LAG Poker Style

What is LAG?

Perhaps LAG is one of those words we have seen floating around the poker forums. What does it really mean though?

LAG stands for “loose aggressive” and describes a poker playing style.

The average LAG will have a VPIP of above 20% and a PFR of above 25%. When The VPIP starts getting above 30% and the PFR above 35% then it might be more common to refer to such a player as a “maniac”.

Is LAG a decent style?

The answer to this question really depends. LAG can potentially be the best style, but not always.

It’s not a big secret, but the majority of winning online players are TAGs (tight-aggressive). TAGs play a much tighter more conservative game. TAG style is easier to master and overall entails a lower amount of variance.

However LAG style has the potential to make much more money in certain situations. The downside is that LAG requires more skill and is a higher variance strategy.

Types of LAGs

It’s not necessarily true that all LAGs play the same type of game. There are typically good LAGs and bad LAGs.

The bad LAGs play a loose aggressive style but have problems folding the fold button when they are clearly beat.

The good LAGs play loose aggressive but are capable of making big laydowns when they are clearly behind.

Depending on which of the two we face, we frequently need to make adjustments to our strategy.

Play the Player

The idea of adjusting to our opponents should tell us something. The best style for us to have in any given situation is a style that is selected in response to our opponents’ tendencies.

So it’s usually not correct for us to identify with and stick to any one given style. If a player says something along the lines of “I’m a LAG” or “I’m a TAG”, then ironically he is likely not thinking about the game on the best possible level. We want to be poker chameleons, ever ready to adapt to our surroundings.

If a player insisted on always playing a LAG style, he would do very well against certain opponents but then run into difficulty against other types of player.

A good LAG plays loose-aggressive poker because his opponents have a tendency to play too tight and too face-up in certain spots. For example, the average TAG will have a tendency to always play aggressively with his premium holdings and never slowplay. So when he starts taking passive actions such as checking, it’s possible for a good LAG to deduce he is weak and start playing aggressively.

When LAG is Not Good

Let’s think of two examples where a good LAG would have to adjust to a different style as a result of his opponents tendencies.

The first scenario is when facing a calling station.

LAGs can easily lose money in this scenario since they will bluff overly aggressively only to watch in dismay as their calling station opponent hero-calls them down with an underpair to the board. So what should a good LAG do in this example? He should tighten up his ranges and value-bet relentlessly. He still might be going reasonably wide for value as a result of villain’s tendencies, but the idea is that he might look a little closer to a loose TAG as opposed to a LAG.

The second scenario is playing an aggressive but bad LAG, who cannot fold to aggression.

The typical LAG strategy of bluffing in good spots is not going to help that much here either because villain is not folding. We could naturally follow a similar strategy to before and use a tight-aggressive approach: this would work reasonably well.

However it’s worth noting that there is now an additional component to this player’s strategy which we can also exploit. He is overly aggressive and will attack perceived weakness with aggression. The way we can exploit this is by slowplaying: appearing weak when we are actually strong. So against this particular opponent a tight-passive approach may work extremely well.

It’s interesting that passive play for the most part, is discouraged. However as an exploitative response to our opponents’ aggression, passivity can be an extremely potent weapon in our arsenal.

Decent LAG – Look for Weakness

If we could name a fundamental difference in terms of the mindset of a TAG compared to the mindset of a LAG, perhaps it would be the following.

– TAGs looks at the strength of their hand
– LAGs care less about the strength of their hand and more about the strength of their opponent’s hand.

This is just a rough approximation however, and we don’t want to do discredit to the TAG style in any way. There are many strong and competent TAG players who think deeply about their opponents’ ranges and are capable of making exploitative adjustments. But if we approximate the average difference we might say that TAG style is a little bit more about making hands while LAG style is a little bit more about bluffing.

One of the most important skills a good LAG has is the ability to spot when his opponent is not overly strong and may be willing to give up on the pot without too much of a fight.

To give a couple of examples –

1) Any time a player skips his cbet

The truth is that the majority of players do not give enough thought regarding protecting their checking ranges. What this essentially means is that as soon as aplayer decides to skip his cbet on any street, in-position or out-of-position, he likely has a range that contains many more weak hands than premiums.

LAG players are always looking for spots like this to exploit weak and capped ranges.

