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Ladder Up from Micros to Low Stakes

August 23, 2023
by PokerStars Staff

Every poker journey has to start somewhere.

The micro stakes – where buy-ins are $5 or less – are the training grounds for future poker talent; a haven where bankrolls are built and a love for poker blossoms.

Not only can you learn the fundamentals and how to win, you can do so while not risking a lot.

But there will come a time when you’re ready to step up from the micros and enter the world of low-stakes games (let’s say buy-ins of $5-$22).

Here’s a quick guide on laddering up between the two.

Game selection

It might sound obvious, but the first thing you should do is take stock of what games you’ve been most successful in thus far in your micro-stakes journey.

If you’ve been crushing tournaments or multi-table sit & go’s, you might be best served sticking to those when you move up in stakes. If you’ve built a bankroll playing six-max cash games, that should probably remain your bread and butter – at least for the near future.

“It’s really important to choose,” says PokerStars Team Pro Sebastian “peace&loove” Huber. “You can only play cash games, or only play sit & go’s, or only play mixed games, or only play regular no limit hold’em tournaments. But you need to find the game you want to focus on, especially if you’re not super experienced.”

Huber knows what he’s talking about. He recently began a bankroll challenge, aiming to turn $100 into $10,000, and his journey begins at the micros.

Regarding buy-ins and which tournaments to play, Huber says it should depend on your skill level.

“Everyone thinks they’re really good, but it’s not always true,” he says. “So I would start with really modest bankroll management.

“For me, I started with $100 and I mainly focused on $0.25 and $0.50 sit & go’s, then moved on from there. If I see a good $1.10 tournament I’ll play that too. But I always keep in my mind to check the bankroll, non-stop.”

Before you move up to bigger buy-in games, make sure you’re ready, both in terms of your experience and your bankroll.

Bankroll management

You probably want to move up to low-stakes games because you think your bankroll is big enough.

But is it actually?

“One of the most important things to remember at any level of poker is that you should never put too much of your bankroll at risk,” says Sam Grafton. The PokerStars Team Pro began his career at micros and low stakes – just like you – but now plays in the biggest buy-in Super High Roller events in the world.

Still, that doesn’t mean he thinks he can outplay variance.

“For players starting low and trying to move up, you should think about having 100 buy-ins in whatever tournament you’re playing,” Grafton told PokerStars Blog. “So, if you’re playing $22 tournaments, have $2,200. I think that’s reasonable.

“Even now, if you started me off with $2,200, I wouldn’t go off and play $100 buy-in tournaments. I would allow myself a lot of shots at $22 tournaments.”

Always keep improving

You might have an excellent first week or month at your new buy-in level and feel like you’re king of the world. So good, in fact, that you think you no longer have to work on your game.

This a big mistake.

“Back in the day, I thought that because people at lower stakes were often playing badly, I didn’t need to learn any strategy. I was completely wrong because I wasn’t very good either!” says Huber.

Even if your opponents aren’t playing perfectly, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t continue to prepare for tougher competition at higher stakes by working on your game, studying, learning ranges etc.

“It doesn’t matter which stakes you’re playing, you need to study the game and improve,” says Huber. “Then you can increase your win rate to absurd amounts.”

Remember: Downswings are inevitable

It’s not what you want to hear when you’re moving up in stakes, but at some point, you’ll go on a downswing.

Not only is that normal, it’s inevitable. All that matters is how you handle it.

Don’t begin to chase your losses by playing bigger and bigger buy-ins. If anything, you should drop back down in stakes when your bankroll takes a hit.

“Back in the day, I definitely struggled with being conservative and trusting the process,” says Huber. “You’re not going to build a bankroll in one night or one week. You always need to build the bankroll in small steps.”

Grafton agrees.

“If you feel like you’re on a downswing then you should drop down,” he says. “You’ll always suffer downswings in poker, and if you feel that your bankroll can’t sustain the level you’re playing at that moment, just drop back down again.

“Sometimes it’s nice to drop down and to remember how far you’ve come in your poker journey. You might find that you’re playing and you think, ‘This tournament used to feel really difficult, but actually, now I feel pretty comfortable.’ You might think that these stakes are now OK.

“That’s definitely something that I do, just go back and remember it’s an enjoyable game, take the pressure off yourself. If you’re feeling that anxiety about money, or you’re feeling that anxiety about your position in the ecology, stepping back can actually be really renewing for your game.

To play against people you already know, for stakes you already know you have beaten for a good amount of money. You have that graph, or you have those memories, that experience in the bank. That can be a really good thing to do.”

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