Movin’ On Up

As well as being one of my favourite songs of all time (Movin On Up), it makes a pretty good name for September’s blog. A few of my students have found themselves in the enviable position of moving up in stakes recently. They have beaten their usual game for an impressive winrate, and now they’re ready to take a shot on some bigger buy-ins. Here’s the single biggest piece of advice that I gave them:

Blend in the new stakes; don’t jump into those games exclusively.

There are a few good reasons behind moving up in stakes slowly and seamlessly, and those reasons all centre around the individual’s comfort zone.

First and foremost, it can be intimidating to step up to higher limits. Some people become inclined to gamble it up more than usual, almost as if they’re unconsciously trying to get lucky and take the new games by storm. Others nit up, protect their chips to the bubble, and hope to take it from there. Neither strategy is optimal.

The allegory I always use is that of a young footballer. He’s an 18 year old winger and has really been impressing for the Youth Team. His style is fearless; he likes to take defenders on, using his direct running and dangerous crossing to terrorise opponents.

Now the manager selects him for the Senior team. He is ready for his first-team debut. He gets onto the pitch and instead of running at the full-back, he decides to keep it simple and play easy passes to his more experienced team-mates. When he has a chance to shoot at goal, he plays a square ball instead. Now does the manager want to see this from the youngster? He most certainly does not; the youth was selected for his mad skillz, and now he’s playing like a nit! That is not the type of performance that the manager deemed good enough for the big games.

When you move up to bigger games, you must resist the temptation to think about the stakes. Your natural game made you a stand-out at the lower-levels; now take that same skillset and keep doing what you do. Do not modify yourself initially; improvements can be phased in over time, once you have a better feel for the intricacies of the demands of the new level.

The young footballer and his manager believed that he could bring the ruckus to the first-team scene, and my students and I are no different. If I tell them they’re ready to take a shot, then they’re ready to take a shot. However, taking a shot does not encompass making broad adjustments to their natural game. It was their natural game that brought them this opportunity, and it is their natural game that will make the most of it.

The only way to overcome new limit tension is to get comfortable at those limits. The best way to get comfortable at those limits is to avoid attaching added significance to those particular games. If you tend to play 12 tables of $15s, why not try 9 of those and a couple of $30s? When the tables are stacked up, you will not give the $30s extra attention; you will just play your natural game and keep your decision-making consistent.

Or let’s say that, like me, you regularly play the $60 games on Pokerstars. You have beaten them comfortably over a big sample, and you want to start playing the $100s. Your first thought should be to select good, beatable $100 games, and mix them in with your regular $60s.

That way you get a feel for what it takes to beat the $100s without having to make the psychological leap of thinking ‘now I’m a $100s player’. Poker should be about playing in good games, not about stroking your ego by only playing the highest limits you can afford.

In a recent session, I played 40-odd $30 games, 60-odd $60s, a dozen $100s and four $15s. I’d rather have played them all at the $60s and $100s, but those games were often extremely tough and I have no interest in losing money. If a $100 6max game is registering and I see Foreman12, AndyAFC#1, Koovoon, Bigstealer and maybe one fishbowl sitting, should I think ‘well, I’m a $100 player, guess I better register’? Hell no! I think ‘there is no way on earth that I can sit in this game and expect to earn money long-term’, so I check the lobbies at lower limits instead.

So when somebody asks you what games you play at poker, your answer should not be ‘the $100 6max Sit N Gos’. Nope. Your answer should be, simply, ‘the good ones’.

***For more on the subject of Moving Up in Stakes, check out my video with MD261 entitled ‘Soft Eyes: The SNG Outlook’ only at Drag the Bar

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