2) Any time a player checks twice

A good LAG knows that it is extremely rare for a player to check twice with a strong holding. This means that a good LAG will be bluffing a lot with delayed cbets, and also river bluffs when villain has checked across two consecutive streets.

Should I Try LAG Style?

This is probably a function of our level of experience. It’s recommended that new players follow a tight-aggressive approach. The game is easier to play when we start out with a tighter range. We will have a stronger hand postflop more frequently.

Some poker schools will disagree though and say that it is better to jump right in at the deep end. Sure, LAG is tougher and involves more variance, but we will learn poker and hand reading a hell of a lot faster too.

So ultimately, we have to make a choice regarding what type of poker style we would like to pursue. But it’s also important not to identify too strongly with any particular style, since the best players have no real default style at all. They simply look for the exploitative style with the highest expectation based on their opponents.

Guide For Improving Your Poker Game

It’s very common for players to feel that off-the-table analysis is necessary to become a strong winning player in today’s online environment. Some players may even set aside the necessary time for such work, which is certainly a step in the right direction.

The problem is that often the quality of this time is very poor. It often may include passively watching poker training videos or reviewing hands from their database without any clear purpose. In themselves these are great tools for improvement, but they need to be used with a clear objective in mind.

Have a Clear Focus

The number one issue many have is that the work they do is simply too vague and lacking focus. Think about how many different spots come up in the average session-review training video. We jump from one topic to the other, generally following no kind of logical progression unless the coach has made significant effort for this to be the case.

Similar with hand history reviews, we jump from topic to topic, unlikely spending more than a few minutes on a given topic. Now imagine every hand marked involves a situation where we cold-call from the blinds, or face a 2nd barrel in 3bet a pot. To really maximise the efficiency of our time spent we have to break the game down into segments and focus on a specific area for a measure of time, maybe even a week or more.

Finding a Focus

We all have to start somewhere, and likely some of us won’t have a specific area to focus on unless we have already given the topic of this article some thought previously. So we should make it our initial goal to come up with a list of areas to focus on. Perhaps a list of 10 areas would be a good place to start, with the intention to spend at least a few days (potentially much longer) working on each of them. We will generally find that as we work on a particular topic, other areas will come to light which we can add to our list.

We will focus the majority of our work around the chosen topic without deviating. Even if we are engaging in a general activity such as watching a training video, we will pay special attention to anything which involves the topic we are considering. For example, if we are focusing on 3bet pots with initiative, we’ll pay special attention any time the coach gets into that situation. Perhaps we will pause and take notes, run through some of our own ranges in that spot.

We want to keep focusing on the topic until a measure of clarity comes to us. Notice that no topic is likely to become completely clear, since poker is not a game that is possible to master at this stage. But we should feel the topic in focus has become significantly clearer before moving on to the next topic on our list. Once any topic is covered, it is by no means complete. We can simply archive that topic for the next time we revisit it, in greater detail.


Once we know exactly where we are going to be focusing our efforts, there are various tools we can make use of which will greatly increase our efficiency. In no particular order…

The Forums – Search for your particular topic on the forums and join in the discussion. Posting troll comments such as “cool story bro” does not constitute learning. Try and make an intelligent contribution to the thread. If you can’t find your topic, start a new thread, and document all the questions you would like answers to.

Buddies/Skype-Group – It’s always good to have people we can bounce ideas off. If we don’t know someone personally in real life it’s possible to create a group conversation on skype where we can discuss strategy with players playing similar games and limits. The power of a group is often larger than the power of one alone. We might find a member of our group has an angle on a certain topic that has never occurred to us.

HH-Reviews – It’s good to mark hands during a session for review. But rather than randomly marking hands that cause you trouble, why not mark every single hand where a specific line is taken? Perhaps we are working on 4bet pots for example. We could mark every 4bet pot and review it after the session. We will find analysing in this method considerably more effective than reviewing trouble-hands at random. Reviewing trouble-hands at random may be a good method for finding an initial area to focus on however. We may spot a trend: perhaps we are making similar mistakes in a certain situation.

