21 Strategies for Low Limit Poker Players Who Want to Move Up

by Michael Stevens
on May 25, 2017

at any level is great – even if you’re just playing low limits. But what happens when you’re sick of of playing the same small stakes every session and want to move up?

Moving from the low to middle limits isn’t an easy task. In fact, some players abandon their goal of increasing limits because they’d rather keep earning the same profits.

Nothing is wrong with this. But if you find yourself yearning for the middle limits, then you’ll need some strategies to make the transition easier.

That said, let’s cover 21 strategies for how you can make this a smooth transition.

Also, for the purposes of this article, low and middle stakes are defined as follows:

  • Online low limit cash games = $0.25 / $0.50 (a.k.a. NL50) to $1 / $2 (a.k.a. NL200)
  • Online middle limit cash games = $2 / $4 to $5 / $10
  • Live low limit cash games = $1 / $2 to $2 / $5
  • Live middle limit cash games = $5 / $10 to $10 / $25
  • No-limit low limit tournaments = $1.10 to $33 buy-in
  • No-limit middle limit tournaments = $44 to $220 buy-in

1 – Make Sure You Have the Bankroll

We begin here because the biggest mistake players make when moving up is not .

It’s important to note the following things when you’re moving up:

  1. You need enough buy-ins to survive the variance.
  2. You’ll go through an adjustment period that requires an even larger bankroll than you think.


Some players realize that they don’t have the bankroll to move up and stay with the current stakes. Others get anxious and jump the gun, which is risky because you can lose your entire bankroll.

Another crowd simply doesn’t know how big their bankroll should be to move up. If you’re in this group, here are recommendations for moving up in cash games and tournaments:

  • No-limit hold’em 6-max cash games = 50 buy-ins (more blinds / hands seen)
  • NL hold’em full-ring cash games = 40 buy-ins (fewer blinds / hands seen)
  • Pot-limit Omaha 6-max cash games = 50 buy-ins
  • PL Omaha full-ring cash games = 40 buy-ins
  • Multi-table tournaments (small-to-medium field) = 200 buy-ins
  • NL tournaments (large field) = 400 buy-ins
  • NL 9-player sit and go’s= 50 buy-ins
  • NL 45-player sit and go’s = 100 buy-ins

Here’s an example of how much money you’d need to satisfy these requirements:

  1. You want to play $2 / $4 NL Hold’em 6-max games.
  2. You need 50 buy-ins to meet the above requirements.
  3. A full cash game buy-in is 100 big blinds.
  4. You would need $20,000 (4 big blind x 100 big blinds x 50 buy-ins) to have a proper bankroll.


Obviously this is a significant amount of money for any recreational poker player.

If you’re worried about this investment, you should consider a “cheaper” alternative like full-ring games or tournaments (if you play them).

Below you can see the amount of money you’d need for an adequate tournament bankroll:

  1. You want to play $55 buy-in tournaments.
  2. You need 200 buy-ins to meet the above requirements.
  3. You would need $11,000 (200 x 55).


This is still nothing to scoff at, but you can see that a mid-stakes tournament bankroll isless than what you’d need for a cash game at comparable stakes.

Generating this kind of money isn’t easy. And this is why bankroll requirements are the toughest challenge behind moving from low to mid limits.

2 – Be a Consistent Winner at Low Limits

One way to help fund your bankroll is to win at your current stakes.

More importantly, you don’t want to move up to higher / tougher limits when you can’t even beat the current competition.

Two important questions to ask yourself before moving up include:

  • What rate are you winning at?
  • What’s you’re sample size?

Anybody can be a winning poker player over 1k-2k hands if they get hot. This isn’t a large enough sample size to show whether or not you’re a true winner.

My bare-minimum recommendation for sample size is 10,000 hands. But 20,000 to 50,000 hands will give you a more-accurate assessment of how well you’re doing.

This sounds like a ridiculous number of hands to play just to determine if you’re successful at certain limits. But given the variance of poker, you need a high volume to prove consistency.

Online poker is the best option for meeting this kind of volume, given that hands go faster and you can multi-table. The average 6-max online table sees 75 hands per hour, while the average live cash table sees 20-25 hands an hour.

