Archive for the ‘Poker Strategy’ Category

Ante Up Tournament Strategy

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

We recently added a strategy article on Ante Up tournaments to our poker strategy section. Ante Up tournaments are gaining in popularity. Blind levels stay fixed for the duration of the tournament while only the antes, which are posted from level one and onward, increase. For example, level one could be 5/5 blinds with a 10 ante. Level two would be 5/5 blinds with a 20 ante, etc. This format dictates some significant changes in strategy which we outlined in the article.

Thin River Folds

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Recently, a member of our poker forums, ‘kid hustlr’, started a thread in our tournament strategy forum seeking feedback on a hand where he was dealt pocket Kings. The hand history posted by ‘kid hustlr’, whose screenname is ‘c-biz-kid’ at this online poker table, is as follows:

Full Tilt Poker Game #20948326493: $75,000 Guarantee (158419291), Table 31 – 20/40 – No Limit Hold’em – 20:34:46 ET – 2010/05/18
Seat 1: moudro (2,180)
Seat 2: Firerang (5,350)
Seat 3: c-biz-kid (3,245)
Seat 4: RBC123123 (3,355)
Seat 5: BegsClutch (2,630)
Seat 6: Pokerccini (4,580)
Seat 7: dwf1029 (11,375)
Seat 8: 77kol0bok77 (2,340)
Seat 9: wmmcl (3,210)
moudro posts the small blind of 20
Firerang posts the big blind of 40
The button is in seat #9
*** HOLE CARDS ***
Dealt to c-biz-kid [Kc Kd]
c-biz-kid raises to 120
RBC123123 folds
BegsClutch has 15 seconds left to act
BegsClutch calls 120
Pokerccini folds
dwf1029 calls 120
77kol0bok77 calls 120
wmmcl folds
moudro calls 100
Firerang folds
*** FLOP *** [Th 3s 5h]
moudro has 15 seconds left to act
moudro checks
c-biz-kid checks
BegsClutch checks
dwf1029 bets 240
77kol0bok77 has 15 seconds left to act
77kol0bok77 calls 240
moudro folds
c-biz-kid calls 240
BegsClutch folds
*** TURN *** [Th 3s 5h] [Jd]
c-biz-kid checks
dwf1029 has 15 seconds left to act
dwf1029 checks
77kol0bok77 has 15 seconds left to act
77kol0bok77 bets 440
c-biz-kid calls 440
dwf1029 has 15 seconds left to act
dwf1029 folds
*** RIVER *** [Th 3s 5h Jd] [Td]
c-biz-kid checks
77kol0bok77 has 15 seconds left to act
77kol0bok77 bets 640
c-biz-kid calls 640
*** SHOW DOWN ***
77kol0bok77 shows [Jc Tc] a full house, Tens full of Jacks
c-biz-kid mucks
77kol0bok77 wins the pot (3,520) with a full house, Tens full of Jacks
*** SUMMARY ***
Total pot 3,520 | Rake 0
Board: [Th 3s 5h Jd Td]
Seat 1: moudro (small blind) folded on the Flop
Seat 2: Firerang (big blind) folded before the Flop
Seat 3: c-biz-kid mucked [Kc Kd] – two pair, Kings and Tens
Seat 4: RBC123123 didn’t bet (folded)
Seat 5: BegsClutch folded on the Flop
Seat 6: Pokerccini didn’t bet (folded)
Seat 7: dwf1029 folded on the Turn
Seat 8: 77kol0bok77 showed [Jc Tc] and won (3,520) with a full house, Tens full of Jacks
Seat 9: wmmcl (button) didn’t bet (folded)

I think the mistake ‘kid hustlr’ made on this particular hand was calling on the river. Others have suggested that he should have bet the flop or bet the turn, but I really don’t his failure to do either of those things was as big of a mistake as calling on the river was. I’m not writing this to knock kid hustlr’s play; he’s a tremendous player and has been on a tear in 2010 by winning a triple crown and by finishing 4th in the Mini FTOPS Main Event for $52k last weekend. I’m using his hand as an example because I know he’s a good player and a good guy and wouldn’t mind a decision he made at the table being used in a discussion for learning purposes.