Stat-Analysis – Unfortunately the vast majority of players, even winning players, have no clue how to effectively use tracking software to spot leaks. The relevance of stat analysis should become more apparent now that we’ve started breaking our game down into different categories. Perhaps we are focusing on flop check-raises. In which case we can construct filters to show with which frequency we are check-raising and which type of hands we are using. We can perhaps see also with which frequency we fire turn and river after we check-raise the flop. Don’t know how to do this? Open your tracking software and start figuring it out.

HUD-creation – This is actually a method of improvement in itself. Creating an awesomeHUD. Thinking about which stats are the most useful/relevant in a game situation and why. It also gets us to think a little about what the average values of these stats should be for a winning player. If we are not aware whether certain stats are higher/lower than normal it can become difficult trying to use these stats for exploitation. Working on our HUD is an excellent thing to do if our chosen focus is learning to play exploitatively. Working on our HUD is a focus in itself however. It’s always good to be up to date with the latest technologies that increase our edge at the table.

Training Videos – These come in various formats. Arguably the most valuable of these if we already have a topic in mind are the theory videos. They focus on a specific topic and use hand-history examples to illustrate concepts. Live session videos can still be useful if we are focusing on something such as gameflow, or if we are searching for a new topic to focus on.

Articles/Books – Somewhat self-explanatory. Remember to question everything and take most things that you read with a pinch of salt. Always consider who the author is and whether that author is considered a credible source. For every piece of good advice online there are likely 5 pieces of bad advice. Analytical skills are required to sort the bad advice from the good. As with the other training methods it’s preferable to have an area of focus rather than reading books/articles at random.

Poker-Software – There are some excellent poker tools available that can help us with equity calculations or help us to construct ranges. Without going into detail, we will simply list some of the main useful pieces of software. If you’ve never heard of or used any of these, your next task should be to google them and find out what they do.

• Flopzilla
• Equilab
• PokerSnowie
• PokerRanger
• HM2/PT4
• Table-Ninja
• Notecaddy
• CardRunnersEV
• StarsHelper
• TablescanTurbo

Check out PokerVIP store for a selection of great poker software and much more!

Private-Coaching – The fastest way to get accurate information (provided we have found a credible coach) is to book some private poker coaching sessions. We will find we often receive the very latest strategy advice with this method. By the time new concepts reach a training video, book, or strategy article, 6months or even years may have sometimes passed.

Coaching – One way of working on our game is by coaching others. It causes us to really think about the reasons for certain things we do. As a general guide, if we can’t explain a particular concept accurately and simply to another player, we can generally assume we don’t understand the concept well ourselves.

If you are a newer player you can perhaps teach your friends to play. If you are an advanced player you can offer paid coaching to players playing lower limits than yours.

Range-Construction/Simulations – Once we have a reasonable background in game theory we can think about the various different board runouts and how we will play our entire range on these runouts. There are over 20 different types of flop categories. On each of these flop categories we’d play our range slightly differently. We’d also adjust our strategy depending on the preflop/flop action and the positions of the players involved. The variables are practically endless.

We won’t automatically know how we should be playing our ranges on every board runout. The way we can get a feel for how our ranges should look is by calculating precise ranges for each of the various situations. Next time we face a similar situation at the table we will then have a feel for what our continuing ranges will look like.

Given the huge permutations of the different variables, bet-sizing, positions, flop texture, effective stacks etc , we will find that we need to break the work down into categories as much as possible. We can make various assumptions to aid us with this. For example, if we calculate our defending ranges on a K72r board, we probably don’t need to do the exact same calculations for a K82r or K62r board. Our strategy will be extremely similar.

HUD Stats You Are Not Using


Most players who play regularly make use of a HUD. However, in some cases we may be using the same HUD/popups that we created several years ago and have not kept up to date with some of the more advanced features that are available for use. This article is written with HM2 in mind, although we should be able to find similar stats in PT4. While there is additional tracking software available, we will often find these programs limited in terms of the tools/stats they offer. They simply do not have the support that HM2/PT4 have.


The biggest upgrade in recent times is Notecaddy. There is an equivalent note-tracker for PT4 although this is arguably much less powerful. However, this comes free with PT4 while it is a paid upgrade for HM2. PT4 is a great choice if we are on a budget or have a computer which runs slowly. If money is no object and we have a fast computer, HM2 is superior software in many ways.

