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Moving Up in Stakes

13/06/2019 by Matt Affleck

Moving up in stakes for a tournament or cash game player is often one of the most difficult things for a poker player. At higher stakes, you are faced with new, unfamiliar, opponents who are more skilled than the players at your previous stake. These two factors, unfamiliarity and skill, lead to a very challenging barrier to entry when moving up in stakes. Let’s discuss some tips that can help you move up in stakes successfully.

For this article we are going to use the example of Mike, who asked me about moving up from 2/5nl to 5/10nl.

Let’s say that Mike uses a fifty buy in bankroll as his guideline in cash games. Mike is a 2/5nl grinder live and currently has a bankroll of $45,000. He is well within his means to play 2/5, but not quite comfortable enough for the 5/10 game that plays bigger. Mike feels his game has progressed enough at 2/5 and thinks he is ready to take a shot at the 5/10 game.

What I would suggest to Mike is to take a portion of his bankroll, $10,000, and use it as his shot taking money for 5/10. He will have a 10 buy in shot to maintain his moving up in stakes at 5/10. Let’s say Mike moves up and over a two-week period struggles at 5/10. The combination of more aggressive play, and him not being familiar with the player pool, costs him and he loses 8 buy ins ($8,000). He is no longer comfortable playing 5/10.

Mike now has a $37,000 bankroll for 2/5nl and goes back to grinding the game he knows he can beat for a healthy clip, and no real damage has been done. Mike puts in lots of volume over the next 2-3 weeks and quickly regains the $8,000 and his bankroll is at $45,000. We repeat this process again where he takes a $10,000 shot at 5/10 for a couple weeks, moving back down if it does not go well, but hopefully he gains his confidence at the higher stakes quickly.

It is not uncommon for this process to take 2-3 rounds before Mike is comfortably playing 5/10 regularly. There is always a strong learning curve moving up in stakes because of the player pool. Different player pools have different tendencies. For example, I would imagine Mike’s 2/5 player pool plays tighter and more passive. The 5/10 player pool may play very loose and aggressive. This takes a while to grow accustomed to.

I would suggest to Mike that he pays special attention to the strategies of the regulars. His success depends on how quickly he can adapt to the new player pool. He needs to quickly learn the game flow (aggressiveness/passiveness) of the regulars. Make a point to learn who is capable of a big bluff, and who never bluffs. Making these adjustments as quick as possible will determine how quickly he can move up to the 5/10 game.

The final advice I would give to Mike, and maybe the most important, is to be CONFIDENT. Mike has been beating the 2/5nl game for a long time. He needs to recognize he is playing the same game as before, just at higher stakes. He needs to avoid becoming overly passive because of the higher stakes and stick to his game. This is why we implement the 10 buy in shot taking because there is no real downside if it goes poorly, as long as he is disciplined and moves back down. If the shot fails, he studies more, tries to recognize why he wasn’t winning in the game and works on that while rebuilding.

Moving up in stakes is important for two main reasons. First, the most obvious is to make more money. The second is less obvious. Our growth as a poker player can easily become stunted by not pushing ourselves. We need to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations in order to learn about our game. Without failure, there is no learning that occurs. Pushing your game to the next level and failing allows you to see what you need to continue to work on as a poker player.

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