Moving Up In Limits
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 minimum.
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 confidence.
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 variance involved.
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.
Author: Jonathan Wanchalk
Updated: March 2015
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