Maximising your poker profits: Moving up in stakes and taking shots 

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Posted on: February 2, 2023 12:45 pm EST

The purpose of good bankroll management is that you get to play the games you’re best suited to, without the risk of losing everything you have. 

If you find yourself crushing the low stakes and have a bankroll higher than the recommended minimum for a bigger game, you might want to consider moving up. Conversely, if your bankroll has dipped below that recommended minimum, you need to face facts and move back down.

There might also be a time, particularly for tournament players, where you feel like “taking a shot” – that is, playing a game a little higher than your regular stakes, and possibly bigger than strict bankroll guidelines dictate.

There are various ways you can take a shot and still stay financially healthy, even if that shot goes on to miss the target. 

Let’s take a look at this dance up and down the stakes. What do you need to know about moving up?

When can I move up in stakes at poker?

First things first: there’s no obligation to move up in stakes. Plenty of players find a level they’re comfortable with, and then pretty much just stick there forever.

But if you’re jonesing for a new challenge and feel confident in your abilities, it’s time to make the move up. If you have the results to suggest you’re beating the level you’re at, it’s fine to test your skills in a bigger game. 

There are a few things to consider, however.

Make sure you have the right poker bankroll

It sounds obvious but be certain to double-check the guidance as to the required minimum bankroll to play a higher game. You need somewhere between 20 and 100 buy-ins for cash games (ranging from more passive live games to more lively online tables) and at least 100x the buy-in for tournaments.

But remember, you now need to look at the buy-in guidance for the level you’re hoping to play. It’s the next line down on the chart, and it can represent a hefty increase in required real-money bankroll. 

You might feel that you’re crushing $1/$2 and have seen your bankroll hit $20K. But that bankroll is at the very lowest end of requirements for the $2.50/$5 game, and it might not yet be able to withstand the move up. Especially as these games are likely to be tougher. 

Try to be patient. Far better to sit down with far more than you need, rather than far less. Build up the biggest buffer you can.

Make sure your win rate is consistent before moving up

A big tournament win, or a particularly good cash session, can result in a sudden spike on your graph. You could suddenly be looking at a bankroll that, on paper, can allow you to sit down at any table.

Don’t be deceived. You may just be on the right side of temporary variance, rather than really yet being ready to move up. Poker is littered with players who had a big score and thought they were unbeatable, only to learn very quickly how wrong they were.

Before you even consider moving up, you need to make sure you have proven results over a long period of time — a few months at least. A graph that steadily trends upward is a more reliable indication of someone ready to move up than one featuring only one precipitous spike. 

Prepare to move back down the poker stakes

Micro-stakes crusher Nathan “BlackRain79” Williams puts it well: “Moving down is a necessary part of moving up.” He also says, “Moving up the stakes is not a race. The slow and steady approach is always superior.”

If you’re applying all your bankroll management skills properly, including the grounded acceptance of variance, you should have no issue with dropping down in stakes if things don’t go according to plan at a higher level. 

Williams suggests giving yourself a “10 buy-in shot” – i.e., allowing yourself to play through 10 buy-ins, but no more, at your new level. If you lose those 10, drop down again and rebuild.

Taking a shot at poker

If the situation seems good – maybe a cash game so juicy you can’t pass it up, or a tournament series that you just feel you need to play – it might be time to take a shot. 

Taking a shot is playing in a game that you’re not strictly bankrolled for and there should really be a good reason for doing it. 

Before you even consider it, you should first heed these words of wisdom from Phil Galfond: “The key to mastering shot-taking in big, tough games is that you should not shot take in big, tough games.”

He regularly took shots in his career but said that he would caution against it for most people, and that it should only be considered when the game is softer than it should be for the stakes. 

If you are intent on taking a shot, provided you remember that it is a special occasion, there’s no harm in deviating from hard and fast bankroll rules once in a while. Check out these tips on taking shots from Lee Jones before you do it, though.

And remember, you can take a shot without going broke by swapping, selling action or by satelliting into a big event. All allow you to take the big shot while mitigating the risk. 

Tiffany Michelle explained why this is a good idea to PokerOrg’s Sarah Herring at the recent WPT Championship in Las Vegas.

“This was another ego thing for me, I’ve never sold action before,” Michelle said. “And I’m going to play some satellites. You’re not going to win everything you play and you have a bankroll, and so I have to say there’s no better feeling than playing within your bankroll and doing it wisely.”

This is fantastic advice for any poker player.

Taking shots – the final word 

One final word on the subject: if you’ve got a big enough bankroll from non-poker pursuits, or if you’re happy to write off a few grand and treat poker like a holiday, with the expense that involves, then that’s fine. Go for it.

All bankroll management advice is targeted at players who want to make poker a self-sustaining hobby at least, and potentially a profitable job. But if you’re a recreational player with a wad of cash you can afford to lose, you’ll be welcome at any table you care to choose.

PokerOrg’s Bankroll section is brought to you in association with MuchBetter, the award-winning e-wallet that lets you store, send, and move money quickly and easily.