The poker landscape has changed immensely over the last decade. When Black Friday came on April 15, 2011, the American player pool was pulled out of the global market leaving everyone to pick up the pieces.
There used to be so many Americans playing on the major sites that we could find tables running for any game we wanted to play. The limit games were incredibly popular back in the day but overnight that all changed.
What we were left with was basically a choice between NL hold’em or PLO, in both cash game and tournament format. The question became: which to choose and why?
Let’s take a look at some of the differences between the two games and try to understand better who should play each one. We should add that there is nothing wrong with playing both games. It is true that the best players in any given game are specialists in this modern era but even for middle of the road pros splitting volume between the two formats is fine if they enjoy it.
The Differences Between NL Hold’em and PLOThe most commonly known difference between NL hold’em and PLO is that PLO is the action game. The swings are vicious and unavoidable. Put simply, if variance is a key concern for you then stick to NL hold’em. PLO risks driving you insane.
Question is why does PLO give bigger swings than NL hold’em? The answer is to do with hand equities running much closer than in NL.
Most hands dealt in PLO will never have more than a 2:1 preflop equity advantage. In contrast, pocket aces will be an 85% favourite against a random hand in NL and 80% against a small pair. That’s a bigger difference than you might think. Holding aces in PLO with two random cards will usually only give around 65% equity.
For this reason, most pots in PLO are multiway. Players have the required pot odds to see a flop much more often than in NL. In fact, PLO players on average play around twice as many hands as a NL player in a cash game. It’s easy to see why action players love the game. Folding and being patient doesn’t have quite the same appeal..
Because PLO players get dealt four cards, it is much easier to make a strong hand. This means that NL hold'em players moving across to PLO must recalibrate their assessment of what constitutes a good hand. The only situation where both games play identically almost is when holding pocket aces. Here the hope is to get the hand all-in preflop in game games.
Differences in Win RatesIt is difficult to form a solid conclusion about the profitability of each format because sites vary and we never know the true skill level of a player who can provide a sample size of both games. That said, even as far back as two decades ago, it was thought that PLO games offer a more profitable opportunity than NL.
This may be true today to an even greater extent. NL is by far the more popular of the two games and it stands to reason that the ceiling is higher for the average player. PLO, on the other hand, has a much less navigated game tree making edges easier to come across.
A few years ago, Phil Galfond posted three years worth of results for $1,000 PLO and showed a 15bb/100 win rate. This is truly insane and maybe a poor example given how good Galfond is at the game. But even in a tougher era, JNandez reported beating $500 Zoom PLO at 8bb/100. These numbers would be almost impossible to replicate in a comparable NL hold’em game today.
The conclusion has to be that if you can withstand the variance without having a meltdown then PLO might be the more profitable choice.
Heads-Up PotsOne difference that is noticeable enough to make some players choose one game or the other is the frequency of heads-up pots. In NL hold’em, most postflop action takes place in a heads-up pot. This isn’t true in PLO where there are many players seeing a flop.
This is purely a matter of taste rather than being a factor that affects profit but let’s understand why it does matter.
Heads-up poker is the purest form of the game. Two players squaring up against each other with no interference from other players. This also applies in a ring game where all the other players have folded and we see two players battling for the flop.
In NL there is a huge difference between postflop strategy in a heads-up pot and a multiway pot. Multiway pots often leave players with one hand tied behind their backs, unable to act aggressively due to the increased chance that at least one opponent has a strong hand. In other words, it is a much less interesting game within a game.
Both games are incredibly interesting and to be absolutely sure that you choose the right one it’s going to take some work on both games along with some playing experience to truly discover which is right for you.