Recently I've been struggling with the idea of moving up in stakes. I have dabbled at the higher buy in No Limit games and had mixed results. There are a few factors that come into play when I'm deciding. First is bankroll. Well, after a good summer at the WSOP and cutting down on my spending habits, my bankroll is in good shape and very sufficiently rolled to move on up to a bigger game. Next- my skill set. As poker players we all seem to think we're better than we really are. I try hard not to fall into that trap and always try to be realistic. I think my skill set is there to move up. Lastly, my mindset. This is the tough one for me. While my bankroll and skillset are ready to rock and roll, my mind isn't quite ready for the journey. The one big issue I've faced when moving up is that my mind can't handle the swings of the bigger games. If I'm in a 2/5 no limit game or a 5/10 no limit game and have $1000 in front of me I don't think about the money at all. Now, put me in a 10/20 no limit game with $2000 or $2500 and suddenly I become afraid of the money and don't play well. This is unfortunate because as I mentioned my bankroll and skill sets can support the game, but unfortunately my mind can't. So, what to do? I think the best route for me is to continue beating the games that I beat, and when I see a bigger game that looks real good and I'm upswinging in my current game, then take a shot at the bigger game. Eventually my mind will come to terms with the swings and I can move up.
So, whats this all mean for you, the reader? Well I figured if I have issues moving up you may as well, and it's mostly likely issues in making the move from 1/2 no limit to 2/5 no limit. Today I'd like to elaborate on the differences in the games to best prepare you for that move. But always remember, you need to evaluate the three things I spoke about above- bankroll, skill set, and mindset. Make sure all three are ready for the move up before giving it a shot. Also, don't be afraid to move back down if it doesn't work out or if you are uncomfortable with the new stakes.
The biggest difference between 1/2 and 2/5 is best summed up in one word- aggression. There is a lot more preflop raising and even three betting in 2/5 than there is in 1/2. Also, there is far less open limping. While it's very common in 1/2 to see four or more players limp in for $2 and the blind check taking you all to a six way flop, there is very little of this in 2/5. Most players know that it is very profitable to isolate limpers in no limit and players in 2/5 take advantage of this. You will often see a bad player open limp in 2/5, a good player from middle position raise to $25, and another good player on the button three bet to $75. What's likely happening is that the good player in middle position knows that it is profitable to isolate the bad limper, and the really good player in late position knows this, knows that the good player is likely isolating light, so now he three bets in position light to isolate the isolator. Plays like this don't always happen but are definitely more common in mid stakes games than in low limit games. It can also be taken to the extreme when the middle position player picks up on the fact that the button knew he was isolating light, so he can now four bet light to force a fold from the buttons light three bet. As you see this can easily turn into a leveling war between good players- and it all started by a bad player limping in for $5!
Apart from the three betting and open raising in 2/5, you will also see more continuation bets from the preflop raiser whether or not they hit their hand. Because of this you will have to be prepared to play post flop more with weaker hands. You can't spend all day calling raises and waiting to flop the nuts because the good players will win all the small pots from you and then shut down as soon as you show any resistance post flop. To combat this you need to learn to continue with weaker hands that haven't crushed the flop against pre flop raisers. This means calling in position more often, floating flops, and taking away pots on the turn or river. Bluffing (more like semi bluffing) becomes a more important part of the game as the limits go up. That doesn't mean that we should be bluffing every pot with no regard to what we are representing. Learning to tell a story with your hand becomes much more important. Always be thinking "if I had X hand would I play it this way." That will help your bets to be believable if you're telling a believable story.
With regards to online poker, I'd say this same principle holds true when moving from 50c/1 no limit games to the 1/2 no limit games. I'd also equate moving from 1/2 no limit online to 2/4 no limit online would be akin to moving from 2/5 no limit live to 5/10 no limit live. The player pool becomes much tougher and you don't get paid off as much on your big hands so learning to win countless small pots becomes much more vital.
With that said, assuming sufficient bankroll, I'd advocate dipping your toe in slowly. Start off by playing tight, observing your opponents, and then join in the fray with calculated bets and bluffs that tell a believable story about your hand. Good luck to all those who are attempting to move up in limits and make sure to post any trouble hands in Table Talk here at PokerAtlas. Good luck on the felt and most importantly, have fun!!