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OTB #042: Are You Ready To Play Higher Stakes?

I received this question in my Train & Play Like The Pros weekly Q&As this week:

What is the best indicator to move up in stakes? Is bb/100 (all-in adjusted bb/100) a good indicator? Or is ROI the only indicator to look at?

Today I want to share why both of these stats can be misleading over a small sample and give you a skewed perception of your own ability, especially if you're not playing full-time.

I'll then discuss a better metric for deciding when the time is right for you to move up.

Let's dive in...

Win rate

bb/100 is the number of big blinds won per 100 hands. All-in adjusted bb/100 shows what your win rate would be if you won your "equity share" in your all-in pots, together with the results of all the other pots where you didn't get all-in.

It's usually used in cash games as an expression of winnings, but it can be a good metric to assess your current ability in MTTs.

Generally speaking, 5bb/100 is a good win rate and you're probably beating your current stakes.

If you're crushing your stakes for 8bb/100 then you're probably playing too low and should move up.

If you're winning at 2bb/100, then you'd probably do better to move down.

I said "probably" in all of those because if you have a high win rate (bb/100) but a low, or even negative ROI, you're probably not adjusting properly to the changing dynamics of tournament. This means you're winning for chips, but losing for $$$.

You need to work on adjusting your strategy as the tournament progresses and not rely on cEV strategies for the entire tournament.

Having said all that, variance can massively skew your win rate.

Let's say you look at your win rate at the end of a session where you've played 1k hands and it shows that you won at 15bb/100.

A losing player with a win rate of -2bb/100 could very easily achieve a 15bb/100 win rate over 1k hands.

So are you a winning player or a losing player?

1,000 hands just isn't a big enough sample to tell. So looking at your win rate at the end of the session is a complete waste of time.

If you really want to look at your win rate, wait until you have at least 100k hands, and even then it might not be enough.

I recommend trying out the variance calculator at for yourself to see the kind of volume you need to be putting in to outrun variance.

Return on investment

ROI stands for Return on Investment and is displayed as a percentage. It shows how much profit you make for every $100 you invest in MTTs. For example, a 15% ROI means you make $15 profit for every $100 you invest.

For years, professionals and amateurs alike have used their ROI to show them how well they are doing.

Unfortunately, like bb/100, ROI can be massively skewed in the short-term by variance and is therefore also not a good metric for deciding whether to move up.

Let's say you've played 2,000 MTTs at an ABI of $22 with 1k average runners this year and you've lost $6,000.

Are you a winning player or a losing player?

A player with a 20% ROI could very easily lose $6,000 over 2,000 games at an ABI of $22:

They could also win $25,000 no problem.

So here you have two players with exactly the same ability (20% ROI) and yet there's $31,000 difference between their results over a 2k games sample.

Both players are just as good as each other, but one's been on the good side of variance and one has been on the bad side.

Be honest now... who are you more likely to invest in if they sold action to SCOOP or the WSOP?

What makes things even harder to decide, is that a 50% ROI player would be a much better investment, but their results over a 2k games sample could be worse than a player with a 10% ROI and so you might believe that investing in the latter is a much better bet.

Here's the truth: If you're an amateur or even a semi-pro player you might struggle to put in the volume to outrun variance. If you play live MTTs, you might never realise your true expectation even with a huge ROI.

So how on earth do you work out if you're good at this game?

Honestly... it's really tough.

Survivorship bias has led to many poker players only sticking around because they had big wins early in their career. And I'm sure there are some great poker players out there who are now doing other things with their time after believing they sucked at tournaments because they had poor results to begin with.

My recommendation

There are two things you should focus on instead:

  1. Confidence

  2. Bankroll

Competence breeds confidence.

Focus on identifying your leaks and fixing them off-the-table. This will lead you to feeling good about your game and give you the confidence to take a shot at playing higher stakes.

Getting better: to increase your ROI, and putting in more volume: to outrun variance, should be the two things you aim to focus on.

And they are both things that you can control.

Base your confidence on your off-the-table work rather than results on the table.

However, you should also consider your bankroll. Only move up when your bankroll is big enough to play the higher stakes.

If you normally play $22 MTTs and you have a big win that suddenly gives you the roll to play $109 MTTs, I wouldn't immediately jump up and play them all the time.

After a big win, you're on cloud nine and feeling confident, but how much of that was down to your skill?

And how much was just winning flips at the right time?

Taking a bink in isolation is dangerous because you get an inflated idea of your own ability.

I remember seeing a player a few years ago win a couple of WCOOPs for 6 figures and then donate most of it all back because he moved up too quickly believing that because he had the bankroll, he could compete at the higher stakes.

You don't want to be that guy.

Similarly, if you're on a downswing, you could believe that you suck at this game.

The truth is that good players lose and bad players win in the short-term.

If you're on a downswing, but you still feel confident because you're working on the right things off-the-table and you have the bankroll to play the same games, then stick to them.

But as soon as the bankroll dips below the threshold for those games, you must move down.

There's also nothing wrong with dropping down in stakes to give you more confidence, but remember that competence should breed confidence. Don't let your results, or lack of results, tell you how good you are at this game in the short-term.


If you're using your win rate and/or ROI to tell you whether you're doing well over the short term, it's a recipe for disaster.

Instead, focus on small, daily improvements to your skillset, mindset and performance.

Work so hard on these things that you have the confidence in your game. Then let your bankroll dictate what stakes you should play.

That's it for this week.

See you next time.


Whenever you're ready, here's how I can help you:

The Final Table: Play your best poker when the most is at stake. Detailed analysis of over 100 hand examples at different stages of play. Learn how to make great decisions every time and set yourself up for daily progress.

Poker On The Mind: Listen to my podcast with Dr Tricia Cardner as we discuss peak poker performance and tournament poker strategy.

Train & Play Like The Pros: Join the next cohort of my flagship program that will take you from amateur to training and playing like the pros in the next 12 weeks.

Purposeful Practice for Poker: Gain a clear theoretical understanding of the science of purposeful practice and how you can apply it to your poker study & training. Includes specific exercises designed to create an infallible plan for poker improvement.


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