Even if you want to play live mid stakes, I suggest honing your skills online to get more volume.Let’s look at an example of how long it’d take you to play 20,000 hands online:

  1. You multi-table 2 tables of 6-max hold’em.
  2. You play 75 hourly hands per table, or 150 hands total.
  3. You play 4 hours per day, which equals 600 hands per day.
  4. It would take you 3 days to reach 20,000 hands (20,000 x 600).


Granted, not everybody has 4 hours to play poker every day. But the point is that playing 20,000 online hands doesn’t take years.

The other side to this is your win rate. You can play all the hands you want, but you also need to show a profit before moving up with confidence.

Cash game win rate is measured by how many big blinds (bb) you win every 100 hands.Here’s an example:

  • You play 20,000 hands at $0.50 / $1 limits and win $1,000.
  • This means that you’ve won 1,000 big blinds (1,000 /  1).
  • We divide 20,000 by 100 hands to get a divisor of 200.
  • Dividing 1,000 big blinds by 200 = 5bb per 100 hands.

This is a solid win rate in $0.50 / $1 no-limit hold’em (a.k.a. NL100), especially with how skilled players are these days. And if you carry this over 15,000 to 20,000 hands or more, then you’llconsistently beat these cash stakes.

Tournaments and sit and go’s are measured by your return on investment (ROI), or how much you’re winning based on your total investment.Let’s look at an example:

  • You play 1,000 tournaments with $33 buy-ins ($33,000 total).
  • Your total winnings are $36,000, giving you a $3,000 profit.
  • $3,000 profit /  $36,000 = 8.33% ROI

You can take things a step further for both the ROI and bb / 100-hand rate by calculating your hourly pay. But our purpose here is just to decide if you’re winning at a higher enough rate to move up.

3 – Don’t Cash Out

While it’s fun to reward yourself after a strong week / month at the poker table, this won’t help you move up in stakes.In fact, many players prevent themselves from having the chance to move up by cashing out too much.

If you play anywhere between NL50 and NL100, chances are that you’re not playing poker for a living. This means that you should keep your poker bankroll separate from your living expenses.

It’s often said that you should treat poker like a business if you want continue advancing up the stakes. And this is exactly what you should do by treating winnings like an investment back into the business.

The only time that you should consider cashing out is if you have a financial emergency. If this isn’t the case, then keep your bankroll intact.

4 – Factor in Your Playing Style

If you’ve played tens of thousands of hands, odds are you know your own playing style. And this is important information because your variance will differ based on how you play.

Here’s are the four main playing style classifications, along with how they impact moving up limits:

  • Tight Aggressive – As somebody who waits for the right cards / spots, you’ll take on less risk and variance than the average player. This means you can move up limits with a few less buy-ins than suggested.
  • Loose Aggressive – As a player who takes more risks to steal pots and big blinds, you’ll also suffer from more variance. You should have a few more buy-ins than normally recommended.
  • Tight Passive – This isn’t an optimal playing style to use on a regular basis.
  • Loose Aggressive – Same thing as with tight passive.

Any successful poker player knows that you change your playing style to take advantage of the current situation / table.

Also, I don’t suggest that you play NL hold’em 6-max with 25 buy-ins – instead of the recommended 50 buy-ins – just because you’re tight-aggressive.

But if you’re predominantly tight-aggressive or loose-aggressive, then there’s a little adjustment room with your bankroll requirements.

5 – Fix Your Leaks if You’re Losing

We’ve discussed a lot regarding winning players moving up limits. But what if you do a bb / 100-hand or ROI calculation and discover that you’re a losing player?

The first step is to realize that this isn’t the end of your poker career. The second step is to begin fixing your leaks so that you beat the current level.