kid hustlr’s river call on this particular hand was very thin. The only thing he was really going to beat was a busted heart draw. I think it’s pretty rare that you’ll see a player bet all three streets for value-sized bets on a busted draw. In this particular hand, the ten was a very bad river card for kid hustlr. As forum member ‘killcrazy’ pointed out, “with so many guys seeing the flop, i think a ten is in play an obscene amount of the time.”

kid hustlr’s river call was one that a lot of online poker players make, myself included. It seems that when you call a flop bet and a turn bet with a showdown-able hand, you almost always get lulled into calling the river bet as well. However, there’s a lot of money to be made (or saved, rather) by staying sharp when facing a third-barrel from an opponent on the river. In this particular example, even when one of the worst possible cards hit the river, kid hustlr still called. I don’t think anyone could have faulted kid hustlr for calling on the river if a complete brick had hit, like, say, the six of diamonds. It would be pretty hard to put your opponent on exactly a set or exactly Jack-Ten, so a call in that scenario would probably be okay. However, when the ten hit the river, there became a much wider range of hands that you’re now losing to.

In general, I find it pretty uncommon for players to fire bets on all three streets, including when in position after a scare card comes on the river, and not have a very strong hand. Usually players tense up and check behind when a scare card comes off. The fact that kid hustlr’s opponent fired a value-sized bet when another Ten came on the river suggests that he almost certainly had a Ten or a set. In a sense, it was actually a good river card for kid hustlr since it increased his likelihood of saving money with his second-best hand rather than paying off without hesitation like he would have if the river were the six of diamonds.

Keep the ‘thin river fold’ concept in mind in your future sessions. Don’t fall into the trap that almost all players have of paying off on the river with their showdown-able hand. Evaluate every river bet you face in a vacuum. Don’t just put the money in the pot because that’s what you did on the last dozen river bets you faced with a showdown-able hand. Sometimes you can throw it away on the river and save money. The key is knowing which spots are best for this play.

Most competent players know their opponent who called on the flop and turn is only going to fold on the river if they missed their draw. For this reason, their river bet is very rarely a bluff.

As players start to make this adjustment, there will eventually become a market for making river bluffs with more regularity. But for the time being, you can assume your opponents will a.) usually call the river if they called the flop and turn (unless they have a busted draw) and b.) almost always have a strong hand when they bet the river, especially if a scare card hits.

Mixed Game Strategy Articles Added

Monday, April 26th, 2010

There is some new content to check out in the poker strategy section. We added five new articles in the ‘Advanced’ section under the new ‘Mixed Games’ tab. The articles focus on improving your play in mixed game formats such as ’8-Game’ which rotates between no-limit hold’em, pot-limit Omaha, 2-7 triple draw, limit hold’em, Omaha hi/lo, razz, stud, and stud hi/lo.

This year, the World Series of Poker is holding a $50,000 buy-in ‘Player’s Championship’ that will use the 8-Game format. This event will replace the $50,000 HORSE event on the schedule. The final table, which will be played exclusively in no-limit hold’em, will air on ESPN. PokerTips forums member Sebastian ‘seb47′ Sabic will compete in this event. Sabic lent a hand in writing the 2-7 triple draw strategy article. Here are links to the other recently-added articles:

Intro to 8-Game
7 Card Stud
7 Card Stud Hi/Lo

Pocket Queens Strategy

Monday, April 19th, 2010

The third best starting hand in hold’em, pocket Queens, can present some tricky decisions at the table. Like any poker hand, the best way to play Queens depends on the situation. Most poker players will tell you that when you’re discussing poker strategy you want to avoid using words like “always” or “never”. So keep that in mind when reading the advice in this article. This is just general advice. Food for thought, if you will. One should always think for themselves at the poker table, so read this strategy advice as a critical thinker.