Notecaddy takes automated notes on our opponents and displays this information in a popup. This helps to augment and complete the information we already have via means of a statistic. Imagine our opponent 3bets us with a frequency of 10%. This is useful information but by no means complete. Is this is a polarized 10% range or a merged 10% range? Even if we know that it is polarized does our opponent favour offsuit broadways in his bluffing range or speculative hands? How wide will he go for value? If we open up our note-caddy popup we can see the specific type of hands our opponent has 3bet in the past providing a more complete picture.

Notecaddy – Custom Stats

An excellent feature of Notecaddy is the ability to create our own custom stats using a simple scripting system. This many not be the easiest thing to grasp quickly but has the potential to be extremely useful.

For example, imagine the situation where we’d like to know how wide we should open in a standard BTN steal attempt. The ideal stat for this situation might be “fold blinds to BTN steal”. At the time of writing this article, HM2 has “fold SB to BTN steal”, and “fold BB to BTN steal”, but no “fold blinds to BTN steal”.

We can also create custom stats that involve bet-sizing information, something that could not be done previously with the power of tracking software alone. Imagine we face a 4x open from the BTN. We are aware that this is a non-standard sizing, and we are aware that according to our HM2 stats our opponent has a 50% opening range from the BTN. But does he necessarily open a 50% range with this 4x sizing, or does he reserve this sizing for a much stronger range? Using custom stats it is possible to break our opponents raise-first-in range into the various sizings he uses and see which frequency he uses the 2x, 3x, or 4x open raises. Perhaps he rarely raises to 4x in which case we can make some exploitative folds.

Notecaddy Packages

It’s a good point to mention that getting to grips with notecaddy can involve a learning curve which isn’t super easy. It’s well worth the time invested – but there is still a reasonable chance that some of us a) don’t have the time to invest figuring it out or b) honestly just find scripting custom stats too tricky.

Not to worry, there are people out there prepared to do all the hard work…..for a price. There are companies out there who have decided to create what is known as a “coaching package” for notecaddy. This is a file that you import into notecaddy that involves a complete HUD and a selection of advanced custom stats along with custom badges that allow us to easily identify certain traits in our opponents.

We will not mention any specific packages so as not to advertise, but a quick google search should allow us to find the available coaching packages without too much difficulty. Be prepared to pay in the region of $70-$200 for this kind of tool. Everything included in a package will be something you could code yourself if you have the time and the ability, so it’s definitely not mandatory you pay anything at all once you have purchased the initial notecaddy software.

Notecaddy – Scattergraphs

Very likely one of the most useful tools of notecaddy is the scattergraph. Imagine we are facing a pot-sized bet on the river. Perhaps we know the frequency with which our opponent fires the river, but we are not sure how his river sizing affects his frequencies.

The scattergraph which can be found in the notecaddy popup gives us information regarding how strong our opponent is when he uses various sizings. We have strength on one axis and bet sizing on another axis. We might find that when our opponent bets pot he is frequently bluffing, whereas the smaller sizings are weighted toward value. This is easily one of the best tools for river situations, but has application on the earlier streets too. In pretty much any situation it is possible to see a graph of how our opponent’s bet-sizing relates to the strength of his hand.

Notecaddy – Clock

One of the newer features at the time of writing is the notecaddy clock which incorporates timing-tell information into the automated note taking system. Perhaps our opponent has a tendency to act quickly when he is weak. We can use the note-caddy clock to pick up reads.

Vs Hero Stats

This is something that should be available within the tracking software itself. We might know how often a player is 3betting at the table, but perhaps it seems like he is 3betting specifically against us way more often than average.

It is now possibly to quantify this information with the “vs-hero-3bet” stat. We can see how often our opponent is 3betting (or a whole range of other actions) specifically against us without having to closely follow the action on that table.
Other Advanced Stats

In general the average player is simply not aware of many of the stats that are available for use. We will consider one example, but it’s highly recommended at some point to work through the list of available stats in our tracking software. We may find there is a certain stat that is extremely useful; one that most players have never considered using.

Perhaps we have on our HUD the “fold-cbet-to-raise” stat. Many players do; it’s an extremely useful stat. But have we ever considered that having that stat in isolation is not maximising its effectiveness? Imagine our opponent has an extremely low “fold-cbet-to-raise” stat. Our natural inclination is to avoid bluffing this guy; what’s the point of bluffing if he rarely folds?

