The following is a chapter excerpt from Aaron Davis and Tri Nguyen’s excellent poker book “The Poker Blueprint”. In this chapter, Tri goes beyond the typical bankroll management strategy and offers an engaging assessment of the how, what and why of moving up buy in levels.
Knowing When to Move Up
Bankroll management is different for everyone. The number of buy-ins required for a stake before moving up depends on your ability to rebuild and your age. If you are young (18 years old) and have no problem moving down when you lose a few buy-ins at your shot-taking, I would try to move up as quickly as possible.
In fact, if I were to start over again, I would implement the 30 buy-in (50 for PLO) rule for whatever stake I am playing and move down if I lose five buy-ins at that stake. I would only play four tables so I could focus more on both my and my opponent’s play. I would take notes religiously and try to move up as quickly as possible. This is because how much you can win is highly disproportional to your poker skill. For example, a 1/2NL regular can make $100K/year and a 2/4NL regular can make $200k/year even though the 2/4NL regular isn’t that much better. In some instances, their skill level is the same.
Another reason why you should try to move up as soon as possible is that as you grow older, your willingness to gamble and take risk decreases tremendously. You have worked hard to get to where you are; the risk of losing it all is disheartening and at times, scary. You don’t want to deal with an enormous amount of stress anymore.
When you’re young, you don’t know any better, and that’s a good thing. You have a lot of hope and aspiration to be the best. You have that gamble in your blood. You want to play because you truly love the game. It’s exciting. The high when you win is comparable to the low when you lose. During this phase in your poker career, you should be as aggressive as you can with your bankroll. You have time and age by your side. If things go wrong, you can always rebuild. After all, it’s easier to rebuild a $1,000 bankroll than a $100,000 bankroll.
It’s not uncommon for nosebleeders to admit their reluctance to play super under-rolled as they grow older. These are the same nosebleeders who definitely wouldn’t hesitate to gamble when they were younger. In fact, they probably wouldn’t think twice. But now that they are older and are content with what they have, the idea of playing stakes that can ruin them isn’t appealing anymore.
So, whoever said you’re only young once was right. Considering that your earnings improve exponentially relative to your skill level, you should try to be as aggressive as possible with your bankroll.
You’re Young Only Once
Imagine for a minute that you are working at a corporate job and there are ten rankings on the company ladder. The CEO is at the top and the cashier is at the bottom. You were a cashier last quarter and got promoted to a higher position this quarter. You love your field. You are willing to work hard and hope that one day you will be at the top. It doesn’t matter why you want to be at the top (pay, status, power, etc.); the key is that you want to be at the top and you will try your best to get there.
How come some people don’t act the same when it comes to poker?
Why is it that in every job when we are at the bottom, we want to get to the top? But in poker, some players are satisfied with grinding out a decent living. There’s nothing wrong with being satisfied where you are. The problem is being satisfied with where you are without taking a shot at the top. In poker, it is extremely profitable to be the best player at your stakes. Other regulars stay out of your way. When you create tables, you get to play fish heads-up for a while before other regulars join. You also improve a lot because you’re playing heads-up. Most important of all, your earning potential increases dramatically.
The best strategy when becoming a poker player is to be as aggressive as you can regarding your bankroll when you are first starting out. You want to move up as soon as possible.
100 Buy-in Rule
I have never been a fan of X buy-ins rules. My philosophy is that if you are running good and playing well, you can afford a few buy-ins to take a shot at the next level. After all, with living expenses and variance in poker, your bankroll might never reach 100 buy-ins until a half-year later. By that time, your game might be stagnant because you are playing against the same types of regulars over and over again without learning anything new. You might risk playing down to your opponents. Or worse, everyone is improving so you keep staying at one stake and it’s tougher to move up.
Of course, when using an aggressive approach to bankroll management, you have to be honest with yourself and ask if you can grind lower games if taking shots doesn’t work. If you get tilted easily by taking a shot and losing, then approach the situation cautiously. Take all the time you want. Though, like my man Mike McDermont once said, “If you’re too careful, your life can be a fucking grind.”
One thing I want to be clear about is that I’m not advocating that you take shots in tough games full of regulars. I’m talking about the situations where you feel the timing is right and you’re feeling good about your game and luck. If that is the case, go for it. You eventually have to defeat them. Why not start now when everything is going your way?
Taking shots is one of the most important things you can do to improve as a player. First, it gives you a reality check—you might not be as good as you think. Second, you might realize that the players playing one stake higher than you aren’t that good and that you can beat them. Third, you can run good and never look back again.
So, when you feel good about your game and there’s a softer game at a higher level, take a shot. Give yourself three buy-ins and move down if you lose them. I don’t care why you lost. Move down. Once you start to lose an amount of money that seems big to you, you will play badly. And you will play scared. You will feel that you’re not. But trust me, you are and you will.
Move down. Reload. Try again.