4 poker traps that are keeping you from moving up in stakes

October 29, 2016

Beating the game of poker, and consistently moving up in stakes is a long, complicated process. Like they say, “if it was easy everyone would do it” but the reality is that only a small percentage of dedicated poker players reach their dream of dominating the mid or high-stakes games.

There are a wide range of factors why most players never make it to the top of the mountain but this post focuses on 4 of these reasons.

The “roller coaster ride” bankroll trap

The first trap I want to discuss is by far the most controversial of the 4 that I’ll be covering in this post. I know that a lot of poker players will disagree with me on this one but hear me out.

The “roller coaster ride” bankroll trap is a trap which I have fallen into many times and only after making significant adjustments to my game was I able to get out of it. The trap works like this; you play in games where you are under rolled vs. crazy, loose aggressive players that are willing to risk it all with very little equity. These are the guys that will call thousands of dollars with a flush draw or top pair. Right off the bat this sounds like a dream situation but the issue here is that this environment results in massive swings because of the high variance of the game. The reason I consider this a trap is most non-professionals are willing to get their money in as a small favorite and let the math work itself out in the long run. The problem is if you are playing in games where large amounts move across the table, and you aren’t able to absorb the blows, then you will be cleaned out both financially and emotionally.

If you have over 50 buy-ins for your limit then go a head and gamble it up, I’d even argued that this is the better approach since you want to take a more aggressive line when playing against loose players. If you are under rolled then you will need to make certain adjustments to limit the variance and build a bankroll which can absorb the swings.

How do I get out of the “roller coaster ride” bankroll trap?

There is two main ways to get out of this trap. The first is quite obvious, play in games which you can afford from a conservative bankroll perspective. If you like your regular games and don’t want to go through the headache of finding other games then you’ll need to make the following adjustments:

  • Tighten your range – you want to prevent bleeding and aim to play large pots where you have the majority of the expected equity.
  • Bring more dough to the game – I know this isn’t always an option for players but if you can come with more cash to the game then you’ll feel more comfortable and be able to play through the variance. Most importantly you’ll be able to top up your stack as the game gets bigger which will allow you to win a massive pot when things fall into place.
  • Start making big folds – You flop a Q high flush draw vs. three players and now you’re facing a raise and a re-raise. You can push and hope for the best or you can fold, what should you do? Unless its early stages in the game or you’ll short stacked and facing an opportunity to triple up, you should probably fold and wait for a better spot. Remember, you have the edge, committing in situations where you are breaking even is not a smart strategy.
  • When you have it bet huge – Punish the weaker players for chasing by betting very big and committing yourself when you believe you have the hand close to locked.

Playing this style isn’t very sexy but it works and will make a world of difference to your results.

The “multi-game” trap

Becoming a winning player at Texas Holdem and reaching the upper levels of the skill pyramid takes huge effort, discipline and years of dedication. If you are spreading your efforts across multiple types of of the game you will be throwing a spanner in the works which I recommend against.

It’s best to become a one trick pony and master a single type of poker until you have reached your current poker goals.

How do I get out of the “multi-game” trap?

Forget about PLO, 5 card draw, Stud and any other variations of poker for now, they aren’t going anywhere but you need to be focused.

Focus your efforts on beating Texas Holdem (the most popular variation of the game in the world) and reaching a buy-in level which satisfies your poker goals. Once you’ve reached this point you can start thinking about mastering a new type of poker.

The “I’m happy where I am” trap

The only way to become a consistent winner at mid or high stakes games is to get your skill level to a similar level to the winning players at these stakes. This won’t be possible if you don’t compete against better players which can only be found at higher stakes.

Many consistent winners get comfortable at the stakes they are winning at and don’t bother to try to move up the stakes. I call this trap the “I’m happy where I am” trap simply because if you had to ask these players why they don’t want to move up this is what you’ll most likely hear.

How do I get out of the “I’m happy where I am” trap?

The solution is simple, sit down and add a poker goal to your list which includes taking a shot at the next stake. So if you are a regular at 10NL then take a shot at 16NL or 25NL. Make sure you are implementing correct bankroll management so you have a 10 – 20 buy-in shot at the stakes you want to try, plus enough that if you lose those buy-ins you can fall back to your regular stakes, and still have enough to play through an unexpected downswing.

Another tip is to play a combination of your regular stakes and the next level. So if you play 4 tables of 10NL then play 2 tables of 10NL and 2 tables of 16NL or 25NL. This way the transition is a bit smoother. If you use tracking software like Holdem Manager then you can track your wins or losses at the new stake and cut them out if you lose more than the 10 – 20 buy-ins you allocated to the “shot”.

The “I’m a slow learner” trap

While some players might be too conservative, others are overly aggressive in their attempts to move up in stakes. These players will dedicate a large portion of their bankroll to trying to beat the mid or high stakes games, fail to beat the level, fall back down or take a break from the game for a period, and then redeposit and try again.

I’m calling this the “I’m a slow learner” trap because these players have failed to grasp an important concept in beating poker, that it is a long-term process which can be approached systematically.

How do I get out of the “I’m a slow learner” trap?

The way to get out of this trap is to implement one new rule to the way you approach poker. This rule is to not attempt to move up in stakes until you have beaten your current level for a significant sample size. That sample size should be in the tens of thousands of hands. Only after you’ve reached a win rate you are happy with, and done it over a relevant sample size (north of 30k hands) can you be confident that you are a winning player at the stakes you play. Once you’ve done that then you should definitely start taking shots at higher stakes.

Have you ever fallen into one of these traps? What did you do to get out of it? Let me know in the comments section below.

Good luck at the tables.

Justin Butlion

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Welcome to my blog. My name's Justin Butlion and I'm the owner of The Great Grind. At The Great Grind I share my thoughts on beating the game of poker. The blog covers poker strategy, game theory, poker related statistics and the psychology needed to grind out consistent profit at micro and low stakes online poker.