Ironically we may find that we are missing on an excellent bluff situation. Imagine we now add the more advanced stat “fold to turn barrel after cbet-cal flop”, and we see that it is over 80%. How do we feel about raising the flop now? Hopefully we can see that despite not generating instant profit on the flop it should be a clearly profitable bluff-raise since we can barrel the vast majority of turns and expect to win the pot.

By extension, just because the “fold to turn barrel after cbet-call” is really low doesn’t necessarily mean we can’t profitably fire the turn. We’d want to check out “fold to river barrel after cbet-call flop, call turn barrel”. The point is that stats are rarely at their maximum effectiveness when used in isolation

This same situation works in reverse too. Many players have the “raise-vs-flop-cbet” stat on their HUD. But this is not necessarily a complete picture that allows us to establish how often we should call vs raises on the flop. Imagine we check our opponents “barrel turn after raise vs flop cbet” stat and we see he rarely fires the turn. It may indicate that we can call wider expecting to see free cards on river, perhaps including some profitable bluff opportunities. By extension would could add an additional stat that shows how often our opponent will fire the river after he fires the turn.

This is just one example. There should be countless other available stats that allow us to make more effective use of the current stats. Since many of the new stats we find will be considered secondary stats, they will generally do better as part of a popup rather than on the main HUD.

Is Online Poker Rigged?

It doesn’t exactly take a large amount of google searching to find countless discussions and comments detailing how and why certain sites are rigged. Is there any truth to these claims? After all, we don’t want to be investing valuable time and money on an event that is already a foregone conclusion.

While there seems to be a rather unanimous conclusion that various sites are rigged amongst certain posters, we’ll often find that there is general disagreement regarding exactly how and why the site is rigged. Such discussions will also usually be tempered by a few brave individuals who are there to tell everyone else they are stupid because “of course online poker is not rigged”.

Let’s think about both sides of the argument before drawing a conclusion. Perhaps the conclusion may even surprise you if you are here to read another standard “poker is not rigged article”.

The Standard Arguments for Riggedness

Let’s regurgitate a few of the bog-standard arguments that will be floating around pretty much every poker-is-rigged thread that has ever been created.

Action Flops – The site deliberately deals out flops that create huge action. Perhaps one guy gets top set while the other guy has an up-and-down-straight-flush draw. Obviously the money is going in and the site owners take a holiday in the Seychelles with all of that extra rake money.

Babysitting the Fish – The sites don’t want recreational players to go broke too fast and have a bad experience, otherwise they might not redeposit. The regs will probably keep playing anyway. So it makes sense for the site to bad-beat the regs when they play against the fish to keep the player pool as large as possible.

Suckouts, Just Because – This is my favourite. The site has no specific reason for the river suckouts, they do it just because they can. They must profit somehow from this, but no-one in the thread knows exactly how.

Cashout-Curse – This one has destroyed hundreds, no….thousand of bankrolls in it’s time. The dreaded cash-out-curse. You have tried to take some money from the site and as a result it’s necessary that you be punished with a never ending downswing until you start depositing again.

House Bots – A large amount of our opponents are secretly undercover house bots who work for the site. They know our hole-cards and skim a little extra money off the top every now and then as an additional way for the site to make money.

They can get away with it – This one is sadly undoubtedly true. A site could likely easily get away with rigging the games and make extra money as a result. There is a very good chance no-one would ever be able to prove this. And seeing as the objective of most money making enterprises is to well…..make more money – morality is the only thing that stands between most poker sites and the extra money they can make by subtly rigging the games.

The Standard Arguments for Non-Riggedness

Not in their interest – If anyone found out that the site was rigged, then pretty much no-one would ever play there again.

RNG Audits – All sites with a gaming license must undergo an RNG (random-number-generator) audit. If the results of this RNG test are not sufficiently random then the gaming license can be revoked.

Someone would know – A standard argument we see in “poker is rigged threads”. If poker was rigged, then surely someone would have realised by now. The problem is….they probably wouldn’t. Variance is so huge that crazy things can happen over big samples. Besides, we get hundreds of people daily posting somewhere in a thread that poker is rigged because this one time two weeks ago their Aces got cracked by Quad-Kings. And no-one takes a blind bit of notice of them.

