Poker Strategy

An age-old conundrum that all players would like to have is at what point should we move up stakes. Of course, it’s great – assuming we’re being realistic, and not fooling ourselves – to have had a level of success that prompts us to consider stepping up a gear.

This is a serious subject, and absolutely not a case of taking into account only the status of our bankroll. Indeed, if we base our decision solely on such simplistic and limited criteria, and consequently make the mistake of getting ahead of ourselves, then we could easily end up in trouble and even find ourselves with bankroll problems. Ironically, it’s this very impatience, or making a poor decision for the wrong reasons, which often sees players – after a brief and sometimes disastrous attempt to fly closer to the sun – needing to drop down a level or two!

Not surprisingly, there are numerous factors to take into consideration…

Sing when you’re winning

As obvious as it sounds, winning – as opposed to ‘feeling’ that we’re doing well, or convincing ourselves that our skill level justifies raising the stakes – is a good sign as to whether we should contemplate moving up. After all, if we’re winning, then we must be doing something right (assuming our sample size is big enough for such an indication to be sufficiently accurate).

The good news for online poker fans nowadays is that there’s plenty of software and various tools to make keeping track of our results easy, and over time we can build up a reliable sample.

Different variants have different criteria

Depending on which type of game we prefer, the benchmark/indicator is clearly different. For Cash game players, there should be a minimum of 10,000 hands (preferably more) from which to make an evaluation, and this, in turn, should translate to a clear-cut established figure in terms of profit per hour.

Tournament or Sit & Go specialists can look to return-on-investment (ROI), as this measurement of net profit is a no-nonsense indicator, providing the sample size is big enough, of course. A good round number here is 1,000 tournaments/games.

Bankroll Management

We could approach the subject of bankroll management from all sorts of angles, with a host of recommended ‘minimums’ for each of Cash games, Tournaments and Sit & Go games, for players of varying degrees of experience, and so on. Suffice to say that, if you’re contemplating moving up stakes, or you’ve not been playing long and would like to think about the subject in advance, then you’ll have already sorted out a prudent bankroll management strategy, and this phase should be incorporated into what you’ve been adhering to thus far.

However, what I would say is that, as you progress, each step up should be dealt with more conservatively and strictly than the last. As in life, you can never be too sure, and it pays to be well prepared for negative eventualities.

Have a go…

Thus far we have been concerned only with making sure that a certain level of caution is taken before making that desired upward move to playing at higher stakes. However, it’s also quite possible – and a healthy change – to temporarily take a shot at a bigger game now and then. The intention isn’t to make wholesale changes, rather see how it feels for when such a step up is justified according to the necessary criteria. There are a number of reasons why this is a healthy experiment. For example, players can get a good idea of how they feel in a new environment, it might be necessary to adapt and assume a different kind of approach at the new stakes level, there might be a noticeable difference in the table dynamics that is only noticeable through gaining practical experience and isn’t touched upon in theoretical articles on the subject. As long as the amount being staked/invested is within the parameters that the bankroll usually affords you, then testing the potentially murkier waters of a higher stakes Game is a totally feasible idea.


Moving up stakes is by no means as simple an exercise as it might initially appear, and it’s important to remember that there are factors other than profit which need to be considered. Even regarding the determination of whether you are a winning player, the sample size needs to be big enough to justify making such a judgment. Impatience, pride, wishful thinking, ego, and other such characteristics that make poor bedfellows for online poker are best locked away…

Have fun … and if it’s not fun at the next level up, simply return to the more comfortable, calmer waters you’ve been doing so well in thus far!



AngusD switched from pro chess to poker two decades ago and has been professionally involved in the game on numerous levels since the very beginning of online poker, including playing as a poker ambassador both online and at major festivals around the globe. He has written much about the game over the years, and brings to YPD a wealth of experience in all aspects of the poker industry. Meanwhile, his many years on the pro chess circuit (he’s an International Master and prolific author) afford him an interesting perspective on the psychology of poker.

· Published 21.01.2021 · last updated 21.01.2021

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