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Learning No-Limit From Scratch ­- Stepping on Up, Stepping on Down

by Roy Cooke |  Published: Feb 17, 2016


Roy CookeAs your skills grow, you’ll be faced with the decision of whether or not to move up in stakes. It’s a choice some make frantically when super-stuck in an effort to get even. But when you’re emotionally frazzled, that’s a terrible time for decisions about either life or poker strategy adjustments. Like most decisions, doing it thoughtfully and pragmatically will give you the best chance for success.

Many players play at one level and stick with it. But if you want to optimize your earnings, you should attempt to play higher when you feel your skills and bankroll are sufficient.

Don’t overvalue yourself; don’t try to move up unless you’re consistently winning at your current level. If you can’t beat where you are, it’s extremely unlikely that playing tougher competition for more money will fix the issue.

Generally, poker gets tougher as you move up. Additionally, it often plays differently. Your opponents will be better thinking, more aggressive, read you better, and make better decisions against you in all aspects of the game. Since the game will be played at a higher strategic level, you need to think through how to adapt to those changes. Play a session or two and observe where you need to grow, and focus on improving those aspects of your game. Proper preparation can make the difference between moving up and succeeding or failing.

I’ve always been a proponent of separating your poker bankroll from your personal funds. Grow your poker bankroll until it’s at a comfortable level from which to move up. Facing the challenge undercapitalized will diminish your prospects of success. It will make the game more stressful and harder to play your high-swing situations aggressively, both of which will impact your decisions and EV. If you’ll short yourself on the optimum EV by passing on edges to avoid swings, is it really worth moving up?

All that said, if you come across an attractive higher stakes situation which you’re under-bankrolled for, but think you can still be effective in, and the opportunity may be life-changing if successful, take the shot, but don’t go totally broke in it. It’s almost never right to put yourself out of action, even if the situation is phenomenal. Keep in mind, if your regular game is worth $25/hour and the attractive higher game is worth $40/hour, in a six-hour session, the extra expectation you’ll receive is only $90. Is that really worth assuming the additional risks?

Confidence is always important when you’re facing a new challenge. Another reason why moving up to fix a “stuck problem” is usually the wrong answer. You’re in the wrong frame of mind. Make sure you are at your best when you take your first shot. Plan a positive time when you’re going to move up, a time when the games and you will be near the best, the start of the World Series, Super Bowl, and so on. Study up beforehand to build knowledge and confidence. It’s important to do well at the start, and build from a successful mindset.

Many move up too quickly. Optimum earn isn’t a linear calculation. By that, I mean if a game is twice as big the maximum earn hasn’t doubled. You will almost certainly win fewer big blinds or big bets per hour because the competition is tougher. So, the value of stepping up is likely to be limited at first. Accept it as a project and learning experience. Moving up too slowly can only be a small mistake, but moving up too quickly can be devastating.

Many players decline to ever move down. They seem to think that once you decide to move up, you must succeed or go broke at the higher limit. Obviously, you don’t! And if you do go broke, you’ll be moving down anyway.

If you step up and find yourself uncomfortable, losing, and possessing shaken confidence, by all means step back down until you can come back with confidence and financial surety. There is a balance here you must attain. You have to give yourself a fair shot and not give up without putting forth a valiant effort. But if you’ve given yourself an honest effort and it’s not working, step back down and work on your game until you’re ready again.

You should also step down when games change at your current level. Poker constantly changes, games get tougher and sometimes the smaller game may turn into a better proposition for you. Additionally, your abilities aren’t a constant. You may have other things in life taking away your focus, like an altered playing schedule or game availability. When conditions in your life or the game changes, make the correct intellectual decision on which level to play. Don’t let your ego make this decision.

Winning at poker is as much or more so about the decisions you make about gaming and life than about knowing strategy. It’s why many highly strategic knowledgeable players are not winners at poker and some marginally knowledgeable players are.

So, develop your game. Move up when you’re ready; don’t push yourself. And don’t be concerned about stepping down. Play the game your logical thoughts determine, not your emotional ones.

And you’ll do much better at poker! ♠

Roy Cooke played poker professionally for 16 years prior to becoming a successful Las Vegas Real Estate Broker/Salesman. Should you wish any information about Real Estate matters-including purchase, sale or mortgage his office number is 702-376-1515 or Roy’s e-mail is His website is Roy’s blogs and poker tips are at You can also find him on Facebook or Twitter