The Argument for Agnosticism

Agnosticism is basically the belief that the truth cannot be knowable. Here are the reasons why I feel agnosticism is the correct stance on this topic.

Variance is very big. RNG audits can be faked. So, the first issue is that no one person on their own is likely to ever have a sample size large enough to prove that poker is rigged. This decreases greatly the likelihood that anyone is ever going to be able to categorically prove that a certain site is rigged. We need an infinite sample to prove anything. Even RNG audits have to use a finite (albeit very large) sample. And those audits don’t prove beyond a doubt that the RNG isn’t rigged, they simply specify that it’s within a certain number of standard deviations from the norm and hence “probably not rigged”.

There is a website online that does independent audits. While most sites pass with flying colours, there is at least one major poker site that was noticeably outside what was expected. Does this prove that it’s rigged? No, we can’t prove anything as we have mentioned, but it’s certainly worrying. It seems as if there is nothing to stop a site using a good RNG when it is being audited and then modifying that RNG once the audit is complete.

Depends on our definition of “rigged” – If 5 of our opponents at the table are working together against us and all sharing hole-card information via skype, does that count as a rigged game? It might not even be anything to do with the poker site itself. This kind of thing does happen at the table. If by rigged we mean that we are playing with an unfair disadvantage, then there are absolutely a number of rigged games online, and we should be very careful that we don’t get cheated.

Dishonest Employees – It’s just a sad fact that poker still has strong connections with shady underground business dealings. It’s consistently emerging into a more regulated and open environment, but essentially it is still gangsters that are running many of the games. The difference now is that these gangsters are a new breed who wear suits and make millions of dollars.

The semi-recent “Black Friday” Full Tilt Poker scandal should tell us that the poker companies we put our trust in our not quite as honest as we’d like to think they are. If a respected company is capable of spending the money that they have promised us is segregated – what’s to stop them making subtle alterations to the way the cards fall at the table in an attempt to increase their profits further?

Hole-Card Cheaters – We can no longer really say that a site would never secretly use our hole-card information against us. Why? Because it already happened in the Absolute Poker scandal. It seems as if a disgruntled employee used access to hole card information to print money at the tables. If it can happen once, we’d be foolish to say it could never happen again.

This can also happen on an individual level if we are not careful who we let see our hole-cards. Someone might pretend to be a friend who is sweating us, but they are actually sitting at all of our tables taking money from us.


Maybe this is not the conclusion you were expecting, but here we go. Poker might be rigged and certainly can be in some instances.

If we are talking purely about the integrity of poker sites and not cheating that occurs on an individual basis then poker is probably not rigged. But this is not something we can really prove, so it’s not right for us to claim that we know for certain that poker isn’t rigged. That’s ironically why guys who post in “poker is rigged” threads to say “poker is definitely not rigged” are basically as ignorant as the guys who post there saying it’s definitely rigged. There is not enough information to prove anything either way.

We must remember that we shouldn’t tar all poker-sites with the same brush either. Different companies obviously operate at different levels of ethics and morality. Some sites definitely might be rigged – I’ve played at a rigged site before and lost some of my roll when the site owner was taken to prison and the site promptly shut down with no cashouts for anyone.

So it’s the responsibility of the player to make a good appraisal of a site before depositing. Check to see if there has been any legitimate problems in the site’s past. We want to know as much as we can that the site we are depositing on has good integrity.

A final thing to mention is, that even if we knew for certain that poker is rigged, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a non-profitable enterprise. It might easily still be possible to make consistent money despite the fact that we might not be making as much as we could in a fair environment.

BRM and Shot-Taking

A huge factor in being able to successfully move up the limits is understanding the correct approach to bankroll-management and shot-taking. If our BRM is wired too tight it can take years to make any significant progress, while if our BRM is overly loose we greatly increase our risk of ruin.

Understanding when and how to take a shot is also crucial. If we shoot the next limit with too many buyins, shoot the next limit in the wrong way, or have a bad mental state when we take the shot, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

Let’s consider a few of the basic principles we need in order to make a success of moving up the limits.