I’ll cover more strategy later, but some general small stakes leaks to consider include:

  • Starting out at stakes that are too high – If you can’t beat NL100, then perhaps you should move down to NL25 or NL50.
  • Not dedicating enough time to strategy – You don’t have to pour over poker strategy for hours every day. But a nice ratio includes spending 1 hour on strategy for every 4 hours you play.
  • Failing to Perform Post-Session Analysis – What hands/situations did you struggle with during a session? Are there any particular players you struggled against? Thinking through these situations after a session and / or reviewing your hand histories (if applicable online) are great ways to improve your play.
  • Playing Distracted – When I first started playing online poker, I thought it was free reign to simultaneously watch TV and scroll through my smartphone between hands. But after discovering that I had a 4bb losing rate at NL50, I completely overhauled my approach and cut out the distractions.
  • Failing to Adapt to the Table – As mentioned in point #4, the best playing style is one that exploits the current table and situation. But if you’re not studying opponents, and you continue sticking with the same playing style, you’ll have trouble winning.
  • Playing Tilted – Tilt isn’t always as dramatic and punching through walls and slamming chairs on the ground. But even if you’re a little frustrated at bad beats and certain players, it throws off your game. Ideally, you’ll step away from the table any time you’re on tilt.
  • Playing Tired – A number of studies ( and ) prove that sleep deprivation impacts work performance and cognitive functions. The same holds true for your poker abilities diminishing when you don’t get enough rest.

6 – Don’t Fall into the Trap of Thinking that You’ll Win at Higher Limits

One of the most-common mantras that I’ve heard from losing players goes like this:

“I keep losing because these low stakes players don’t respect my raises and will call everything. I need to move up to higher limits, where players start respecting my raises and are more predictable.”

The reality is that if you can’t spot and exploit tendencies of calling stations in NL50, then you’ll only struggle worse in $2 / $4 and beyond.

If you’re of this line of thinking, then you need to consider these potential problems:

  1. You’re expecting players to react to you, rather than studying opponents and learning their tendencies.
  2. You have far more leaks than people not respecting your raises.
  3. You’re impatient, haven’t put in the work to get better & you think that higher stakes will magically fix everything.


These points aren’t meant to be mean, but rather offer my own personal experience. When starting out in poker, I thought all of these things at one point.

And when you already have the “they need to respect my raise” mentality after a few thousand hands, then you’re approaching poker from the wrong perspective.

If you can’t win at low limits, moving to mid limits won’t make things better – it’ll only make them worse.

The same thing goes for multi-tabling. If you aren’t winning with one table, don’t start paying 2-3 tables just because it’s what the pros do and / or you’re bored.

7 – Have Confidence

Most poker players have a vague goal of moving up the limits and winning bigger profits. But they psyche themselves out when it comes time to actually move up stakes.

In poker – just like anything else – you can’t win when you’re not confident. And some of the things that can zap your confidence include:

  • Making bigger bets.
  • Opponents being more skilled.
  • A bad start at higher limits.
  • Failing at higher stakes in the past.
  • Overthinking everything.
  • Worrying about losing a significant chunk (or all) of your bankroll.

When you’re properly bankrolled and have consistently won at the current level, then it’s time for you to execute your goal. And sometimes the best way to start is by jumping into a higher limit without overthinking things.

The key is that if you’ve conquered the lower limits, then odds are good that you can apply the same skills and work ethic to beating the middle stakes.

Also note that the players you compete against in $2 / $4 NL won’t be significantly better than those at NL100 or NL200. The key is that you make reasonable jumps in limits (i.e. NL200 to $2 / $4).

Your win rate will almost certainly be lower in the beginning – if you’re even winning at all. But you can always improve and get to the same win rate or even higher at mid stakes.

8 – Test Out the Mid Stakes

As discussed earlier, the best course of action is to consistently win for 20,000 to 50,000 hands. But what happens if you know that you’re playing really well at the current level before this range?

You can test out the mid stakes at any time, regardless of your sample size. Testing out higher limits does two things:

  1. It lets you see how your skills rate against better competition.
  2. It gives you confidence, or at least experience, for when your win rate and bankroll are high enough to move up.


Sound bankroll management still applies to moving up, even if you do experience success at a higher level. But if you’re playing NL200, I recommend trying $2 / $4 NL occasionally just so there’s no psychological barrier when it comes time to move up.

One more thing: take calculated risks when you test out the mid limits when your bankroll is healthy enough to do so.

9 – Join Mid Stakes Discussions on Forums

One of the greatest resources for mid-limits strategy is poker forums.

Many players love hanging out on these forums and dispensing knowledge. If you have questions about mid stakes, who better to ask than players who’ve grinded hundreds of thousands of hands?

Some players don’t feel like starting / joining discussions out of fear that they’re be ridiculed for asking something stupid.

