There are a few moments in a poker player’s career than will define their future. Your inevitable first downswing, that “a-ha!” moment, and moving up in stakes for the first time. Being able to move up to bigger and better games will be crucial in your advancement as a poker player. If you cannot raise the level of your play to excel at higher levels you will be stuck grinding away small-stakes games forever. There are a few ways to guarantee the move up will be a positive and successful one. Maintaining proper bankroll management, studying and learning from your mistakes, and playing with the proper mindset are all keys to taking the next step in your poker career.
Proper Bankroll Management
The biggest reasons most “shots” fail is players attempt them before their bankrolls are ready. Common variance has destroyed many bankrolls this way as players run poorly and lose twice as quickly as they would at lower stakes. Standard poker bankroll protocol states players need 20 buy-ins for cash games, 50 for SNGs, and 100 for multi-table tournaments. These numbers used to be considered conservative but as players have researched more about variance they have come to find the opposite is true. These numbers, especially when applied to players who mass multi-table, are actually on the aggressive side. In today’s game a 50/100/200 buy-in rule is better than the 20/50/100 once recommended by most.
What most players fail to understand is how these numbers apply to taking a shot at the next buy-in level. For example, a $100nl player with 50 buy-ins has a $5,000 bankroll. For $200nl this is only 25 buy-ins. If someone wants to take a shot at $200nl and have a cushion were they to fall back on $100nl they will need a much bigger roll than $5,000. A “shot” should not just be one or two buy-ins. Players could lose the allotted amount in minutes and not want to move down, further crushing their bankrolls. Instead players should try to have at least 10 buy-ins for their first shot. This will allow for typical variance and should help free up your game. It will be hard enough to beat games at the next level and playing scared and tentative will certainly not help.
This leaves some simple math. For our player above to take at least a 10 buy-in shot he/she will need an additional $2,000 on top of at least 50 buy-ins for the level below. This means $7,000 is the barebones minimum for a cash game player looking to move up to $200nl. Still, if the player loses $2,000 they will only be left with exactly 50 buy-ins for $100nl, which is borderline rolled for that level. Therefore, a basic recommendation for shot-taking will be to take your shot once you have 100 buy-ins (in this case $10,000) for your current level. This will allow for an even greater cushion and will still keep you comfortably bankrolled were the unfortunate to happen.
Studying Your New Game
Taking the next step will not be easy. The games at the next buy-in level will have less fish, more regulars, and tougher opponents in general. This is going to lead to smaller winrates, more downwings, and consequently the need for greater improvement. Luckily, this is something that is completely under your control and how good you get solely depends on how much time and effort you are willing to put into the game. There are many different ways to study your games and opponents including hand history reviews, database analysis, peer conversations, and training sites/videos much like FlopTurnRiver.
Hand history review is the oldest form of poker study there is. Breaking down and analyzing hand histories can be a big help in understanding your flaws and more importantly, those of your opponents. While most bad players will make the same errors no matter the stakes it is important to get a good feel for how the regulars play at higher stakes. In most cases they will be looser and more aggressive and use position to their advantage more so than in small stakes games. The best way to break down a hand history is to mark any interesting hand during your session and to look at it afterward. If at any time you are surprised to see what was shown down in a particular hand make sure to bookmark it and come back to the HH later.
Tools such as Pokerstove can be a big help when understanding ranges and equity in a given pot. If you are unfamiliar with Pokerstove you are really missing out. Not only is it the best poker training aid ever, but it can be found free of charge! You should be constantly analyzing hand histories against the regulars at your stakes because these are the players you will be playing the most hands against. Even the best table selectors will not be able to avoid regulars all the time. If you are having trouble figuring out how to gain an edge against your opponents then using databases such as PokerTracker or even talking to peers playing the same stakes can be beneficial to improving your play against these tough opponents.
A lot of players spend the money on databases such as PokerTracker or Hold’em Manager but never use them for anything more than a glorified account tracker. These programs are so valuable to your game and when put to use correctly can single-handedly turn your career around. Not only should you be able to improve your own game but these databases will allow you to track and analyze your opponents’ games down to the smallest details. Data such as how many hands your opponents play in a particular position, how aggressive they are on each betting street, and even their tendencies against 3 and 4-bets can all be instantly at your disposal during the play of a hand. For those who might think this is an illegal practice we can assure you it is not as most poker sites have nothing in their T&C’s against individuals employing such software.
