Most of us Texas Hold em players either got a start online at the micro stakes levels or at the $1-$2 blind levels in a casino. But the ultimate goal is to build a bankroll and move up to higher limits. No one gets into poker dreaming of playing in $100 buy-in games. No, we fantasize about sitting down in Bobby’s Room at the Bellagio, playing against Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan.
Poker is a lot like learning to ride a bicycle. You start off with training wheels. Or, in poker terms, you begin at the $1-$2 level. As soon as you’re ready to take off the training wheels, you feel a sense of accomplishment. But, just like riding a bike, those training wheels can’t come off until you’re ready, or you’ll fall flat on your face.
If you try to jump to higher limits before you’re prepared, you’ll likely end up broke. Millions of poker players, yours truly included, have learned this soul crushing lesson. So when is the right time to bump it up to a higher limit? Before I answer that question, let’s take a look at the wrong time to start playing at higher stakes.
When You’re Just Not Ready for Higher Limits
Do you have at least 20-25 buy-ins for the level you want to play in your bankroll? If not, I strongly recommend waiting until you do. You might be the greatest poker player in the world, but your skill is useless without a bankroll.
Unless good fortune is on your side, chances are good you’ll go broke with a small bankroll. If Fedor Holz or Erik Seidel had only a few buy-ins to their name, they probably wouldn’t get very far even though they are as talented as any poker player in the world.
I can’t stress the importance of bankroll management enough. It doesn’t matter if you’re crushing the $1-$2 tables on a consistent basis. If you’ve spent most of those winnings and only have a few buy-ins to your name to play $2-$5 games, don’t do it. Wait until you have the money.
A small bankroll isn’t the only reason you should reconsider jumping to another level. If you haven’t produced consistent positive results at the lower level, you should stay put until you do. The games are always more difficult the higher you go. So if you’re struggling to beat $1-$2 games, what makes you think you’ll beat the $2-$5 or $5-$10 tables?
Signs You’re Ready to Make the Jump
Moving up to another level in poker is a risk. But the thrill of taking risks is the reason we play this game, isn’t it? Poker without the risk factor would be just another boring card game. If you don’t have a brass pair of balls, I’d suggest working at a boring 9-5 job in customer service instead of playing poker.
For those of you who like to live on the edge, let’s talk about taking a leap of faith. The first sign you’re ready to make the jump to higher limits is you have the proper bankroll. That means at least 20 buy-ins for the game you want to play, but having more than that is ideal.
That, alone, isn’t enough, however. A mediocre poker player with a large bankroll will eventually have nothing because skill matters in the long run. If you have the money and the skill, you’re in great shape.
The general rule of thumb is you should possess a minimum of 300 hours of winning poker before considering jumping up to a higher level. I’m not just talking about a small profit or a few insanely lucky sessions that skew the overall results. I mean consistent winning sessions over a long period of time.
Anyone can get lucky a few times. If you play enough, no matter how bad you are, you’ll have some winning sessions mixed in there. But an unskilled player can’t win over the long haul. Keep accurate records of your play. Log your hours, buy-in, and profit/loss after each session. After you’ve put in at least 300 hours at one level, evaluate your results. If the results show you’ve been averaging at least 5-6 big blinds of profit per hour, you’re doing great.
There is one other factor you should take into consideration before bumping it up to a higher level. That is your comfort level. Playing at higher levels means you’ll be risking more money. If you are comfortable with that, you have the bankroll, and your results are positive over many sessions, it’s time to take that leap of faith.