Moving up in limits and taking shots is a very exciting time
for any poker player. In most cases, moving up to a new stake
will mean that you have been beating a lower limit for a fair
amount of time. If you are taking a shot and don’t meet this
criteria, the chances are that you shouldn’t be moving up at
all. Tilting and moving up to recoup losses is one of the oldest
moves in the book. In reality, though, you would likely be
better off sticking your roll on a hand of blackjack than you
would be trying to play in a higher limit game while on tilt.
In this article we are going to look at when to move up in limits,
when to move down in limits, and the difference between taking
shots and switching limits altogether. Moving up is something
that’s widely done but seldom understood, and carelessness
could easily lead to a drained bankroll.
When to Move Up
The first thing to understand when moving up in limits is
timing. You shouldn’t be playing in higher limits merely on a
whim. An actual set number for when you are going to switch to a
new game is something that you should always have in mind. This
number could be determined by a number of hands played, a number
of hours played, a certain win rate, or a combination of the
three. No matter your guidelines for moving up, you need to be
sure that you are following a set of rules that make both
financial and logical sense.
The amount of hands that you play in a particular game will
aid in determining just how big of a winner you are. Anyone,
even a weak player, could go on a short hot streak and beat the
biggest games around. Only a great player, however, could
maintain a positive win rate over tens of thousands of hands.
Online poker and live poker are two very different things
because of sample sizes. In live poker, the main metric for
measurement is hours played. In online poker, hands played is
the better gauge. With the advent of poker software, tracking
how many hands you play has never been easier.
One of the oldest check points for ample sample sizes in cash
games has been 100,000 hands. This figure, though, can be
altered according to your limits. The higher limit of the game
you are playing, the more hands that are required for an
accurate sample size. Small and micro stakes games tend to carry
the least variance, so 50,000 hands can suffice for a sample
size when debating whether or not to move up. If you are in mid
or high limit games, however, 100,000 should be the bear
A lot of players don’t have the self-discipline to
play through this many hands before moving up, and this is one
of the common reasons why players fail when switching games. If
you are serious about progressing through the limits, take your
time and ensure that you are beating each game before you move
onto another. Not only will you be doing your bankroll a favor,
but it will also do wonders when it comes to building up your
Hours played isn’t a measurement that most online players
use when deciding whether or not to move up in limits.
Live players, on the other hand, have few ways other than
time to gauge their win rates. The actual amount of hours needed
for a true illustration of a live poker player’s win rate is up
for debate. To many, 500 hours is the figure where numbers begin
to stabilize. 100 or 200 hours might seem like a lot of play,
and it certainly is, but this only amounts to 3,000-6,000 hands
in most live games. Compare this figure to 50,000-100,000 for
online play and you will see why it’s hardly sufficient.
So what makes 500 hours, (roughly 15,000 hands) an ample number? In
live play, variance is reduced by the lower level of play. As a
result, a 500 hour sample will usually take into account all
reasonable variance. You won’t need to worry about bad runs as
much because your skillful play will outweigh much of the
As a live poker player, you won’t have access to such fine
tuned stats as are made available in online poker play. The best way
to keep reliable and accurate results is to keep your own
records. This requires nothing more than a spreadsheet. Mark
down hours played, limits played, and amount won or lost. Once
you have complied several hundred hours worth of play, you’ll
be able to determine whether your win rate denotes moving up or
staying in place, and you might even find that moving down is
the best option for the time being.
Win rate is a number that only you can aptly analyze. You may
be thrilled with winning $18/hour at $1/$2 no limit holdem while someone
else may very well be upset by it. If you are only going to
expect to make $22/hour at the next limit, maybe it’s best to
work on your game before you take the leap. Win rate numbers at
the next level will be even more useful, as they will determine
whether your jump in limits was actually worth it.
Eventually you’ll find that one lower limit game is more profitable than
a certain higher limit game, at which point you will know where
you should stick to. This is of course barring the possibility
that you beat every game you ever compete in. Accurate record
keeping is important and will ultimately define which limits and
game type provide you with the most profitability.
When to Move Down
Moving down is the polar opposite of moving up. While moving
up is a fun time and can be quite exhilarating, moving down will
illustrate a perceived failure that requires punishment. Though
it’s true that moving down will usually mean that moving up in
limits hasn’t gone quite as planned, it doesn’t mean that you
should discount its benefits either.
A player who has the control to move down in stakes is
inherently disciplined. You have to be willing to admit that you
need practice before you become a permanent fixture in higher
limit games. As odd as it might seem, you should have determined
when you’ll move down before you even move up. If you are
carrying 50 buy ins into your higher limit game, decide whether
you’ll move down if you drop to 45, 40, or some other number
of buy ins. This is the easiest way to structure your move from
limit to limit. This is a sort of stop loss that will remove the
emotional element involved with playing in bigger games.
Remember that setting a stepping down point is only going to be
valuable and useful if you have the will power to adhere to it
should the need arise.
Taking shots isn’t the same thing as moving up in limits. A
shot means that you are going to hope to run well right away or
move back down to your normal game. The best time to take a shot
is when you are on a very good run and are feeling confident. If
you have just won 10 buy ins over two days, you would be in a
good spot to take a shot. If you have just lost a handful of buy
ins, however, you should not even consider taking a shot.
The important thing to remember about taking shots is that
you should consider them temporary unless you manage to do very
well. Set a number of buy ins that you will stand to lose before
moving down and make sure that you stick to it. Taking a shot
means that you are likely to be under bankrolled, so don’t risk
any more than you can handle.
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