These programs can also give players some piece of mind when they are on a downswing. PokerTracker of Hold’em Manager both come equipped with the ability to analyze your equity in all-in pots and relay whether or not you are running bad. This can comfort those who may be currently losing money and are just facing some tough variance. On the other hand it can prove to players who constantly blame bad luck that their games may need to improve, not their fortunes.
Finally, discussing your game with players at similar levels or even those at much higher stakes can open up your mind to new ideas which can lead to breakthroughs in your own game. The most difficult part of this might be finding players on your level who enjoy talking about poker. The best way to initiate contact is to join a poker community such as FlopTurnRiver and begin posting in the strategy forums. By reading others posts you can get a feel for who plays what stakes. A private message to a fellow board member may be all it takes to improve your game and boost your winrate. Instant Messengers, Skype, and screen-sharing programs are all necessary (and free) when talking poker with other players.
Swapping hand histories is fairly typical between poker friends. This is a great way to understand how other players at similar stakes break down and think about common situations. Programs such as Teamviewer and Skype can help speed up this process by allowing players to view each others screens and voice-chat instead of typing. This process is known as “sweating” where players watch each other play and comment on actions during hands. This is a time-tested method to poker improvement and has not only been used by peers but with instructors and students as well. Sweating is a great way of bringing hand history analysis into real-time. While it is important to break down hand histories and database statistics it all means nothing without being able to implement your findings during the play of a hand. This ability, to trust your skills and instincts is another important aspect of taking the next step in your poker career.
Now that you have a better idea of bankroll management and how to improve you game, you must be able to apply it to your actual time at the tables. There are a few characteristics all great poker players share including confidence, ego, and humility. While these may seem counterproductive when put in the same sentence they are all crucial when moving up in stakes. Having the confidence to beat the next level, the ego to feel bulletproof, and the humility to drop down if you lose will all be beneficial for the poker player looking to move up.
Confidence is certainly the most important characteristic a poker player can have. Being confident not only in your ability, but in your instincts, will pay dividends down the road. The hardest part when moving up in stakes is trusting that the skills you currently have are good enough to beat a higher level. Most players like to blame bad luck on ruining their shots, but what truly happens is players inevitably play differently when more money is on the line. Whether this is timid and conservative play or reckless fancy-plays each poker player will find themselves doing things out of the ordinary when first playing at a new level. You need to understand if your game was good enough to amass a bankroll large enough for your shot it will be able to hold it’s own at the next level. Trust your instincts, remember all your analysis and studying, and play with out fear. Doing otherwise is surely a recipe for disaster.
Ego is an interesting component of most elite poker player’s games. While up front it may appear to be a bad thing, it can actually be quite positive when competing against better players. Ego, or what might be misconstrued as over-confidence, is having a high belief in your own abilities. This goes hand in hand with being confident but ego carries a bit of arrogance or invincibility. This leads to fearless poker which is what we should all be striving for. The ability to sit down at the table and feel you are the best player there can be calming and familiar when playing in new games. Still, having ego without humility can be quite damaging to your bankroll.
Humility comes into play when things are not going your way. You have the necessary buy-ins for your shot but just a few thousand hands and you have already lost the entire amount. Being able to recognize when you are running bad, playing poorly, or flat out are not good enough to beat the games you are in is crucial to your poker development. The first time you go on a downswing can be quite difficult. Most players race through the micro-stakes because they are easy and even mediocre players can beat up on the wide array of fish. However, a bad run along with improved opponents will inevitably occur leaving you (and your bankroll) bruised and battered. Being able to take a step back, realize when you’re not playing your A-game, and quit, is one of the best aspects of winning poker players. Remember, the confidence to trust your reads, the ego to play fearless poker, and the humility to know when you’re beat are all keys to successful poker players.
Taking shots can be a fun and exciting time. They can also be quite nerve-racking and lead to big losses. Make sure when trying to take that next step you are properly bankrolled, have taken the time to study your game as well as your opponents, and are playing with the proper mindset. If you take care of those three aspects, even if you lose, you will have won.