You’d better be certain before moving up


I am intrigued by the question, “When should I move up?”

I searched the poker literature and was unsatisfied with the answers I found. Most are naïve and somehow think there’s a right or wrong to moving up. There isn’t and the answer may be more in your psychology than your bankroll.

From a psychological point of view, poker is about motivation. Why am I playing and what do I want out of the game? Moving up is not just an issue of bankroll and money management.

There is a great deal of emotion attached to poker. I interviewed a successful $2-$2 no-limit hold’em player. He continues to play at this level because it meets all of his poker needs. He enjoys playing, he consistently wins and he keeps learning. He has no great desire to move to $2-$5 or bigger.

“Well, I have the bankroll to play at higher levels, but I am still working, have kids and can’t devote the kind of time I need,” he said. “Maybe when those things change I will move up.”

Another player told me the action at $2-$2 NLHE was too slow. He hated it. It wasn’t exciting. He’s an action player and $75 pots don’t do it for him. He moved to $2-$5 and loves the variance and the swings. Again, it’s not a matter of can he afford it, but why he is playing.

We have long recognized two of the psychological factors in gambling are need for action and the feeling of anxiety and depression. These play some part of some players’ need to move up and should be explored before they lose their stake.

A young man I know wanted to become an elite player, a professional. His goal was to move up to the next level as quickly as he could. He understood money management so he knew how much he needed to move up. But as soon as he reached that level, he moved up to the next level. Recently, I saw him at a main table on television. He’s making good decisions; ones that are more high-risk than the recreational player, but ones that fit his motivation, goals and needs.

So when making the decision to move up make sure all domains fit and are in place.

• I have sufficient bankroll to handle the bigger swings, the variance.
• I can handle the variance emotionally.
• I’ve looked at my need for action, whether I am depressed or anxious.
• I know who I am and have looked at my motivation.
• I have goals and this move fits my goals.
• I have needs and this move fits my needs.
Whatever you do, keep your head in the game.

— Dr. Stephen Bloomfield is a licensed psychologist and avid poker player. Email him at