Your Starting Stake In Poker

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If you are new to poker, you may not know which stake to start at. Should you start at the smallest limit your poker room allows for? Or should you play at the biggest stake your bankroll can afford?

Let’s answer this from the frame of a poker question asked by Frankie. Either push play, and continue reading on.

“I want to play poker full time with a $50,000 bankroll. I know I do not master the ins and outs of poker. While not a fish: 21/16, 3.4 AF, and 56 Agg% over my last 20,000 hands. I am still learning and tilting.

Should I “beat” every single stake, starting at 1/2ct, and make my way up? Or would you recommend I start at $1/$2 or $2/$5? Part of me wants to prove myself by beating the small stakes and climbing up. But another part of me feels that I’m wasting my time. Thanks.”

I’m going to assume that the $50,000 is a dedicated poker bankroll and this does not represent a large chunk of your net worth. If you were to lose it for whatever reason that is not going to heavily impact your day-to-day life. 

If this $50,000 represents a large chunk of your net worth, then you want to be even more cautious than what we’re going to talk about in this guide.

Don’t Waste Time At Micro Limits

So to answer the main question I would not suggest starting at 2NL (1 cent/2 cent), even if you’re crushing it. You’re talking about making pennies per hour, and it’s not going to be worth your time

I would suggest starting something like 25NL, or 50NL, so 10cent/25cent or 25cent/50cent respectively. Those games function less like pure micro stakes and allow you to cut your teeth and go from there. So I would suggest starting there and then moving up aggressively. 

I wouldn’t suggest moving down any further than 25NL. Your bankroll size allows you to kind of live there forever even if you would have struggled for a while getting your head around the strategy part. I would suggest moving up aggressively as you start feeling confident as you start developing some legitimate win rates. 

I can’t stress enough how important it is to move up as quickly as possible. You don’t even have to wait until you have 20 buy-ins earned for the next limit to start moving up. You can do it quicker that’s the benefit of having a bankroll of this size. 

Moving up fast isn’t just for people that have massive bankrolls. If you’re working, and you’re able to take some money from your paycheck and put that towards a poker bankroll that can allow you to get past limits faster. Too many players are staying at the same limit for 5+ years. 

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Now everyone plays poker for different reasons so keep that in mind. But if your goal is to move up, and to get better, then think about what is your financial strategy for funding that. Obviously, with the 50k bankroll, you can fund that right this moment. You can start playing much higher than 50NL. 

But for other people, keep in mind, what money you’re putting toward poker, what your goal is with poker, and how aggressively you can start trying to move up. But for most people, it’s a lot more aggressive than they currently are and it might be something to consider. And if you are researching for a new room to start playing, click here to visit americancasinoguide.com.

Build A Strong Poker Foundation

Now going back to your original question there were a few other things that jumped out at me that I wanted to talk about. First and foremost is you mentioned that you don’t yet have the ins and outs mastered. I would 100% suggest prioritizing this since a weak strategic foundation will eventually hit a big wall. 

You might be able to beat 25NL or 50NL with some pretty big gaps in your strategy. But as you start moving up and playing against tougher opponents you’re going to have a tough time as your leaks get exposed. And honestly, we built CORE for this exact reason. I fully suggest completing it while making your play-to-study ratio about 1:1. That’s where you study for one hour, for every hour that you play. You can sign up today for $5/week by going to RedChipPoker.com/core. Check it out and make sure that you complete it; especially levels 1 and 2.

Have A Strong Mental Game

Number two is that in your write up you also mentioned tilting, and that’s another area where I would dedicate some time and attention. Winning money with a great strategy, only to blow it back due to tilted play is another recipe for disaster. 

So if you’re interested in controlling your emotions at the table, I would recommend reading anything by Dr. Tricia Cardner. Anything about the mental game that she puts out is very good. I would suggest prioritizing that as part of your study time. If you have those kinds of mental leaks, they’re going to show up and they’re going to make life much harder.

Have Clear Goals

And then number three is that I would suggest getting clear on your goals with poker, and that’s for anyone reading this. Honestly, what are you playing poker for? What are your goals with this game? 

It seems given Frenchie’s write-up that you aren’t playing because you need to earn additional income in life, which of course is a great place to be. But if that’s the case, I would ask why you want to play full time? 

If you’re playing 40 hours a week there needs to be some percentage of study. And that’s either going to come out of the 40 or be added on top of the 40 so you could be dedicating 50-60 hours a week to poker. And I simply ask is that really what you’re looking to do? 

Poker requires time for both study AND play

So I would suggest you get clear on your goals and why you want to play poker versus do anything else. I mean one of the benefits of having a large chunk of money and being retired is you have lots of time and lots of options. So think about if you’re going to dedicate your time and attention and money to something, is that what you want to be doing? 

Poker is a great game to play, but maybe playing full time isn’t exactly the best fit for you. Maybe it’s just going to be a 15-20 hour a week thing, which is fine. 

I’m not trying to talk you in or out of anything I just want you to think through this and not decide because you’re super excited about the game. You could always build up to playing poker full time if you can love this and want to do this, but don’t feel like you have to start there.

What Do You Want From Poker?

And one other thing I want to mention is that the part of you that feels like you need to prove you can beat every limit is likely either 

  • A completionist who needs to complete everything 100% that they begin, or
  • A person who values credentials over time. They value being able to say “I beat every single limit” more than they value the efficiency of their time.

I suggest that you spend 30 minutes and write down:

  • Everything you like about poker 
  • Everything you want to get out of poker
  • What accomplishments will make you feel good about poker 
  • What are your pain boundaries with poker

This exercise is going to be very helpful for you in figuring out what you want to be doing and what your goals are with this game and how you should be prioritizing your time and efforts around that.

Wrap Up

I’m glad Frenchie sent this question in. This should give you some starting points. If nothing else, a quick 30-minute exercise to understand what you’re doing with your time and money. 

And please do not start at 1cent/2cent. There are plenty of other things you could do with your time and money that are going to be far more valuable. Again 25NL 50NL is a perfectly fine starting place to cut your strategic teeth. 

Again make sure you’re putting work on your strategic side of things and also your mental side of things. This will help you make sure there aren’t glaring leaks that are going to kick you in the butt. 

As always, good luck out there, and happy grinding.

SplitSuit

My name is James "SplitSuit" Sweeney and I'm a poker player, coach, and author. I've released 500+ videos, coached 500+ players, and co-founded the training site Red Chip Poker. Contact me if you need any help improving your poker game!

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