bigger.”
“But why would he? He didn’t make the money to bet $1000 on a hand of blackjack by being a real-life fish. He doesn’t want to be a fish in a poker game.
“And during the day at the Aria, there’s probably one $5/10 game, $5/10/20 actually, full of tough regs. Benton often avoids that game and plays PLO instead. Why would Noir Card guy play in that game either? So here he sits in my $2/5 game, tossing chips around like Pringles – all I have to do is collect my share.”
“How many $2/5 games will you have to choose from?”
“Mondays and Tuesdays are slow, but tonight [Friday] there will be 8-9. Seriously, there will be almost as many $2/5 as $1/3 games going – lots of choice for me.”
“All right then, we’ll let you get back to your $1/3, er, $2/5 game. Thank you, and I look forward to our next chat.”
“Thank you. I’m going to head over to the Aria and fold until I have the button.”