Basic BRM

Let’s start with the absolute basics. This should not come as a surprise to us in any way. If we don’t already have our precise bankroll management strategy mapped out neatly in a text document, then we should do this immediately. Otherwise it’s essentially like trying to run a business on a day to day basis without seeing the overall picture.

This doesn’t need to be a complicated document, it simply needs the following.

1) How many $ do I need in my roll before I shoot the next limit?
2) How many buyin shot will I take before moving back down?
3) When will I move to the limit after?
4) At what stage will I move back down a further limit if my shot fails and I swing down?

So for example, we are a 10nl player, our notepad document is going to look something like this…..

Shoot 25nl at $875
Take a 5 buyin shot (if it fails rebuild at 10nl)
If bankroll drops to $225, rebuild at 5nl

Shoot 50nl at $2000
Take a 5 buyin shot (if it fails rebuild at 25nl)
If bankroll drops to $750, rebuild at 10nl

It’s amazing how many players don’t do the last step. It’s probably somewhat normal to just assume that if our shot fails that we will not go on an extended downswing and have to move down an additional limit. It’s still a possibility though and we need a contingency plan for this scenario. It’s usually at this stage that plays have a tendency to self-destruct and tilt off their remaining roll. They never had a concrete plan for a scenario they assumed would never happen and have a difficult time keeping their cool.

Feel free to make the plan even more detailed. We can think about including further limits on the way up and further limits on the way down.

Approach to Shot Taking

Shot taking is not typically something we see players having deep strategic conversations about. The current advice is more along the lines of “It’s your roll, so shoot as many buyins as you feel comfortable with”. Well, naturally this is true, but it’s not overly useful advice. There should be some strategic pointers we can use in order to maximise our long-run EV. We already mentioned one of the pitfalls at the outset, which was following too stringent of a BRM plan.

1. Short shots are best

Let’s think about 2 different approaches to shot taking. From our sample bankroll management plan above we can see that upon arriving at $875 our plan is to take a 5 buyin shot at nl25. Our threshold for moving back down to 10nl is therefore $750. Let’s compare this with someone who has the same moving-down threshold but likes to take a 20buyin shot at the next limit.

Player 1 – Moves up at $875, takes 5buyin shot.
Player 2 – Moves up at $1250, takes 20 buyin shot.

So why is player 2 taking a 20 buyin shot? Usually players rationalise as follows – “I really hate it when my shots fail, I’d much rather save up and have a really good shot at the limit so it’s less likely I’ll need to move down” Perhaps this rings a bell on an emotional level, but is it actually strategically sound?

Well imagine for a minute that we only drop 1 buyin on our 25nl shot before going on a huge upswing. It wouldn’t have actually made any difference to us whether we were taking a 5-buyin shot or a 20-buyin shot. The main difference is that in order to take a 20-buyin shot we have to spend countless hours grinding at the lower limit, even though our roll is already in ok shape to take the shot.

Some might contest that the 20 buyin shot is still better because if we were to drop over 5 buyins on our shot we’d be forced to move down and grind the lower limit. But even if our shot fails twice and succeeds on our third attempt, we will have still spent less time grinding the lower limit compared to the scenario where we shoot 20 buyins all at once. It should be somewhat obvious that strategically, the shorter shot is significantly better than the bigger shot.

2. Abandon the “Do or Die” approach

Players have a real tendency to screw themselves over before they have even begun. They have saved up a ridiculous amount of buyins for the shot and have thoughts of “This is it!”¸ “I’m either gonna make it big or go down in flames!”. If we ever think like this then there is a very reasonable chance the outcome will be going down in flames.

The approach to shot taking (while short and aggressive), should be a little bit more gradual than most players imagine. The first time we sit down at the next limit we should think of it more as a scouting mission than an attempt to make real money. We should play tighter than usual and set our main goal as simply becoming established at the limit. We should show a tendency towards avoiding coinflip situations. Remember that even if something is break-even or marginally profitable in terms of chip-EV does not mean that we have to take it. There is another factor at work here: given the choice we’d prefer not to move down limits since there is a time cost associated with this.

That time cost should be assigned a real value. It’s a little similar to considering an ICM model in a poker tournament. A decision may be clearly profitable in terms of chip-EV but not necessarily the correct decision in terms of $EV. Shot taking with a limited amount of shots should be viewed in a similar way; we don’t always want to purely look at chip-EV as cash game players are typically inclined to do. We won’t assign any formal maths to the situation, but just keep in mind there are other factors at work when shot-taking, not just the outright profitability of the decisions we make.