I encourage you to get over this feeling because you want to do everything possible to excel at higher stakes. But if you still don’t want to participate, you can look through thousands of backlogged forum posts on the middle limits.

TwoPlusTwo.com is the most-popular poker forum, while CardsChat.com, PokerStrategy.com, and PocketFives also have a large amount of users and posts.

10 – Watch Training Videos from Top Middle Limit Players

Poker training videos are certainly no guarded secret. In fact, many poker players know of or subscribe to a poker training site.

But I still want to reiterate how much these videos can help when you’re making a big jump from low to mid stakes.

Few things are better than studying how top players react to certain situations. Of course, you get more out of training videos under the following conditions:

  • Studying somebody who plays the exact stakes / variant you want to play.
  • Learning from a respected coach.
  • Watching a high volume of training videos with the first two conditions in mind.

While it’s true that anybody can watch a training video, it’s how you study them that makes a difference.

Just like when you’re playing a poker session, you want to be free of distractions, in the right mindset, and doing nothing but watching the video.

Some of the top training sites include CardRunners.com, DeucesCracked.com, RunItOnce.com, and UpSwing.com.

Note the latter site because Upswing is run by Doug Polk and Ryan Fee, two players who are still crushing online poker today.

11 – Subscribe to Poker Pros’ Twitch Streams

Twitch streams have rapidly gained popularity in the poker community for the following reasons:

  1. You can watch skilled pros play and offer strategy advice, just like training videos.
  2. You can subscribe to most Twitch streams for free.
  3. Some streams are really entertaining.


This is the perfect option if you want a good strategy resource without paying for training videos. Additionally, you can see strategy from skilled pros like Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier, Daniel Negreanu, Jason Somerville, and Randy “nanonoko” Lew.

One downside is that free streams force you to watch ads every so often. Another drawback is that the content isn’t always based on strategy, but rather what the streamer feels like talking about in the moment.

Nevertheless, you can watch some good mid-stakes players on Twitch for free.

12 – Read Poker Books for In-Depth Analysis

Poker strategy books got a bad rep up until a few years ago. That’s because most books were written by older live pros that missed the strategy boom in the late 2000s / early 2010s.

This isn’t the case today, though, because there are more books from modern live and online poker pros.

The thing I love about books is that they give you deeper insight into how top pros think. You normally get between 100 and 200 pages of poker knowledge packed into a single resource, versus a 20 or 30-minute training video.

Books also cover a variety of poker facets, including specific stakes, general strategy, and the mental aspects. As with training videos, the key is to find books that cater specifically to your needs.

Searching Amazon is a great way to accomplish this. Respected poker affiliates also offer lists of book recommendations.

Here are a few examples to get you started:

  • Winning in Tough Hold’em Games: Short-Handed and High-Stakes Concepts and Theory for Limit Hold’em, by Nick “Stoxtrader” Grudzien and Geoff “Zobags” Herzog – This book deals more with high stakes, but it still has relevant concepts that’ll help you make the mid-stakes transition.
  • Moorman: The Inside Story of the Most Successful Online Poker Player of All Time, by Chris Moorman – Good hand analysis for mid and high-stakes online tournament players.
  • The Mental Game of Poker, by Jared Tendler – Tendler is a mental game coach who has an interesting way of viewing poker player habits.
  • Modern Small Stakes: Advanced Strategies for Dominating Today’s No-Limit Hold’em Cash Games, by Nathan “BlackRain79” Williams – If you’re not already beating low stakes games, Williams is a great player to learn from.

Given that books are usually lengthy works, it pays to take notes as you read along. This helps you create an abridged version of relevant topics and strategies that’ll help you when moving up stakes.

Another thing that I like to do is read one chapter a day and play a session immediately afterward. Reading new strategy gets me enthused to play, and it helps slowly apply the knowledge – much like a school course, only more fun.

13 – Read Poker Articles; Most Convenient Way to Get Strategy

Poker articles are another great way to improve your poker game – especially if you find yourself nodding off during Twitch streams or lengthy training videos.

My favorite thing about poker articles is that you can immediately access what you need.

A simple Google search gets you quick-and-accurate results on your desired topic. If you search for “mid stakes poker strategy,” for example, Google’s first page will prevent articles on this specific subject.