There are several things that determine how to play a pair of Queens. The most important things are stack size, your opponents, and position. Let’s talk about each of these variables individually and how they could affect your decision making when holding a pair of queens.

Stack Size

A novice poker player might ask an experienced player, “how to I play a pair of Queens?” I can almost guarantee you the first thing you’ll hear from the experienced player is, “well, for starters, it depends on your stack size.”

If you’re in a tournament with 15 big blinds or less, I recommend shoving all-in preflop with your hand regardless of position. With anything less than 30 blinds, you’re virtually never going to fold Queens preflop. With a stack in the 20-30 big blind range, I recommend making a standard raise and re-raising all-in if you get the chance.

The deeper your stack is, the trickier it is to play pocket Queens and the more you need to focus on other factors such as position and your opponents. We’ll get to those in a moment.

With stacks around 50-100 big blinds, your decisions become kind of tricky. Re-raising preflop looks very strong since you’re committing quite a lot of your stack. Because of this, you can start to consider “just” calling a raise preflop with pocket Queens. However, this is not the type of hand that plays particularly well in a multi-way pot. Ideally, you’ll be facing just one opponent when playing this hand. The danger of flat-calling a preflop raise is that it could lead to a few other players coming along to the flop.

If you do decide to re-raise, the size of your bet matters a lot. With this stack size, if a player opens to 2.5 big blinds and you re-raise to 9 big blinds, your hand is going to look very strong. So while you’ll probably succeed in isolating the action to just one opponent, you’re unlikely to get much action from hands you have dominated. Most players will fold hands like Ace-Queen or Ten-Ten in the face of such a big re-raise. For this reason, consider re-raising fairly small, perhaps just to 5 big blinds. This will have the effect of dissuading others from calling while keeping the original raiser on the hook.

At stacks of 100 big blinds and beyond (cash games or early tournament levels), how you play Queens preflop depends so much on your opponents and your position at the table as well as the action that has already taken place in the hand. When the stacks are this deep, you can generally get away more with three- or four-betting preflop without it being obvious to your opponents that you have a strong hand. After all, some players three-bet with very marginal holdings when the stacks are this deep so use this to your advantage and don’t slowplay unless the table is just really tight.

Your Opponents

Playing Queens with 20 big blinds or less is pretty straightforward. With larger stacks, the table dynamic becomes very important. Let’s say you have 50 big blinds and a player has raised to 3 big blinds. At tables where there are a lot of loose-aggressive players, I might consider just flat-calling this raise hoping I get the chance to four-bet all-in. At very tight tables, flat-calling is also appealing but for a different reason. At a very tight table, I’m not as concerned that any other players will call the raise, so the notion of ‘re-raising to isolate’ is not as relevant.

Another key thing to observe regarding your opponents is their stack sizes. One of the few times I might ever be tempted to limp into the pot with pocket Queens is when there are a few players yet to act who have stacks of 15 big blinds or less. If you don’t think these players have a read on you, they might view your limp as dead money and shove all-in with a wider range of hands as a result.

With a hand like pocket Queens, it becomes very important to know the preflop aggression tendencies of your opponents. There won’t be many instances where you’ll fold Queens preflop, but in the instances where you might, knowing how aggressive your opponents are is very important. For example, let’s say you and everyone at the table has 40 big blinds. You raise in middle position to 2.7 big blinds. Another player re-raises to 7 big blinds. The player in the big blind re-raises all-in. Should you call or fold? I think the answer depends a lot on how aggressive the other two players have been. If they’ve both been playing tight, you can give serious consideration to a fold. If they’ve both been fairly active, I think you have to call and hope you don’t see Aces or Kings. It’s all situational which is why observing your opponents is so important.


Your position at the table can have a big impact how you play pocket Queens. For example, in a situation where I might generally consider flat-calling a raise, my position can help influence this decision. So let’s assume that, because of circumstances other than my position, I am inclined to flat-call a raise. If an early-position player raises and I’m on the button, I would be more likely to flat-call than if I was in mid-position. The reason for this goes back to pocket Queens’ diminishing value in a multi-way pot. When I’m on the button, there are only two players I have to worry about making it a multi-way pot. From middle position, there are still 4-6 players who could decide to also call the raise which therefore makes re-raising seem more appealing.