Some players will also consider mixing tables in the early stages of shot taking. So rather than jumping immediately from 4 tables of fast 10nl poker to 4 tables of fast 25nl poker, we can consider playing 3 tables of 10nl and mixing a 25nl table. This can help us not to get stressed about moving up limits, and our profits at 10nl will help us to offset any losses at 25nl until we become established at the limit.

3. The next limit is not that much harder

It’s common for players to have a real mental hangup when thinking about their projected profits at the next limit. They will say stuff like  “Well, I’m making 5bb/100 at 5nl so I should probably expect to make less than 2.5bb/100 at 10nl”.

There seems to be an unwritten assumption that if we double the stakes we also double the skill level of our opponents. If each limit really was twice as hard, then we’d all be in big trouble. The truth is that the skill gap between one limit and the next is not even close to as wide as the average player thinks. We can say this another way – micro-stakes games are lot harder than most people think, and small or mid-stakes games are a lot easier than most people think.

So if we have a winrate of 6bb/100 at 5nl, we probably also have a similar winrate at 10nl, perhaps slightly lower. If our winrate is significantly lower over a large sample, then this is often a mindset problem. This is why sometimes we see guys who are beating 2nl at 10bb/100, and then losing at 5nl for -4bb/100, both over a reasonable sample. There is absolutely no way that a 10bb/100 crusher at 2nl can be losing at 5nl unless he has some kind of serious mindset problem.

In other words if we have any kind of positive winrate at our current limit, and we have the roll to move up, we should think about doing it immediately. Sometimes people make the mistake of “waiting until their winrate improves before moving up”. This is usually going to be a mistake for the following 2 reasons.

1. It’s almost impossible to define accurately what our winrate is. By the time we have a large enough sample to accurately state our winrate, our winrate will probably have changed.

2. Not all styles of poker will have a decreased winrate when moving up. Some may even increase in profitability.

It’s this second point which is often never considered and is somewhat fascinating. Some poker styles will actually work better at higher limits than lower limits because they naturally exploit the player pool better. We should also remember that the higher up in limits we go, the lower the associated rake cost of each hand we play.

So even if our winrate is low, if we have the roll, we should frequently just take a shot and see what happens. This will be the highest EV strategy in the long run.

4. Fix Your Mindset

We mentioned earlier about the grinder who moves up one limit and experiences a huge and dramatic drop in winrate. There are 2 main mindset issues players face, although there are certainly a range of additional mindset issues that we will not cover.

1. Scared Money – The new stakes feel so large and we are feeling nervous. This extra nervous energy has the ability to shut down our rational thought processes. It is impossible to simply shut out fear, but there are steps we can take to improve our mental state. Treating the first shot as simply a scouting mission and/or gradually introducing the higher limit tables, should help to keep our mental state much more manageable.

2. Rapid Adjustments – So imagine we suddenly start getting 3-bet a lot at our current limit. Do we automatically assume that everyone has become more aggressive overnight? No, this would be illogical, we just assume that we are running into a patch of variance. But when players move up a limit and suddenly go through a patch where they face a ton of 3bets, what do they assume? Often they assume something along the lines of “ I guess everyone is a lot more aggressive at this limit, I should start playing back”. This is not a statement we can make until we have played at least 10k hands at the limit. Assuming that we know something about the limit after playing a mere few hundred hands can be very dangerous. Perhaps we start stacking off lighter and wonder why we run into AA every time. It’s because the new limit is not really that different at all, but we need to play a decent sample before we understand which adjustments to make. In most cases we should stick to our current game as we move up to the next limit – if we find ourselves making sudden huge adjustments to our strategy then this is one reason why it seems impossible for us to ever crack the next limit up.


Armed with the suggestions in this article we should be able to take our shot-taking strategy to a higher level. One of the biggest losses in future potential which players suffer from is not taking shots aggressively enough. Naturally we do not want to advise playing outside of reasonable bankroll management rules, this is very important. But the highest long-term EV strategy is always to take shots as frequently and as aggressively as possible.