No fluffing around. James “SplitSuit” Sweeney gets right into it this week by responding to a popular forum thread started by Red Chipper Ben Leewood. Ben asks:
I’m reaching out to get a little advice on this move up. Perhaps bankroll considerations…..pitfalls to beware of…..cautionary tales of when “you” went up in stakes…etc.”
SplitSuit organized his thoughts into four main sections:
1. Bankroll Size
2. Shot-Taking Strategy & Thought Process
3. General Strategy of Moving Up
4. Mental Game
Let’s dive in…
First and foremost, you need to make sure you have a proper bankroll. SplitSuit focuses on cash game players here — tournaments are a bit different. If you are a recreation cash game player, 20 buyins is fine. But if you’re taking things to a professional level, you’re going to want many more times that. 50-100 buyins is what SplitSuit recommends for full-time players.
Being short on your bankroll means no moving up, period. But if your bankroll is getting fatter, and you’re in a sweet financial situation. That’s when it’s time to think about taking shots. That doesn’t mean abandoning your current limit completely. You’ll likely still mostly play at your “home” limit. But when you have an extra 2-3 buyins laying around on top of a healthy bankroll, that’s when you should start taking a shot or two at the next limit.
If you’ve been playing your A game, studying a lot, and feeling really confident and in control of the table when you’re playing… you’re ready to take a shot. You want to go into the next level feeling cool and collected, like your poker mind has been finely honed and sharpened.
For example, if your bankroll is 20 buyins at $1/$2, SplitSuit suggests taking shots when you find an extra $1000-$1500 padding your roll — as long as you feel at the very top of your game.
Don’t put yourself in the cage of “I’m only a $1/$2 player.” or “I’m only a $2/$5 player.” Let your limits be fluid.
SplitSuit points out that professional or aspiring professional poker players need to be taking shots consistently. Not constantly, but consistently, as it, whenever their bankroll permits, and their A game is on tap. Go for it!
For the recreational player, shots may depend more on a bonus or a tax return… some type of cash infusion to your life roll. In that case, by all means, take a shot at the next level! Even if it’s not immediately profitable, you’ll probably have a blast. Again, hold yourself to A game standards and don’t be cocky — play when you really feel confident in your abilities.
SplitSuit says you need to ask yourself:
If I lost 2 buyins at the next limit up, would that crush me?”
If the answer is yes, stay put at your current level. If the answer is no, think about taking a shot. Obviously, the less you feel like you’d be crushed, the more you should feel compelled to take a shot. Life’s for living, not for being afraid! Having the bankroll to back up your skills means your risk is calculated and limited. Pressure is normal, but there should be no risk of being absolutely crushed.
Best Foot Forward
We’ve talked about playing your A game as crucial to taking a shot. But just as crucial — and just as much part of anyone’s A game — is off-table study. When you take that shot, you should be going the extra mile to rapidly improve your play. You will be trying new moves. You will be playing against new moves. You should be taking notes. You should be analyzing and discussing hands off-table, with people or in a forum.
Taking that shot, you should have not only a solid bankroll but a solid study plan. You will encounter challenges, obstacles. Study and analysis are your tools to overcome. Have them in place when you take your shot, and your confidence will not waver. Don’t get distracted with setting up the infrastructure of game improvement only after you experience setbacks. Have that infrastructure in place and you will spend the most time possible making progress.
When to Take Shots
Friday nights. Saturday nights. Those are the times to take shots. Softer games are best, and those nights bring out the recreational players like no other. But don’t limit yourself. There are plenty of great games at higher limits to be had off-peak… you just need to sniff them out.
As SplitSuit said, you should keep taking shots. Don’t do it once and give up. And don’t butt your head against the wall, making the same frustrating mistakes. Pull the trigger a few times, get in there, and make sure your off-table study is on point. That is a key ingredient the recipe for moving up. Take a shot each month, maybe two. It will force you to grow and grow faster.
Not Broke? Don’t Fix It
You’ve been playing well, winning consistently. You’re in a spot where you can consider taking a shot because you’ve been playing well. Don’t blow it by changing what’s been working.
One of the biggest mistakes players make when moving up is feeling like they have to take more creative lines and make more unpredictable and aggressive moves in order to adapt to the next limit. They change what’s been working in their game, lose a chunk of bankroll, and chalk it up to the level being tough. In reality, they abandoned their A game!
It’s even happened to SplitSuit. Even he thought, as common sense might dictate, that the next limit would play quite differently than the one he was coming from. Certainly there are differences, but think about it — you’re still playing poker. If you’re dominating your current level, those strategy will generally work at the next level. Of course you will have to adjust, but start from a position of strength. Use the moves that have been making you money at your old level. Your off-table study will identify areas where you can adjust and optimize your play, but until you have the data, don’t abandon the very skills you scoop your pots with.
When moving up, use your usual winning strategy, then adjust from there. Don’t fundamentally change your game. And remember, everyone has leaks, even the regs at the next limit. Don’t feel like you’re playing against picture-perfect players.
Mental game is something that matters much more in poker than many give credence. Everyone knows it’s important to know how to deal with tilt, and how to not completely have a mental meltdown and lose your bankroll chasing variance or losses from bad play. But beyond that, few pay mental game the attention it deserves.
Just like your strategy and off-table study, your mental game needs and deserves constant improvement. There are a great number of practices you can integrate into your daily life to build more mental prowess, endurance and resilience. It will help you win at poker, but the bonus is that these tools are applicable to all of life.
Of course, it’s normal to be nervous about moving up a level. The butterflies start flying the second you put your name on the list, and certainly doesn’t stop when you see a raise twice the size you’re used to. Roll with the nervousness — be confident that your strategy is solid. Don’t second-guess everything you do. Take the lines you’re used to taking to win. Look for the spots you tend to look for to exploit at your normal level. You know you have a profitable strategy and a bankroll to work with.
And don’t get your ego hurt just because your shot fails. Don’t go back to your normal level with your tail between your legs. Get up the gumption and grit to grind a few more buyins back, and take another shot. A lot of this stems from defining yourself too narrowly as playing the next level up. Keep it fluid. You can be a $1/$2 and $2/$5 simultaneously. If you have to go back to $1/$2 because your bankroll takes a few hits, don’t let your ego get bruised.
Final tip: DO NOT TILT! We said it before, we’ll say it again. If you feel tilt coming in at all, eject immediately. It is suicide to start tilting in shot-taking mode. It will bash your confidence and destroy your bankroll, and not just your shot-taking bankroll. Your main bankroll is at risk when you tilt at a higher limit. Get out and live to play another day.
Related Article: The Last Edge: Mental Strategy by James “SplitSuit” Sweeney
Related Infographic: 10 Psychological Traps in Poker by Dr. Tricia Cardner