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poker chipsOne of the recurring themes throughout a poker player’s career is deciding when to move up in stakes or buy-in level. Unless an aspiring pro happens onto a major score early in his or her career, increasing one’s buy-ins (and risk) can have catastrophic effects on a poker bankroll.

So when should you make that all important jump from one game to another? There are plenty of basic mathematical formulas that advise poker players to move up once a bankroll has a certain amount of buy-ins for a particular game, but the correct answer to this all important question likely depends much more on personal circumstances than generally accepted guidelines.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at various scenarios that might prompt an up and coming poker player to increase stakes.

Micro Stakes and Weekend Warriors

Thanks to the massive amount of traffic a player can find on the larger online poker sites, an amateur player can hone his or her skills with an extremely limited bankroll. Everything from freerolls to penny games can be played pretty much around the clock, so a $10 to $25 minimum deposit can go quite a long way if a recreational player is disciplined.

However, with enough volume these micro stakes games become tedious and boring. Scoring a “big hit” in these games often amounts to double digits, which doesn’t provide much real money incentive for staying in the games if you wish to make “playing poker for profit” a reality.

This is why I generally recommend players move up to a buy-in amount that at least means something to them as soon as possible. If you’re no longer motivated playing $0.01 tournaments on PokerStars, then I don’t see any major issues with moving up to an amount that gives you an opportunity to significantly increase your bankroll. This could mean that you try out $0.01/$0.02 cash games or start playing events with more meaningful top prizes.

Another class of poker player who is justified in foregoing traditional bankroll guidelines is someone who has an established source of external income and can “renew” funds on a regular basis. Although this is an exception, there are many poker players who deposit weekly just to play a couple of hours or enter a major event such as the Sunday Million.

If your poker funds can be renewed on a regular basis and you’re financially comfortable with the routine, then the Poker Bankroll Management literature you’ll find scattered across the Internet probably doesn’t apply to you. Some poker players only have a few hours per week to participate in an activity they thoroughly enjoy, so putting an entire $50 roll at risk in a single game is logical in this scenario.

Established Winning Players

Play poker long enough, and sooner or later you’ll encounter a game that you can consistently beat (even if it’s no-rake penny events or a friendly home game). For the sake of specifying what type of poker player fits into this category, I would consider a minimum buy-in of $10 for cash games and $5 for tournaments (multi-tabling online, of course) as attempting to take the game “seriously.”

Quite a few up-and-comers play these games daily and have an established winrate, which in turn forces them to question whether the stakes they are playing are simply too low. After all, if you’re averaging more than $100 per week in profit at these games, then it would make perfect sense to move up a notch or two and bank even more, right?

Perhaps.

In the modern era of online poker, the level of competitiveness you’ll encounter as you move up in stakes is far greater than it was during The Moneymaker Boom.

Now, I would definitely know something about moving up in stakes as a professional online poker player. I did so many times, going from $5 games (the lowest real money stakes available when I started out in 2004) to eventually 10-tabling $60 Turbo Sit & Gos on PokerStars with an average daily allowance of $6,000 for buy-ins.

But (and this is a big “but”) I did so during a time when the skill level requirements for winning at mid stakes SNGs were less than they are today. Players beyond micro stakes no longer make the obvious, catastrophic decisions that gave losing players virtually no chance to come out ahead in those days. The modest amount of success I achieved from 2004-2007 would not be possible today with my current poker skill set, or even the skill set I possessed when I was grinding full time, so keep that in mind.

Even back then, it was fairly common to be seated at a $60 Turbo SNG and recognize every single player at a 9-handed table! And my worst day was when I went 48 single-table Sit & Gos without a lone third place cash (that story could make for a great article someday).

Bankroll considerations become vitally important for any serious poker player who desires to move up in stakes. Although I personally made the move once I had 150 buy-ins for any given level, the magic number these days is much closer to ’bout tree-fiddy (yes, 350 buy-ins) for 8-tabling and beyond.

If you have a decent sample size of winning results in $5 to $15 tournaments online and want to move up to the $20 to $25 range with a large enough bankroll, then my advice would be to go for it. If things don’t work out in the short term, you can always move back down within your comfort zone and continue working on your game without any critical risk to your income source.

Dedicating Time For Improvement

chartOne of the most overlooked variables in determining whether a poker player is ready to move up in stakes is the amount of time one can dedicate to improving. If you’re going into higher stakes games with the predisposition that you’ll absorb, adapt, and innovate then your expectation will be greater than an opponent who’s in the same boat yet unwilling to find new edges to exploit.

I would say that constant improvement is every bit as important as bankroll when making the move to bigger games. Without this attitude, your winning, cookie-cutter strategy will likely run into obstacles at higher buy-ins and eventually become obsolete in games you’re currently dominating — and I would know plenty about this, too.

The one factor most responsible for my professional poker player exit was not bankroll management, but rather skill level. I severely underestimated how quickly basic poker theory would spread and equally overestimated the long term viability of depending on an influx of new players — so don’t make the same mistake I did. I may have been fortunate to exit the game as a professional with my bankroll intact, but if you’re reading this article then rest assured that the quickest path to more profit in poker is more skill, not more bankroll.

Hopefully you’ve gained some insight into what it takes to move up in stakes as a seriously poker player by reading this article.

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David Huber

David Huber has been involved in the poker industry for more than a decade: initially as a professional online poker player and later as an editor, consultant, writer, and forum manager. Known as "dhubermex" online, David's poker-related work has been heavily published across numerous websites since 2004.

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