Contrast this to training videos, Twitch streams, and books, where you often wade through topics / content that you’re not interested in before finding what you want.

The bad part is that articles don’t go as in depth as books, and they don’t have the visual aspects of Twitch or a training video.

14 – Take a Short Break / Vacation Before Starting Middle Limits

As long as you’re not relying on poker to supplement your income, I recommend taking a break before starting in the middle limits.

Perhaps you’ve already taken some shots at mid stakes and feel comfortable. Even still, it’s nice to get a mental break from poker before you embark on full-time mid-limits play.

The perfect way to spend your break is on a vacation. According to , workers are more productive when they take at least one vacation.

I know that I feel more motivated when coming off a vacation.

But if you don’t have the time or money to vacation, any sort of off-time will help you in the long wrong. When you return to the live / online felt, you’ll be rested and ready to conquer the middle limits.

15 – Exercise; Keeps You Alert and Confident

Any buffoon knows that exercise is healthy. But few correlate just how important exercise is with regard to improving your poker play.

A funded by Dick Jones Communications reveals that exercise makes people more confident when handling the stresses of their job.

Another out of the University of Nebraska shows that exercise reduces fatigue, increases mental alertness, and gives you more stamina.

Sure, these benefits won’t directly help you identify your opponent’s 3-betting range. But they play a large role in your ability do the following:

  • Remain confident when increasing stakes.
  • Stay alert throughout long sessions.
  • Stay awake if you play poker at night.

16 – Play Fewer Tables at Higher Stakes

It may go without saying, but online multi-tablers should cut down on the number of tables they play when moving to the mid stakes.

If you’re used to playing 6 tables of NL200, you’ll want to slash this to 1-2 tables at $2 / $4.

The main reason why is because you want more time to concentrate on opponents and develop pattern recognition at your current stakes. It’s also easier to review sessions because you’ll be able to remember specific hands better.

The truth is that as you continue advancing in the middle limits, multi-tabling becomes less of an option. After all, skilled mid-stakes players are hard enough to beat on one table – let alone when you’re facing them on 3-4 tables.

17 – If You’re Not Using an HUD, then Start

As you may know, a Heads Up Display (HUD) is tracking software that collects your online poker hand histories and gives you data on your opponents.

If you play with a particular opponent for 500 hands, then you’ll have 500 hands’ worth of data on them.

The second notable aspect is that HUDs display stats on these opponents’ tendencies. Here’s some of the info that you’ll receive:

  • VP$IP – This stands for Voluntarily Put Money in Pot, and it shows how often a player bets / raises without being forced to (i.e. blinds). This is great for identifying whether opponents play loose or tight.
  • PFR – Indicating Preflop Raise, this stat shows how often players raise before the flop. This supplements VP$IP when trying to figure out opponents’ playing styles.
  • 3Bet – This shows how often players 3-bet, or rather raise following an opening raise. 3Bet is helpful way to determine aggressive and passive players.
  • Fold to 3Bet – Sometimes opponents are aggressive with raises, only to fold to re-raises. This stat helps you spot these players and take advantage.
  • CBet Flop – You can figure out if a player’s continuation bet (bet after flop) holds any weight or not.

This is just a sample of the data that HUDs offer. But you can see how helpful these stats are when you’re dealing with new and / or tricky players.

If you’re beating low stakes without an HUD, then congratulations. But I suggest using one when you move up to mid stakes for another helpful tool in your arsenal.

The key with HUDs is to walk the fine line between applying useful data without overreliance. This is especially key at the middle limits, where stats aren’t always accurate because you’re dealing with skilled opponents who switch up their playing style.

18 – Strongly Consider Live Mid Stakes Games

Much of what we’ve coveredso far relates to and / or favors online poker. In fact, I discussed how internet poker is the best way to play more volume in point #2.

But if you want the best chance to make mid-stakes profits, then you should consider live poker if you’re not already playing it.

Reasons why include the following:

  • Live poker is still a growing mid-stakes game in many parts of the world.
  • Online poker’s popularity is declining.
  • Most poker sites have reduced rewards for high-volume online poker players.
  • More and more bots (programs designed to play poker) are infesting online poker.
  • Skilled players don’t have the same edge they did in online mid-stakes games.