Final Thoughts

What “line” you take with pocket Queens just varies so much from situation to situation. For instance, say I’m in a tournament where everyone at the table has about 40 big blinds. A very savvy, strong player in middle position raises to 3 big blinds. I look down at Queens in the big blind. Against a player like this, I know that he knows I’m not going to re-raise with a very wide range. So re-raising effectively kills my action. Knowing this, I might just flat-call. Suppose the flop is non-threatening to me, Jack-Eight-Six. I know that this player knows I probably wouldn’t check-raise him unless I had a strong hand, so because of that, I might lead out at the flop hoping it looks like I’m just trying to buy the pot which would induce him to raise with a lot of hands I have beat.

It’s hard to go over very specific situations in a strategy article like this. Like how do you play Queens with 80 big blinds when the ultra-tight under-the-gun player makes it 3 big blinds and a player who re-raises 17% of hands makes it 9 big blinds from the button and you’re in the small blind? If you want to cover really specific situations like this, I hope you consider making a thread in our poker forums where I’m sure we could have a fun discussion. The trickier the hand, the more likely it is you’ll hear some differing opinions on how to play it. But as far as general situations go, I hope this article was of some assistance!

Knockout Tournament Strategy Article

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

With “Knockout” or “Bounty” tournaments appearing to become more and more popular online, we thought it might be a good idea to add a strategy article covering these events. You can read that knockout tournament strategy article in our poker strategy section.

Random Thoughts Regarding Home Games

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

I started playing live poker about five years ago. I play a regular $.25/$.50 home game and I would like to share some thoughts about some of my experiences over the last few years in this game.

One thing I’ve noticed is that the players who are not having a ton of fun are usually a consistent winner, though not a big winner. In a live game if you are not having a lot of fun, you are probably playing good poker.

The amount of the money on the table in my game constantly grows. Even at low-stakes like $50 no-limit you will easily see over $1,500 on the table late into the night. Interestingly, as it gets later and the money on the table gets deeper, players actually start to play worse, not better. Players will be tired, drunk, high, emotionally unbalanced or a combination of all of the above. As it gets later the potential for profit becomes considerably larger.

All of the guys at our Friday night game are there to make friends. They love the buddy-buddy horse play that goes on. The 19 year old internet math wonk poker wizard wearing super dark sunglasses isn’t exactly popular when he shows up. He is slow. He is serious. He couldn’t get action if he was a $1 prostitute. The same goes for our regular angry drunk. Similar issues. Way too serious, and not very sociable. If you look like you are having fun, smiling and being a friendly easy to get along with guy, you’re going to get action. Leave your sunglasses at home.

Every week someone goes broke and cannot afford the buy in. It isn’t uncommon for the deep stack to lend off the table. It’s allowed and encouraged to some degree. The superstition about borrowed money being lucky is just that. My observations are that loaning money in a home game is generally a profitable thing to do in the long term as long as you don’t go too deep. By loaning them money when they go broke so that they can continue to play, they are more likely to return the following week. Players who play badly will usually continue to be bad players, and every game needs these guys.

Trying to put people on a hand at a home game can be a bit of a job, especially in our game because people play such a wide range and have fun. In general, players at the game will do similar things week in and week out, and this has a range itself. For example a guy I like a lot for paying off will usually come to the game and play while really tired. He is one hard working guy, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him, but he works from 6am to 4pm Monday to Friday and our game starts late and runs even later. He is never a good player past 10:00 pm. One week though, he showed up and just destroyed the table. In conversation we learned that he was on vacation all week and can sleep in as late as he wants. The sun will sometimes shine even on a dogs ass once in awhile. People who are terrible might bring an A-game when you least expect it.

