Moving from Small Stakes to Mid Stakes

In my personal experience the jump from small stakes online poker games to mid stakes online poker games is skill difference wise much bigger than the jump from mid stakes to high stakes. This is mainly because the low stakes tables are usually filled with casual poker players and players still looking to improve their skills without having to big of a possible downside, while on the other hand in the mid stakes games there are starting to be quite a few players who play online poker either professionally or semi-professionally (for an example to support them through college).

In this article we will look into things that you are likely to encounter when you are trying to move from the small stakes games to mid stakes internet poker games. For the sake of this article small stakes is defined as 0.25/0.5 to 1/2 NL texas holdem / PLO (pot limit omaha) and mid stakes as 2/4 to 5/10. Naturally there are also differences in these categories, and for an example I believe that the difference between 0.25/0.5 pot limit omaha and 1/2 pot limit omaha is bigger than the one between 1/2 and 2/4.

Things to expect when you move to mid stakes online poker games:

Considerably tougher opponents

This should be the most obvious one. When you go from the small stakes games that are mainly filled with casual players and bad regulars to mid stakes games that are filled with pros it might feel bit intimidating at first. However it is important to remember that even these pros are just humans after all, and even they have numerous leaks in their games. But there are couple things that these pros tend to be much better than casual players in. By far the biggest one is being able to put you on hands (or hand ranges to be more exact). Due to the fact that they are thinking players with tons of experience with online poker they are much better hand readers than the players you encounter at the small stakes tables. This means that you are forced to take lines that conceal your hands. In low stakes games you can often get away with value betting your hands in very predictable way (in low stakes it might for an example be okay to never go all in as a bluff on river, in mid stakes your opponents will catch on this tendency and just fold their hands that don’t do well enough against your river all in range).

Also because they are so good hand readers they are often able to value bet you much better than most low stakes opponents. What this means is that you might for an example have to make some slightly awkward bets just in order to make sure that they can’t put you on exact hands. A great example of this could be a spot where you would always check back turn on drawy board with medium strength made hand on turn and always call a bet if the draw doesn’t hit on river. The smart mid stakes regulars will catch on this tendency pretty quickly and will start playing their hands in a way that if you keep playing your hands that way you never win the showdown when they bet and you call.

Much less casual players / fishes

This naturally goes hand in hand with what we just talked about. There are lot of people who can afford to lose $50 a week playing online poker and don’t mind it, on the other hand there are way fewer people who can keep losing $1,000 per week. So naturally there are also much fewer bad players playing the mid stakes games. What this means is that the game selection becomes much harder. For an example simply finding a game with two fish poker players might turn out to be really difficult. And even if you could find those games you simply can’t get that many hands in per week in those tables, and thus if you want to make more money playing mid stakes than low stakes you are also forced to play the less optimal games (in which you should still be at least a small favorite in order to play in the first place).

Bigger swings, even in terms of buyins

It should be pretty obvious that when you start playing games in which the buyin is $400 instead of $50 the monetary up and downswings will go up. However, some people seem to disregard the fact that also the swings in terms of buyins will go up. This is direct result of the fact that your expected winrate in the bigger games will be smaller (in terms of big blinds per hands).

We wish you the best luck with moving from small stakes to mid stakes. As a final word of advice we would like to remind that there is no shame in moving down if things start going bad, but there might be some shame in blowing your bankroll in too big games when you could just be grinding steady profit from the smaller stakes games.