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Poker Bankroll Management: A Guide

Introduction

If you plan to play poker, whether it is online or in real life, it is important to employ good bankroll management. Through this article we are going to look at why this is so important, as well as how to create your own strategy (or use a solid one that is already made up) to help minimize your losses and increase your chances of success out on the table. If you follow along and actually do what is in this article, you will find that your winnings will increase while your losses decrease (so long as you are a good player; nothing can protect a bad poker player from losing!).

Why it is Important

When you are playing poker, people often refer to themselves as being “professionals.” This is because they are playing the other players, rather than the house, so skill is involved to a point in winning. A great player can win many more hands and tournaments than a bad one can, because it is not solely about luck. There is another thing professionals employ to a great extent, though, which is the concept of bankroll management.

No matter how good of a player you are, you will experience downward spirals from time to time in your game. These are periods where your finances will start dropping for a while, before eventually (if you are lucky) popping back up again. For example, if you watch the professionals that play out on the high roller tables, you will see that their winnings are sort of like a roller coaster. They go up, down, up, down… and if the player is very good, they will always end up bouncing back above and beyond what they had prior to their losing streak.

This concept is important to acknowledge because if you do not employ proper bankroll management strategies, your losing streak, while it may be short, could very well deplete your entire bankroll, leaving you without any finances to play. This is how a lot of players get themselves in trouble, whereas they could have easily avoided the situation and earned money in the process by playing a more thought out game.

What is Bankroll Management?

By this point, you may be starting to understand a little bit about what bankroll management implies, although you might still be a little confused as to what it is. Bankroll management is the principles of playing in such a way that you minimize your losses by being careful with how much you are risking at any given time. This means that you are also often limiting your potential winnings as well, but it is better to win slow and steady than it is to lose everything swiftly, right?

It can be pretty hard to continue using these strategies, because at the end of the day you are looking at money and the potential winnings. Think of it as being like a casino: sure, you can win that jackpot, but is it really worth throwing everything you have at it in the hopes that you just happen to be chosen? Probably not; instead, it is better to take it slow and try to chip away at it instead. This gives the biggest chance of success, although it will undoubtedly take longer to get there than if you just happened to be lucky enough to win after a couple of tries going all out.

In a sense, bankroll management can be considered as self control. You are seeing all of the potential numbers (of money) and you are having to hold yourself back to realize that your chances of jumping right in and winning it all are much lower than if you use risk management. If you can keep this control over yourself, you will do much better in the long run, although you could most definitely win in the short term as well. This is where players often become conflicted: they may see a chance to jump in and win a little money before going back out. When this happens, they could win a little and then lose everything on the table, or even lose it all outright due to a bad beat and variance. Bankroll management is used to minimize this risk so that you can still win somewhat big, but you can only lose a small portion.

Tournaments, Sit n Go's and Cash Games

All forms of poker have bankroll management. You may think that only cash games need it, since you can go all in and lose everything you have in one hand, but the same can happen with the sit n go's or tournaments, as you are buying in to a tournament that you may or may not win. As such, it is important to look at all three of these game types as being equal when we are dealing with management strategies, because all three have great potential for both winning and losing. If you get caught up in the mindset that tournaments and sit n go's are immune to the effects of these risks, you are no better off than if you ignore the strategies for cash games as well. Do not get caught up in this!

Bankroll Management Strategy

Now it is time to get in to the meat of this: the actual bankroll management strategy. It is important to note that you can deviate from this to adapt it to what you wish, although this is seen as being a safe method to try and ensure you do not lose everything from a losing streak. It is also worth noting that this does not necessarily protect you from complete loss; it does, however, significantly minimize the chances.

  • Cash games. For cash games you will want to employ a rule of playing on a table only when you have at least ten times the maximum buy in (or one thousand times the big blind)
  • Tournaments and sit n go's. Both of these use the same rule: twenty times the buy in

As you can see, we use a different strategy for the different game types, but we do have a strategy regardless.

For cash games, the idea is that you want enough money on the table that you are only risking a maximum of ten percent when you buy in. Usually, we will couple this with another rule as well: pull out when you have fifteen percent on the table (or, to make it a bit easier, if you have fifty percent more than you started with, pull out). This allows you to have a full buy in (or even more, depending on the size of the win) every time you leave tables twice. Along with this, the most you can possibly lose in one go is only a tenth of what you had to begin with, so you cut down on the effects of variance by a huge degree. If you are wanting to move up to the next table, you should take its limits and make the same calculation. As an example, if you are starting out on tables that have a 1|2 blind setup, you will need at least 2000 coins before you get involved. To move up to the next table (presumably 2|4), you would then need 4000 coins before you get going. So you would stick to the lower table until you have enough to move up.

