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Five Losing Behaviors When Stepping Down in Stakes

Five Losing Behaviors When Stepping Down in Stakes
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  • Sometimes dropping down in stakes is the right idea, but don't make these five mistakes when you do.

  • Playing in a lower-stakes game than usual shouldn't be an excuse to play a lower-quality game.

Even good players run bad from time to time. When they do, they sometimes deplete their playing bankrolls. Accordingly, they may choose to drop down to a lower stakes game, where the competition is at least a little easier, and where they can pump back up their bankroll.

Unfortunately, things don't always work out that way. Sometimes, in spite of dropping down, the losing continues. Of course, this can sometimes be the result of simple variance. Bad luck can follow you wherever you go and torpedo the success of even the strongest player in a low stakes game.

Even so, much of the time, failure in this circumstance is the result of the player's own errors. Here are five common losing behaviors players sometimes make when they move down in stakes.

1. Being too blindly aggressive

Aggression is a key part of winning play in the long run. Passive players, for the most part, are losing players, especially in tough games. You can't just sit back folding and wait for the strongest starting hands, bet them aggressively, and expect to win.

It is also a big mistake to assume that just by being aggressive, you'll squeeze the money out of a low stakes game. Yet all too often players from bigger games try to do exactly this. They seek to bully their way through the lower stakes players, assuming their aggression and their generally superior skills will win them the pot.

Though sometimes that skill advantage does help such players win, frequently the huge doses of aggression coupled with a lack of mindfulness about how others are responding to such aggression can result in large losses.

2. Assuming lower stakes players can't play, and that winning will be easy

It's true that for the most part, players in the $2/$5 game aren't as skilled as those playing $5/$10. Similarly, the $1/$2 games tend to have the largest collection of players who are new to the game, inexperienced, or otherwise unskilled.

Even so, it's incorrect to assume that all or even most of those in lower stakes games can't play. That's just not true. Having played in thousands of $1/$2 games all across the globe, I can tell you that there are many skilled players at that limit. The days of expecting to find a poker table filled with fish are well behind us.

While the percentage of players at a $1/$2 table (or a $2/$4 limit game for that matter) may not be as skilled as those in the bigger games (on average), without a doubt most of the players know at least enough about the game to be able at least to compete with seasoned players, especially when those players aren't playing their best.

3. Disrespecting the raises and aggressive betting of the lower stakes players

No matter the skill level of the player, most of the time a raise means at least a fairly strong hand. Sure, some low stakes players tend to overvalue some of their holdings. Still, even with some percentage of players having mediocre hands they play too aggressively, that hardly makes most raises worth calling or reraising, even if they're made by generally poor players.

Yet that's exactly what many players do when they move down in stakes. They jettison their typically careful and selective style of play, and replace it with a loose abandon, as if no one at the lower level can hurt them. Big mistake.

Poker isn't like boxing. It's not as if the bigger games are like the heavier divisions. A flyweight may not be able to knock out a heavyweight, even with his mightiest punch. But a career $1/$2 player can stack a $5/$10 player in one hand, no problem.

Five Losing Behaviors When Stepping Down in Stakes 101

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4. Adopting a condescending attitude toward regular low stakes players

It's easy to understand why top players are sometimes condescending and even belligerent when they join lower stakes games.

One reason could be they may feel they will lose the level of respect and admiration they previously enjoyed in the poker room by winning regularly at a higher level. Therefore when they are on a losing streak or otherwise decide to pump things up by stepping into the lower stakes games, they can sometimes feel a bit defensive about such a move, and perhaps try to justify their decision as a strategic one and not an indication of a diminishment of skills or deserved status. Their behavior may be an attempt to demonstrate their superiority even as the move to the lower game may appear to be evidence of their inferiority.

Unfortunately for them, their abusive, condescending, dismissive, and otherwise demeaning speech hurts their chances to win. Either the "inferior" lower stakes player, frustrated at being put down, ridiculed, and mocked, leaves the game in anger or frustration (taking his stack with him, of course), or he decides to play better and tougher against the hectoring smart ass. Neither results in an easier game.

5. Getting bored and failing to play their best game

It's easy to let complacency sneak in when the stakes don't seem meaningful. If you're used to playing for thousands, it's hard to stay fully focused when playing for just a few dollars. That's what happens sometimes to the player dropping down in stakes, and to the player's detriment.

The mistake comes from viewing bet amounts in absolute rather than relative terms — for example, calling much too loosely because the bet is "only" $2 or $7 or $20 or $100, the amount seeming small compared to the player's usual game but not necessarily small in the game in which he's playing. The player becomes overly passive and overly loose, and as a result eventually diminishes the chances of winning.

The remedy to all of these errors is simple to identify, though perhaps not so easy to carry out. You must continue to play your best game, even if the stakes seem too small to matter and even if the players may be inferior to you in general. You still need to be completely attentive to the playing styles of your opponents while looking for ways to exploit their individual weaknesses, just as you would do when playing at higher stakes.

You've got to make sure your attention doesn't fade while maintaining the high standards for your own play that you have come to rely on in the tough games you normally play. Don't fall into any habits of aggression or looseness just because you assume your opponents are inferior, and over time you should be able to win and rebuild your diminished bankroll.

Ashley Adams has been playing poker for 50 years and writing about it since 2000. He is the author of hundreds of articles and two books, Winning 7-Card Stud (Kensington 2003) and Winning No-Limit Hold'em (Lighthouse 2012). He is also the host of poker radio show House of Cards. See www.houseofcardsradio.com for broadcast times, stations, and podcasts.

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