As you can see, most reasons for playing live middle limits involve what’s currently happening with online poker.

This isn’t to say that you can’t be successful with internet mid stakes. But it’s a lot harder to do so than 4-5 years ago.

19 – Get More Sleep to Improve Your Play

Earlier, I mentioned how important sleep is to playing your best poker. I believe that this is the most-critical factor if you want to play you’re A-game as often as possible.

I already cited studies in point #5 about how a lack of sleep decreases your cognitive functions and productivity. But the problem is that many skilled players do well on 5 hours of sleep, then mistakenly believe that they’re an outlier.

The reality, though, is that these players are succeeding because of their experience and skill – not because they’re abnormalities who function well without sleep.

Those sleeping 5 hours or less would probably do even better with proper rest.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recommends that adults per night.

This isn’t an earth-shattering revelation, but AASM’s research stresses that consistent lack of sleep will increases your risk for the following:

  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Hypertension
  • Increased errors
  • Impaired performance

Relating specifically to poker, the increased errors and impaired performance will costs you in poker. This is especially the case when you’re transitioning to higher limits.

That said, you should aim for a minimum of 7 hours of sleep each night.

20 – Fine-Tune Your Diet

Another health-related factor that’ll help you on your journey to mid stakes is a good diet.

shows that cognitive abilities are enhanced when you get the proper nutrients.

I don’t know about the validity of brain foods. But some of the alleged brain foods that you can try before a poker session include:

  • Avocados
  • Beets
  • Blueberries
  • Broccoli
  • Dark chocolate
  • Egg yolks
  • Green, leafy vegetables
  • Salmon
  • Walnuts

Generally, as long as you’re eating a proper diet – one that doesn’t include lots of candy, energy drinks, and saturated fats – then you’ll have the fuel you need to play good poker.

21 – Don’t Give Up Just Because You Fail Once

What happens if you try many of the suggestions on this list and still fail in the middle limits?

Your first course of action should be moving down in limits before you lose too much of your bankroll. Secondly, you should realize that one failure doesn’t mean you’re confined to low stakes forever

You can look at the laundry list of famous people who’ve failed one or more times as motivation:

  • Abraham Lincoln – Failed with multiple businesses; went to war as a captain, returning as a private (lowest military rank).
  • K. Rowling – Before her Harry Potter fame, Rowling was a depressed, single mother living on welfare.
  • Jerry Seinfeld – Booed off stage during his first comedy performance.
  • Michael Jordan – Didn’t make high school varsity basketball team until his junior year.
  • Stephen King – King’s first book, Carrie, was rejected 30 times before he found a publisher.
  • Steven Spielberg – Twice rejected from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.
  • Thomas Edison – Told by teachers he was “too stupid to learn anything.”
  • Vincent Van Gogh – While his paintings are worth millions today, Van Gogh only sold one painting (The Red Vineyard) during his lifetime.
  • Walt Disney – A former newspaper writer, Disney was told that he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

As you can see, there are more than enough great people who failed before becoming a success.

If they can go on to the amazing feats that they accomplished, then you can succeed in the middle limits of poker if you keep trying.

Conclusion

Many poker players dream of winning in the middle limits because you can actually make a living at this point.

Assuming you win 1bb per hour in a live $10 / $20 cash game, you’ll make $20 an hour. And while this isn’t going to make you rich, it’s enough to live off of with the proper volume.

Of course, nobody jumps straight into the mid-stakes poker scene and immediately begins dominating. The players are tougher, and you need to a larger bankroll to survive the variance at this stage.

This means that you’ll have to work hard to improve your game, be a consistent low-stakes winner, and sharpen your skills for tougher opponents.

The other side to this is that you can’t psyche yourself out and act living moving from NL200 to the mid limits is a herculean feat. As we just discussed above, great people have failed time and time again – only to accomplish unbelievable feats later on.

If you’re worried about failure, take some calculated shots at the middle limits so that you can develop some experience and confidence at these stakes. Once your bankroll is up to the task, you’ll have less of a psychological barrier to worry about when you do move up.

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Comments

  1. Nathan Williams says:

    Excellent article. Tons of great tips for low limit players here! Thanks for the mention as well 🙂

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