As for moving back down on the cash games, the idea is to do it when you are below the bankroll management minimum for playing there. For example, if you are on the 2|4 tables and you get down to 2000 or less coins (the minimum for starting on the 1|2 tables), you will want to go ahead and drop down and attempt to build the roll back up. This helps lengthen the life of your bankroll through extended losing streaks, rather than allowing you to keep losing all of it without making any changes.

Tournaments and sit n go's are grouped together because they both use the same strategy (as they are really both the same, aside from how many players usually take part in each). Payout schedules are usually pretty similar, so for all intents and purposes we can just use them as clones of one another for our bankroll management.

The idea behind our bankroll management for these comes from the fact that no matter how good of a player you are, you will not win all of the tournaments you take part in. There is more to it than just your own skill level, and that has to be accounted for. On the other hand, we also have the prospect of significantly increasing the winnings even with a pretty small buy in. By going with a maximum of 5% of the bankroll when getting involved, what we are doing is maximizing the potential and accounting for what could be a long line of losses. Even at a 5% buy in, you can win a lot more than that, so going up and down between the tiers can happen pretty fast if you happen to be a great poker player. You will want to employ the same type of strategy for these tournaments as you would for cash games when it comes to moving up and down tiers: only move up when you have twenty times the buy in. Move back down when you get to twenty times the buy in for the next lowest level.

Self Control

As we talked about a little earlier, self control plays a role in your ability to use proper bankroll management. I would argue that the self control aspect is by far the most important one, as it will make or break your ability to follow through properly. Even deviating from the plan for a short period can easily be what destroys your bankroll, so you need to ensure that you keep on top of it constantly. It is way too easy to get in the rush of things and try to win back your losses, losing even more in the process. And while you could end up winning back your losses when you do this, the risk is too great when compared to the reward, so it is recommended not to do this.

Early Management

Managing your finances from the very start can be rough. After all, a lot of poker players will start with either a very small amount of money or even none at all (and rely on freerolls to get started). This can cause some confusion because according to bankroll management, if you followed it directly you would need a decent first deposit to get the ball rolling. Really, though, if you are just starting out you are likely going to be on the very small stakes (sometimes considered as the “micro stakes”). With these, even if you go through a full loss you will not lose too much. Some sites even have stakes that are as low as 1c|2c, where the maximum buy in is only a couple dollars. In cases like this, even if you lose it all you still have not lost too much, so we will be using a different strategy at this point.

If you are throwing in money on your own, go ahead and keep building it on the lowest stakes until you get to the point where you can afford to move up a tier. At that point you will want to start utilizing bankroll management. While you could use it on the lowest as well, the strategy for play on those tables is vastly different due to all of the other new players, so it is best to just try to get out of there as fast as you can!

If you are funding your games through freerolls, save up until you have at least half of the maximum buy in for the lowest stakes. If they are 1c|2c, go ahead and save up until you have a dollar before you hit up any of the tables. This will help cut out the variance you will otherwise see on the table, where you may keep getting horrible cards over and over. The worst feeling is when you go in to a table with so little money that you end up being knocked out by the blinds alone, so do not put yourself through that!

If you are going for tournaments or sit n go's instead, you just need enough to get on the lowest stakes game to get going. Unlike the cash games, here you are in a game that puts all players on an equal level, so it does not really matter if you go there with just enough for the buy in or a thousand times the buy in; you are still equal to everyone else there. While bankroll management is important later on to keep you from losing all of your money as well, at this point it is not a big deal since you are working on building up a bit and you have to start somewhere!

When is Bankroll Management Useless?

The answer to this question is… pretty much never! The only time you should ignore the rules of bankroll management are when you have unlimited funds, or have enough money that it really does not matter one way or the other. It also has to be considered as disposable income, as you can very well lose every cent of it. For the vast majority of players, and even the professional poker players, this is not something that even becomes an option. Any true poker player will want to manage their bankroll so they can keep their game going and increase their winnings.

Conclusion

Playing poker is about a lot more than your skill and luck while out on the tables. It also involves your knowledge and willingness to follow through with proper bankroll management. Whether or not you follow through can easily determine how long your poker career lasts; neglecting to do so is a sure way to end your gaming habit early.

Even professional poker players use good bankroll management, and it could be argued that this is how they got so far to begin with. Every player, regardless as to how long they have been playing for and how good they are, is at risk of having bad losing streaks. If you follow the high rollers, you will see that their earnings are much like a roller coaster. They will win big some days and lose big on others. If they are not employing proper bankroll management, all it takes is one bad day to take away everything that they have worked so hard to earn.

Even though you may be new to the game and might not think any of this is important at the time, it really is. This is a learned skill that you need to work on over time so it becomes more of a habit and second nature than it does something you have to constantly think about. The more time you spend doing the thinking, the better your chances are of hitting the “well, maybe I will be okay just this once” period, which could be the last. Do not get yourself caught up in this! Get yourself accustomed to the proper way to handle your finances in the beginning, and everything else on the path will become that much easier.

Poker


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