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Five Signs That You Are Ready to Move Up in Stakes

November 7, 2019
by Pete Clarke

Moving up in stakes can be one of the most exciting moments in your poker career, but when is it safe to take a shot at the next stake? This article uses cash games as a blueprint, but similar advice also applies to tournament players. Here are five signs that taking a shot at the next stake up could be the next logical step.

1. You Have a Positive BB/100 over 50k-100k Hands

Needless to say, if you have thus far failed to become profitable over the long-term at 5NL, it makes little sense to attempt to beat 10NL. The old fallacies of ‘I’ll move up to where they respect my bluffs’ or ‘I can’t beat these idiots because they play too badly’ are complete nonsense. If you cannot profit against a weaker player pool, you have no chance of succeeding against a stronger one.

BB/100 is a way of measuring your win rate. It tracks how many big blinds you have won or lost per 100 hands over the sample you are analysing. For example, if a player plays 50,000 hands at 10NL (where the big blind is $0.10) and wins $200, then we can see that he has won 2000 big blinds per 50,000 hands. To turn this into BB/100, we divide his profits by 500. This give us a win-rate of 4BB/100. Of course, tracking software is recommended for keeping an eye on this stat and saving you the work of performing such a calculation manually.

Chip Stack Bet

Now let’s learn how to understand what a significant win-rate looks like.

  • 1-2BB/100 – Small. It is likely that if this player moves up to the next stake, he will be break even or a slight loser. A bigger win-rate is advised at the lower stake before taking shots at the higher one.
  • 3-4BB/100 – Modest. This win-rate should allow the player to be a small winner at the next stake and find his feet there while he improves his game.
  • 5-6BB/100 – Large. This is a very impressive win-rate by modern standards and certainly enough for moving up if everything else is in place.
  • 7-8BB/100 – Huge. This is a massive win-rate to have over a decent sample and this player should move up right away as long as his mental game is ready for the next stake.

Disclaimer: This stat will not be accurate at all over smaller samples like 10k hands or even 30k hands. As we approach samples between 50k and 100k, the stat starts to offer a rough indication but will not guarantee an accurate measure of the player’s skill based on the large amount of variance in the game.

2. You Frequently Notice the Regulars Making Mistakes

If you find yourself baffled the lines regulars take at your current stake, in that there seems to be no logical explanation for their poor play, then this is a sign that you are moving ahead of the curve. If you can confidently place yourself as one of the very strongest regs in the pool, objectively and without ego-bias, then it could well be time to move up in stakes.

For example, recently, one of my students said to me in a lesson:
‘There are two types of regulars in this pool: ones that are massive nits and ones that are slightly less nitty, but still terrible.’

A ‘Nit’ is a player who is far too tight. Hearing this was great evidence for me that the student had started to see all of the money he could make by taking advantage of the most general leak of the 10NL pool – their incessant tightness!

The main pool of regulars at 10NL is losing or breaking even. This is exactly why they are not playing 25NL or higher. If you were doing all of the same things, you would be losing too, so get ahead of the curve and spot the pools mistakes before you move up. This students realisation of how much he could steal pots from this pool was integral in him forming a solid win-rate.

3. You Have 50 Buy-Ins for the Next Stake

As No Limit Holdem is a game with very high levels of variance. It is entirely possible for a player with a solid true win-rate of 4BB/100 to lose over a sample like 20k-50k hands. As a result, you might drop 10-20 buy-ins at the next stake in the short-term even though you have a positive long-term expectation. For this reason, it is advisable to pad your bankroll, lower your risk of ruin, and prepare yourself for the storms of negative variance that affect all of us from time to time during our poker journey. 50 Buy-Ins (5000bb) is a standard modern-day recommendation for moving up to the next stake.

Chip Stack Bet

For those of us who have sturdy mental games and are good at holding things together even during losing stretches, and who wish to shot-take more aggressively at the next stake, this could be lowered to 20-40Bis depending on the risk of ruin that is deemed acceptable. For players with fragile mental games and significant tilt issues, however, an even more conservative approach is advisable. Such a player may want to wait until they have 60-80 buy-ins in order to feel secure moving up.

4. You Routinely Make Successful Exploits Against the Population

When the pool of players at the lower stake makes X mistake (exhibits X imbalance) over and over again and you find yourself making Y adjustment successfully on a daily basis, and moreover, this happens in a lot of different spots; this is a great sign that you are ready to move up to the higher stake. I teach my students how to crush the player pool they are in by exploiting the opposition at every opportunity. This allows us to have a big win-rate even after we have paid our share of the rake. Winning poker is not just about being solid; this is not enough anymore. We must identify where the pool is offering us free money and take it ruthlessly, time and time again.

5. You Do Not Suffer from Fear Tilts

Fear tilts are all to do with the anxiety of losing money. Those of us who suffer from this form of mental game ailment will frequently fold in spots where they have enough equity to call and might avoid making profitable value bets if there is just a small chance that they could get raised. If you do suffer form this sort of tilt when things are not going well, moving up in stakes will exaggerate this problem massively and make it very difficult to access your full potential. Players with this problem should consider mental game work before moving up, even if they have a modest win-rate at the lower stake.


The decision to move up in stakes is entirely yours to make. Hopefully these guidelines will serve you well in determining when the highest EV choice is to move up and when it’s better to stay put because one or more of these signs are not present.


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