New players are the most interesting thing week to week but not for obvious reasons. It is my observation that they consistently have no effect whatsoever on the table dynamic. The same can be said for huge pots. Drastic changes like new players or huge stacks for some reason will not change how the other regulars at the table are playing.

There is an exception to new players. One thing that will instantly effect our game is adding an attractive girl into the mix. Once in a rare blue moon a regular will bring his girlfriend. She will dress like a tramp, and we love it. And it completely throws the game out of whack. No one wants to bust her, everyone plays her soft. It was so bad one week that a player showed his set on the river before betting and said she should fold – a generous offer except for the fact that there were still two people to act after her. Attractive girls throw the profit curve down, not up.

Game Selection

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

It is not how good you are at poker that determines how much you make, it is how much better you are than the people you play with, so finding poor players to play against is almost as important as being a good player.

The process of locating the most profitable of the currently available tables/tournaments starts with choosing the right poker network. There are many factors to take into consideration when choosing a poker network, but the two most important factors, which dwarf the other ones, are traffic and ease of the competition. Find out which networks have enough traffic in the type of game you play, so that you don’t have to spend a lot of time waiting for players to play with, then choose the one with the softest competition.

For example, Titan Poker has a lot of traffic, but not always the easiest competition. Pacific Poker has incredibly easy competition, but not always much traffic. One site with a very nice blend of somewhat easy competition coupled with a lot of traffic is Party Poker.

If there is a huge difference in traffic, and just a small difference in softness, between some of the alternatives, it might be better to go with the one with the highest traffic. But usually softness rules the land.

Something many players forget is that the ease of competition also changes during the day. At peak traffic hours the competition is easier than at the lowest traffic hours. This is due to the fact that many sharks don’t have jobs or schools to go to, and tend to play whenever they feel like it. Many of them wake up very late and go to bed very late. Fish on the other hand, live their 9 to 5 lives and only have time to play in the evening. This mass entry of fish in the evening drives the traffic upwards. Since the number of sharks don’t increase by as high of a percentage in the evening, this results in a better fish to shark-ratio which means easier games. Weekend afternoons are typically soft too for the same reason.

Be aware that poker is played all around that world, so networks dominated by Europeans will have different peak hours than “American” networks. You can check out how the traffic on your preferred poker network developed the last 24 hours on Poker Scout.

When you have chosen the network and time of the day, you have to choose which table/tournament to join on this network. For cash-games, you have to look at the statistics in the lobby. Bad players are typically loose, so tables showing a high average percentage of people seeing the flop are typically easier to beat. Be aware, though, that the fewer people there are around the table, the more hands you should play. So a table with say 9 players with a 30% figure, has worse players than a table of say 6 players with the same figure.

Not all networks show this figure in the lobby. On these sites you have to open some or all of the tables and see for yourself which table seems most desirable. There are other statistics in the lobby of course, but they aren’t as useful in finding games as the “percentage of players seeing the flop” statistic.

Many think big pot-sizes, which are also shown in the lobby, are a sign of poor players because poor players often call when they should have folded, and this may be the case. But poor players also often call/check when they should have bet/raised. That being said, big pots are more often than not a sign of poor players, it is just a much less reliable sign than flop-percentages.

When you have joined a table, but later find out that it is not soft, or it became harder due to poor players leaving and better players joining, then Run Forrest, Run! to another table.

Tournaments are trickier to game-select because there are no statistics in the lobby to look at, and once the tournament starts, you are stuck with whatever players are in it. There are, however, statistics elsewhere for Single-Table Tournaments. On a site called Sharkscope you can type in the ID number of the tournament you consider joining, and it will show how well/poorly the players who have already joined the tournament have done it in previous STTs. Be aware that some poker networks don’t allow you to use Sharkscope.


Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

People who are new to poker tend to think that reads are about putting the opponent on a particular hand (say a king, which made a pair on the board, and a small kicker), but figuring out what hand the opponent has is very difficult. If you try to put somebody on a particular hand and act accordingly, chances are you will guess wrong and pay the price.

