Stepping Up, Stepping Down
My first poker experiences were in the low-limit 7-Stud games at Commerce Casino in Los Angeles. From the start, poker was an important part of my income. It had to be. I couldn't afford to go broke. I needed to avoid the fate that hit many of the good players around me. They experienced massive swings in fortune -- one day they're playing in the big games, the next
they're on the rail, trying to scrape together enough money for a buy-in.
Early in my poker career I set a simple rule for myself: I would never move to a higher limit until I won three consecutive sessions. If I lost three consecutive sessions at a given limit, I would move down to a lower limit.
It took discipline to stick to my rule. For a very long time - years, in fact - I never made it beyond the low-limit tables. I couldn't put together three consecutive wins. It was frustrating, but it was a great learning experience. By the time I made it to higher limits, I was a seasoned,
experienced player who could deal with the intense competition I encountered.
Another nice thing about using such a patient approach was that I always had comfortable padding in my bankroll. In those early years, I may have had a hard time winning three sessions in a row, but I was beating the games regularly. I could pay my rent and add to my bank. When I moved to higher limits, I had plenty of money to sustain myself through any bad runs. In any case, if a lousy run of cards lasted three sessions, I'd back down to a
limit where I was risking less.
I know a lot of players who have a hard time using an approach like mine. Most can't step back because they feel a lower-limit game is beneath them. Their egos tie up their heads and they try to prove themselves against better players. They end up playing higher than they can afford, in games that are tough to beat, and they wind up broke. As a professional, I don't play for ego. I play for money. As Paul Wolfe recently pointed out, often a smaller game offers a better opportunity for profit.
Think about incorporating something like my three-win, three-loss rule in your own play. Stepping down a level when things go bad will not only preserve your bankroll, it will sharpen your skills and build your confidence. When you step up, you've got the momentum of a winning streak behind you. You'll be playing your best - ready for higher stakes and sharper players.