Moving Up Stakes Online Poker

Moving up in stakes is a complex topic, and one I’m glad is a constant presence in poker forums. Everyone, from newcomers to old-school players, is a little curious about the process of moving from microstakes to small stakes, or from $2NL to $5NL.

  1. One of the concerns that I frequently hear, especially among small stakes poker players, is when and how to move up to a bigger game. How do you know if you are ready to move up to a bigger poker game or not? The simply answer is to move up when your bankroll is big enough, and move down when your bankroll is too small.
  2. Tips for Moving Up in Stakes at the Online Poker Rooms Although you could technically move up to higher stakes at the online poker site any time, if you are making mistakes playing then you will simply be handing over your chips. The key to moving up and sustaining is tightening up your play and.

If your goal is to continuously earn money while playing poker, you’re going to want to move up stakes at some point, since you can earn more money in a smaller amount of time. As you progress through higher and higher cash game limits, you’ll face increased competition in games that involve increasingly-higher amounts of money.

Moving up in stakes is a complex topic, and one I’m glad is a constant presence in poker forums. Everyone, from newcomers to old-school players, is a little curious about the process of moving from microstakes to small stakes, or from $2NL to $5NL.

If you’re going to move up stakes successfully, you need to understand the process. This post is a guide to the why, when, and how of moving up stakes in online poker.

A Bankroll Tip for Moving Up Stakes

Opinion is a little divided on this subject – in my opinion, as long as you have a bankroll that can sustain 20 buy-ins for the next stakes level up, your money is ready to move up. If you start with a bankroll worth 20 buy-ins of $5NL, and your goal is to build a bankroll worth 20 buy-ins of $10NL, all you need to do is double your money. By waiting until you have that $200 bankroll built up before you move up stakes, you’re protecting your bankroll for the inevitable bad streak.

But remember – just because your bankroll is big enough to handle a certain buy-in doesn’t mean you have to move up at that point. Think of this restriction as a floor rather than a ceiling. The more you grow your bankroll before your move, the more secure your money once you decide to make the move. Never be ashamed to move back down in stakes if an experiment in moving up goes wrong.

When to Move Up in Stakes

Here are some factors to consider once your bankroll is big enough to move, but before you actually make the move:

Am I winning?
You should be keeping track of every dollar you spend on poker, and be able to calculate how much you win vs. how much you lose for each poker session. The use of poker tracking software is a huge boon in this regard; looking at statistics will help you decide if you’re winning enough to consider a change in stakes.

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What’s my ROI?
Your ROI should be a positive number (and ideally at least a double-digit positive number) before you consider a change in stakes. Here’s how to figure your ROI – divide your profits by the gross amount you’ve spent on poker, with that number then multiplied by the total number of games played. The break-even point is 0%, so any number above 0 is a positive ROI. It’s a mistake to move up in stakes when you can’t even consistently make money at your current level.

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Am I ready to move up?
This is a psychological/philosophical thing, and it’s difficult to quantify. The level you’re comfortable with psychologically is unlikely to change. You may be a billionaire who’s just uncomfortable with anything about $20NL – or you may be dead-broke and totally in the zone at $100 a hand. Only you can tell – so it’s important to be honest with yourself.

How to Move Up in Stakes

Once you’ve made up your mind that it’s time to move up in stakes, I know of two different methods for doing so. They both have something valuable to offer, so you can borrow from each of them to form your unique moving-up method.

The “Blended Games” Method

Think of this method like adding cold water to a hot bath to make it comfortable. Blending two different buy-ins into your sessions allows you to maintain some comfort while challenging your abilities just enough to eventually move stakes altogether.

I discovered this method while moving up from $3 SNG’s to $6 SNG’s. I started small, running just one table of each. As I got more comfortable with the method, I was running two $3 games and 2 $6 games. Eventually, I got to the point where I was playing all $6 SNG games. The change in stakes sneaked up on me and I made myself comfortable with the tougher competition by exposure.

The “Testing the Waters” Method


The other end of the spectrum is more like tossing a kid into a swimming pool to cure them of their fear.

As long as you have enough cash for the buy-in, you can play at any stakes level you want. Throw out all the rules I’ve established in this post – you don’t need a specific bankroll size, or a specific skill level. Heck, you don’t even have to be good. If you want to test the waters at stakes way beyond your means, go ahead and do it. The experience will be worth it.