What you should do when an opponent makes a (non-fold) move preflop, is you put him on a range of hands based on the situation and what you know about this player from previous hands. Then you make the move that works best against that range. It would of course have been a lot better if you could pin-point the exact hand he has, but you can’t and so this is the best practical option.

The next move he makes in the hand will help you eliminate some of the holdings from his initial range. This continues for every move he makes. Only very rarely do you get to eliminate so many hands from his hand-range that you are pretty sure that he has a particular hand.

Of course, sometimes unexpected stuff happens in a hand and you have to revaluate the hand-ranges you put him on in previous streets, but this is a good approach to putting people on hands.

Reads are not limited to putting people on hands, it is also about figuring out what type of players you are dealing with. Just like the correct move on your part depends on what hand your opponent has, it also depends on how the opponent would play that hand. In other words, the range you’ll assign a tight player who raises preflop will be a lot smaller than the range you’ll assign a loose player who raises preflop.

I believe this is an opportunity where most profitable poker players could improve their game even further. They might be good at putting people on hand-ranges and figuring out their style of play, but actually using that information to optimize their game is an even further challenge.

The easiest adaptation you need to make is loosening/tightening your preflop hand-range depending on how loose and how aggressive the players at your table are. If you are facing a raise preflop, you will naturally need a stronger hand to stay in the hand if the raiser only raises with good hands. This becomes especially important if there are one or more short-stacked players at the table; you do not want to raise with a marginal hand and face a difficult decision whether or not to call a short-stack’s all-in.

If it folds to you preflop and there are mostly loose players behind you, you need a good hand to raise because you can’t expect to steal the blinds often enough to make raising with a mediocre hand profitable.

These are obvious situations that most profitable players know how to handle, but here is one situation they may not handle well:

It is folded to you, and the players behind you are largely loose and very passive. Many would say you would have to tighten your hand-range in this situation because you won’t be able to steal the blinds often. But what they are forgetting is that since the players would only re-raise with premium hands, they’ll probably just call if they decide to play the hand.

This is great for you in several ways.

1) Since they are loose, there are probably many hands in their hand-range which are so weak that you stand to make more money from them calling with those hands than folding.
2) Since they are so passive, they rarely force you to fold by making a re-raise when they have a strong hand. So you get 3 free cards (the flop) when you have the weakest hand.
3) The rare times they re-raise, you know they have a great hand, and can fold with a sigh of relief that you only lost your raise when you could have lost a lot more if you hadn’t known what you were up against. For this reason, I would much rather meet a loose player who would only re-raise with premium hands, than a loose player who would never re-raise.

When it is folded to you preflop, you should generally be tighter the looser the opponents behind you are, and tighter the more aggressive they are. But a lot of good players (and poor players too of course) ignore or don’t fully take into account the aggression-factor, while everybody and their grandma know to adapt to the loose-factor.

Improving Your Poker Skills

Monday, November 30th, 2009

There is a lot of information out there intended to help the aspiring poker shark, and no one has the time to read it all. In this article I will tell you what you should check out and what is basically a waste of time.

The by far most important location for information are poker forums. They let you get the answers to questions you can’t find with a simple Google-search. Perhaps more importantly, you also learn stuff you didn’t know you were looking for by reading threads you aren’t even involved in. Don’t get too carried away, though. Reading every single post, taking part in every hand analysis and taking too much part in non-poker discussions is not optimal for your skill-improvement.

The PokerTips strategy section is very helpful as a starting point for improving your skills, and its free. The Beginner and Intermediate sub-sections teach you the fundamentals of Texas Hold’em and serve as a foundation to build further information upon. You can take a sneak-peak at the Advanced and Expert sub-sections too, but they are called what they are called for a reason.

The strategy section contains a lot of Fixed Limit Holdem articles, but that’s ok because starting out playing FL is an effective way of learning the basics of No Limit. No offense FL-players. Nah, who am I kidding, offense is intended.

