As you move up in stakes, if you maintain the same or even a slightly lower win rate compared to your win rate at your current stake, you will make more money per hand dealt.
If your goal is to build your bankroll (as I challenged you to do in part 1 of this series) and win money, you should strive to move up as fast as your bankroll and poker skills allow.
Why You Profit
It is important that you understand that the winners at poker profit because their opponents make mistakes. That said, many novice players never take the time to quantify their opponents’ mistakes and figure out what to do to maximally take advantage of them.
Instead, they realise that some of their opponents are “bad”, but play with no plan for exploiting them. This failure often leads to them being stuck in the same small stakes games indefinitely because they never work hard to actively gain the skills necessary to beat even their weakest opponents.
They never figure out why the losers lose.
Instead of simply playing your default strategy and hoping for the best, strive to figure out the weaknesses of the losers in your game, as well as how to take advantage of them.
For example, if someone loves to limp with a wide range of marginal hands, hoping to flop well, raise them with all your decently playable hands and then make a continuation bet on the flop.
This play will usually result in you stealing the pot whenever the weak limper fails to flop well (which will occur about 60% of the time).
Track Your Results
To know if you are beating your current game, you must keep track of your wins and losses. I use Hold’em Manager to track my online play, but any of the online tracking tools, or even Excel or a paper and pen work fine. Do not guess as to whether you are winning. I would venture to say that the vast majority of players who do not keep track of their results are losing players.
If you put in 50 hours of play at your current stake and see that you are consistently winning, you should strive to move to the next-highest stake and see if your win rate persists.
It is an absolute shame when someone could win $20 per hour at a higher stake, but due to complacency or their fear of moving up, they remain in their current game where they win only $10 per hour.
Your Tactics May Not Work at the Higher Stake
Many players hop into the larger game and try to implement the same strategy that worked at the smaller game. While their strategies may work against some players, it is important to realise that many players playing the higher level would at least hold their own at the smaller level.
This means that some of the tactics you used to beat your previous games may not work at the higher stake.
So, work to figure out the weaknesses of the losing players in the higher stake and the strategies necessary to exploit them. For example, at $2 NL, you will likely find that overly-tight players who only play premium hands use gigantic preflop raise sizes of perhaps 10 big blinds - allowing you to trivially fold to their raises. You beat these players by never paying them off with inferior strong, but non-premium hands, and by stealing their blinds liberally.
As you move up to $4 NL, the tight players may instead use small raise sizes but then never fold hands stronger than top pair after the flop. Against these players, you should be willing to see flops with hands that have large implied odds (meaning you will either lose a small amount when you miss the flop or win a large amount when you connect well with the flop).
Notice that both opponents have roughly the same mistake (overplaying normally-premium made hands), but you exploit them in different ways due to their different preflop strategies.
Figure Out How the Winners Beat the Losers
Once you have pinpointed the weaknesses of the losing players at the higher stake, the simplest way to figure out what you should do to exploit them is to pay attention to how the winning players are exploiting them.
For example, if you notice the winning players consistently use a re-raise or fold strategy against the weak, passive players (meaning they rarely call), you should infer that re-raising or folding before the flop is likely (but not necessarily) superior to calling and then trying to play pots after the flop.
From there, work diligently to add the winners’ strategies to your arsenal of plays. I suggest you keep a notebook of your opponents’ leaks and what you should do to take advantage of them.
Whenever you sit at the poker table, constantly ask yourself “What are my opponents’ mistakes and what should I be doing to exploit them?” Do not fall into the habit of mindlessly looking at your cards and playing in a straightforward manner.
Figure Out How to Beat the Winners
Once you have figured out how to beat the losing players at the higher stakes and implemented the necessary strategies to your game, strive to figure out the weaknesses of the winning players. Even the best players in the world have holes in their strategy, so work hard to pinpoint them and then develop strategies to take advantage of them.
You will likely find that the strategies used to beat the losing players are drastically different than the strategies required to beat the winning players. For example, many weak players will raise and then continuation bet the flop only with their decently strong made hands and draws. Meaning when they bet, you should fold unless you have a reasonable holding.
Alternatively, many strong players know their opponents fold to continuation bets on the flop too often. So, to take advantage of this leak, they make flop continuation bets way too often - perhaps with their entire range. If your opponents continuation bet way too often, you can exploit them by raising the flop with an overly wide range as a bluff, or by calling their flop bets with your strong hands to keep them in their pot with their entire junky range.
Put in Time at the Table
Once you have developed strategies to beat most of the players at the higher stake, put in a lot of hours on the felt until you have sufficiently grown your bankroll to tackle the next highest stake.
From there, repeat this process until you become a winning player in that game. You can repeat this process over and over, allowing you to continuously climb the poker ladder until you are at a level where you have the potential to win life-changing money.
Ask for Help
If you get stuck along the way, be sure to ask your poker-playing friends what they are doing to beat the games and if they are aware of any mistakes you are making. Many of the best players in the world are happy to answer questions here and there if you post them on Twitter. (Feel free to ask me any questions @JonathanLittle).
While poker may feel like an individual game, no professional has reached the top by themselves.
Learn to Beat Everyone
Continuously ask yourself what your opponents are doing incorrectly and figure what you can do to exploit them. Add those plays to your game, and you will eventually rise to the top. You should also put in lots of hours at the poker table, as well as lots of time off the felt studying the game.
It is worth repeating: Do not fall into the habit of playing in a mindless manner. If you find that you play for a while and never actually think about exploiting your opponents, you are not playing in a mindful manner that will allow you to improve as a poker player.
Remain mindful at the table and continue grinding your initial $10 deposit into $888.