Taking a quick stabs at the stakes level just above you won’t be so scary after you’ve seen the talent level four stake levels ahead. This is the best way to overcome any mental block against moving up – jumping in with both feet against the big boys and getting it over with.

What’s the downside to the testing the waters method? You’ll probably be playing at a huge disadvantage and get beat a lot. Most players in this situation tighten up or just start gambling and bluffing like crazy. But here’s the beautiful thing about this strategy – you can bail and head back to your original stakes level at any time.


Moving up in stakes is about recognizing when it’s time to do so and implementing a strategy. When you’ve decided that you’re financially and mentally-prepared, you’ll want to test your skill before committing to a complete move.

The safest way to move up is to study a little bit every day and play an awful lot. As long as you’re checking your win rate and ROI along the way, and committed to moving back down if your move isn’t timed right, you’re doing it right. Remember that swings are a big part of the game. Changing stakes is a test of your psyche more than your skill set or bankroll.

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It can be both fun and depressing to shift around in limits, depending on whether you are going up or down. There are few experiences more rewarding than being able to take a shot at the next limit up the ladder, but being forced to move back down can be incredibly frustrating. For a good poker player it will be natural to move up or down depending on what games are running and how they are doing.

Sometimes you have to be willing to put your pride to side in exchange for profitability. If you had crushed 100NL for ages and then got killed at 200NL, it might be aggravating to have to go what feels like backwards. Nonetheless, this is all part of the natural progression of any poker player. You need to be willing to accept that moving up in limits generally goes hand in hand with moving down.

Hopefully there will be situations where you get to move up and never have to jump back down, but it doesn’t always go this smoothly. Failure in poker is another step on the never ending path to success, however cliché that sounds.

Taking shots at a higher limit game will sometimes translate to “I’m moving up” for certain poker players. You shouldn’t convince yourself that any higher limit shot is a permanent transition. There should be a figure where you need to move down, and if you never hit that number you can stay in the same game. Once you find prolonged experience at any limit, you will then be able to take another shot at even higher games.

It is isn’t quite this easy, though, because you will inevitably run into spots where you clearly need to move back down and try again. The difference between a poker player and a gambler is the will power to make the correct financial and long term decision, not the quickest route to a potential payday.

After all, it is much better to win $20/hour at 100NL than it is to lose $30/hour at 200NL. If you are embarrassed or ashamed at needing to move back down in limits, you probably weren’t cut out for poker in the first place.

When You Should Move Up in Limits

Moving up is something that you should do after you are very comfortable with your current limits and bankroll. There is no place for taking shots on a light bankroll. You don’t necessarily need to be fully bankrolled for the limits one step above you, but you should also be able to handle a few buy-in downswing.

If you play in a game that you don’t have enough money for, there is an increased chance that you will be playing scared. Never take a shot if you can’t handle either the emotional or financial swings. Being nervous is normal, but feeling the highs and lows with each and every action is not good.

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Beating lower limit games is always more important than taking shots at higher limits. The general rule of thumb for cash games is beating any given limit for 100,000 or more hands. It can take quite a bit of time to play 100,000 hands, especially if you are not playing a ton of tables at once. The point of this guideline is to ensure that you really know what you are doing before you take a chance in tougher games.

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It is always possible for a weak player to go on a heater for 10,000 hands where they will come up with an exaggerated win rate. You need to make sure that you are actually winning and not just in the middle of a random hot streak. There have been plenty of players who were fooled by a bout of good luck and thought that they were destined for millions. When it comes down to it, you need to have a sample size that is significant enough to prove that you actually know what you are doing and that you are ready for the next step (higher stakes poker games).

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When You Should Move Down in Limits

Moving down is usually more clear cut than moving up, however odd that may seem. You should have a set number in your bankroll for when you will take a step down to the lower limit games. This might be a buy in threshold or an actual dollar amount. For example, you could have $2,500 for a 100NL bankroll and decide that you will move down if that number ever hits anything below $2,000. This would be a five buy in downswing and would be enough to indicate that your problems are likely to extend beyond the realm of some bad variance.

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Moving Up Stakes Online Poker Tournaments

It is always better to play it safe when it comes to taking shots and re-working your skills. There is very little harm in moving down in limits, but staying in games that you can’t beat can be extremely detrimental. A lot of players try to stay in higher limit games because they want a chance at winning back the money that they lost in a shorter amount of time. Instead of gambling it up, earn it back slowly at the limits that you know you can beat with consistency.