There is a sea of poker books out there, but many are crap, and if you have read a couple of books you have read most of the content of all the books because they are so similar. I would recommend “Winning Low Limit Holdem” by Lee Jones for the beginner. It is a book about FL, and the most important thing you will learn from it is which hands to play when and how preflop.

Then I would recommend “Theory of Poker” by David Sklansky. This one will teach you how to think as a good player for all situations in all poker forms.

Those are basically all the books you need. Sure you can buy other books you think will be helpful to you, and they probably will help you in some ways, but not nearly as much as the two books I have mentioned, especially the Lee Jones book.

Magazines are of little help, you can get the information in those for free on poker forums. Blogs are usually of little help as well (this one is an exception of course), even if it is written by great players (this one is an…, nah not even you would buy that one). Players complaining about bad beats (losing hands, which were favorites to win), bragging about how much they made last month or informing you that they got a dog last week is of little use to you.

Learning from professionals on TV is dangerous. The situations they are in are very different from the ones you are in (the skills of their opponents being the most important difference), so their moves for their situation would often be wrong for similar situations you are in. Poker on TV is also almost always edited, so it gives an incorrect image of how the play actually was on that table.

If you are good enough that you have started making some money on poker, you may wanna consider using online poker coaches. The standard rate for coaches is about $50/hour, but the price can vary a lot. Be careful who you give your money to, there is no point paying that kind of money to someone who doesn’t have much to offer you. I think is a good place to search for coaches, although I have never used them myself.

Moving Up Levels

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

Figuring out when your are ready to move up to the next buy-in is one of many challenges poker players face. The advice on this area can vary a lot, but here is how I think it should be handled.

First of all, you have to believe you would be more profitable at the next buy-in. Some players move up whenever they think they are profitable at their current buy-in, but that strategy will lead to being break-even at best. To move up, your winrate, whether it be ROI (Return On Investment) in tournaments or BB/100 (“Big Bets” per hundred hands) in cash-games, has to be big enough that the inevitable decrease in winrate due to tougher competition on the higher buy-in still results in a higher hourly rate (in terms of dollars). It is, for example, profitable to move up if the buy-in is twice as high, and the ROI or BB/100 is expected to be reduced by less than 50%.

How much of the ROI and BB/100 do you lose from moving up a level? It depends on a lot of things, but I would say the ROI drops on average 2-3 percentage-points in Single-Table Tournaments per buy-in. You would have to ask other people for figures for cash-games and Multi-Table Tournaments, as I don’t have much experience with those.

The problem is knowing how profitable you are at your current buy-in, though, because without knowing that you can’t know how you would do on the next buy-in. Some say you need to have played thousands of STTs or MTTs and tens of thousands of hands in cash-games for the luck to have evened out, and the results to be representative of your true edge in these games. And they are right, but if you were to play that many hours per buy-in you would never get anywhere. You just have to make a qualified guess as to what your winrate is, and this can be hard to do since many players tend to overestimate how good they are.

Then there is the matter of how big of a bankroll (the amount of money you have set aside to play poker with divided by the size of the buy-in) you need to play at a certain buy-in. You can be the best player in the world, but if you move up so many levels that you are playing STTs with a 5 buy-in bankroll, there is a big chance you will lose it all from a little bad luck.

A rule of thumb is that you need 30 buy-ins to play STTs, 100 buy-ins to play MTTs and 20 buy-ins to play NL cash-games. These figures are considered big enough to ride out bad luck spells, so you can keep on playing on that buy-in because the luck will at some time change. A very scary scenario using this bankroll strategy is in cases where you have overestimated your skills, and you are in fact a losing player at this buy-in. If that is the case, you will slowly but steadily lose your entire buy-in.

I think it is wiser to have less strict bankroll-requirements and a more flexible approach. Say buy-ins of 20, 50 and 12, and instead drop down if it sinks below say 12, 30 and 8. This lets you move up in buy-ins faster early in your poker-career where it often is the bankroll and not the skills which limits how high buy-in you can play.