Aggressive Shot Taking and Climbing up the Small Stakes Ladder

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While I talk about small stakes cash games (or “the micros”) all the time in my articles here at PokerNews, on my blog and elsewhere, the real goal is to get you past these stakes.

The reason why is that nobody gets rich at the micros. In fact it is hard to even pay the bills at these limits. Trust me I have tried!

You don’t start making real money in online poker until you get to at least NL25 — really NL100 and higher to make substantial amounts. Live is a bit different, but your goal should probably be to get to at least $5/$10 to start making some big bucks.

So how do you do it? Easier said than done, of course. In this article I am going to discuss some ways to make your climb up the limits a reality this year.

1. You Have to Take Aggressive Shots

Taking a shot at a higher limit basically means setting aside a certain portion of your bankroll (to risk) in order to stick at a higher limit and start playing there from now on.

The money will be double and the rakeback will be more as well, if you play online. Therefore, even though you will likely see a slight decline in your win rate due to the higher quality opponents that you will face, your overall winnings should be substantially higher.

While I have always been a big advocate of conservative bankroll management, there is a certain point where you are simply holding back your progress by not taking shots more often.

You have to step outside the comfort zone and set aside a portion of your bankroll that you are willing to lose, and just go for it.

I would say that when making such attempts you should never be risking more than one-third of your overall bankroll. But this is something that you should be doing on a regular basis, if you really want to move up and make it in this game.

2. Don’t Be Discouraged by Failure

One of the biggest reasons people don’t aggressively shot take besides fear of the unknown is having had a bad experience — specifically, a previous failed shot attempt.

Something you have to understand with poker is that literally anything can happen in the short run, say, the few days or week or two worth of play during which you’re taking a shot. The very nature of a shot means that you are always only dealing with the short run.

You could simply run terribly, running {K-}{K-} into {A-}{A-}, lose set over set or flush over flush — you know what I mean. You can’t control any of this kind of stuff. And unfortunately sometimes the bad fortune will happen at the worst possible time, when you are trying to move up.

It is important to understand that everybody fails when taking shots. I have failed countless times and most people consider me some sort of micro stakes master. Nope, I run bad sometimes, too — horribly bad and at the very worst time.

You can’t let something like this discourage you. You just have to see it for what it is, a failed attempt. It doesn’t define you in any way as a poker player.

Just go back to your old limit, spend a few weeks grinding back what you lost and then come back and try it again. So many people take the opposite approach and allow one failed shot to break all of their confidence. They mistakenly allow that experience to convince them that they just aren’t good enough.

That’s total nonsense. A few sessions or even a week of play in poker means nothing. If you are beating your current limit at a reasonable win rate, then I can absolutely guarantee you that you are good enough to beat the next highest stake as well.

3. Eliminate Fear

Fear holds back so many people not just in this silly little card game, but in life as a whole. When taking shots in poker, one way this fear manifests itself in by putting higher-stakes players on a pedestal, thinking that they are somehow way better than you.

Nothing could actually be further from the truth.

Yes, if you try to jump up five stakes at once (a terrible idea by the way) the players will be much, much better and probably more skilled than you. However, if you only ever try to move up to the very next level in limits, which is what I always recommend, the players there are only going to be incrementally better. In fact, you might even see some of the same people that you used to battle against at lower limits.

As for the recreational players, trust me, they never get better. They just play the game for fun. You might see a few more aggressive recreational players at higher limits who like to mix it up more, but they still just give away their money in the long run.

Fear is the biggest enemy of your success in poker. I can’t guarantee that everybody who reads this and starts taking more aggressive shots will have huge success and be the next high stakes phenom. However, what I can guarantee is that if you keep wallowing in your current small stakes games forever, you will never know and you will never give yourself that opportunity.

The other great thing about moving up that should be noted is that if you really want to get better as a poker player, there is no better way to do it than by throwing yourself into the fire against higher quality opposition.

Final Thoughts

The vast majority of people who play poker play in small stakes games never make it past them. They stay at the same limits for years, perhaps making a small side profit but nothing substantial. They aren’t quitting their day jobs.

A very small amount of people, though, will move up to the mid- and high-stakes and make a solid side income or even a full-time one. Yes, many fail to move up to these stakes. However, the ones who have made it there are often not the geniuses you might think they are.

Anybody who beats mid- or high-stakes games is a good poker player — don’t get me wrong. But often what got them there in the first place was some aggressive shot taking.

Unlike the vast majority of people, these players weren’t satisfied playing for nickels and dimes at the micros forever. This is what you need to do as well if you really want to turn this game into a highly lucrative hobby or more.

Nathan “BlackRain79” Williams is the author of the popular micro stakes strategy books Crushing the Microstakes and Modern Small Stakes. He also blogs regularly about all things related to the micros over at www.blackrain79.com.