The Poker Staircase (Dropping Down in Stakes)

By Tom "TIME" Leonard | April 6, 2010

Most dedicated poker enthusiasts strive to play at larger and larger stakes as their understanding, confidence and results continue to improve. Why wouldn’t we want to make more money for the same time spent at the game? Certainly avarice could be considered a virtue and not a vice! The fact is that there are many articles and chapters in poker books dedicated to advice directed at knowing when and how poker players should move up in stakes. However, there doesn’t seem to be too much advice on knowing or judging when it might be appropriate to take a trip down the same staircase you climbed as you moved up in stakes. That would be almost admitting defeat and poker players are a prideful bunch.

If you were cautious and took your time moving up the poker staircase by proving that you were able to beat your current level, it can be frustrating to begin losing at that level. Everyone goes through rough patches when it seems like the Poker Gods are conspiring to send you to the poor house. You can begin to doubt your ability and wonder how this can be happening as you have a proven track record beating this game like a drum. Well, guess the news – it’s poker and it happens! It happens to all of us but the key is what you do when it becomes your turn.

When you find yourself in this predicament or figurative hole, the one best piece of advice that I can give you is to stop digging! There are poker players that find themselves in the middle of a losing streak and figure the best course of action is to get into an even higher stake game so they can win their money back faster. You might chuckle at that but you know I’m not making it up. I know this behavior really exists because there was a time when yours truly would jump in over his head to catch up quickly. This reckless plan is not well thought out and one normally pays the consequence of digging the hole deeper. Thank goodness I’m older and wiser now.

There are three critical elements that one should embrace to turn this unpleasant situation around. The first thing you should do when you find yourself in a hole is to ascertain what has changed. Aside from losing instead of winning, what else is different? The factors you should be investigating should include: Are you now facing tougher lineups? Have you left your “A” game on the shelf and drifted into auto pilot? After a careful review of your poker game, are you convinced that your current problem is just Lady Luck being fickle? There is no question that you need to honestly assess what variables have changed so you can develop a plan to get your ship headed in the right direction.

If after examining what has changed you realize that your game has eroded due to laziness or being outclassed, you should at a minimum begin to tighten up your play. You must begin to scout your games more vigilantly to find softer spots and rededicate yourself to paying better attention to game conditions. If you’ve discovered that your default style has drifted into auto pilot – you need to switch off the auto button and get back to work. If your losing streak continues you must go to the staircase and go down a level, as difficult and distasteful as they may be.

Dropping down in stakes is possibly the single most difficult course of action for many poker players to take. Most of us have worked hard to arrive at the current stakes we play and to move back down is many times easier said than done. Many players find it embarrassing to drop down especially in brick and mortar card rooms. There is a greater anonymity in online poker, making this process much easier. In live poker rooms some players tend to feel everyone will notice that they have dropped down and will be regarded as weak, losing players. You simply cannot allow your ego to convince you of this nonsense. In fact, I believe that demonstrating the discipline and confidence to step down on occasion shows a strength of character that weaker players just don’t possess.

Possessing the strength to take the staircase down a flight until you regain your winning ways is a critical element of becoming a winning poker player. You beat the lower stake game before you moved up so it should be easier to beat now. The higher stakes game will still be there waiting for you once you’re ready to step back up. Consider how many chips you might save by dropping down a level while you sort out just how and why the losing streak occurred to begin with.

To review what I believe to be a winning plan when you find yourself struggling to make a profit, one should take a hard look at three things. You need to acknowledge that there is a problem, identify any possible elements that may be the cause and, if necessary, be willing to drop down a level or two in stakes to conserve your bankroll as you make the necessary adjustments to rectify the problem. This is my AID plan … Acknowledge, Identify and Drop down in stakes. We have all heard the sage’s advice that a chip saved is a chip earned!

By Tom "TIME" Leonard

Tom has been writing about poker since 1994 and has played across the USA for over 40 years, playing every game in almost every card room in Atlantic City, California and Las Vegas.


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