Anyone who has considered the notion of professional poker should already be well aware that proper bankroll management is one of the biggest keys to success.
Anyone who has considered the notion of professional poker should already be well aware that proper bankroll management is one of the biggest keys to success. That's because luck plays such a huge role in the game. You can be the best player in the world, playing completely mistake-free and you will go on downswings.
If you are a tournament player, those downswings can last several months. In order to be prepared to handle those losses, you need to have a system in place to avoid going broke. I am going to talk a little bit about my system, as well as share some of my experiences from 13 years of professional poker. My system isn't going to work for everyone and you may need to tweak it slightly based on your personality and playing style, but it is a good general guideline and if you follow it, you will never go broke.
The number of buy-ins you need for each type of game depends highly on the amount of variance that exists in that game. I will give a description of each type of game and the number of recommended buy-ins to have.
Multi-Table Tournaments: The general rule of thumb is that you want to have 100-200 buy-ins in your bankroll for your average tournament buy-in. So if your average buy-in is $10, you need to have a bankroll of at least $1000. However, these rules were written for people who are playing on sites with 50,000+ active players playing in tournaments with at least 500 people in them. Betcoin and the Winning Poker Network tournaments it hosts are still growing and while some of the tournaments get that many players, the majority have 100-500 players. Because of this, I recommend having at least 75 buyins in your bankroll. A great tournament player will cash 20% of multi-table tournaments and any gambler knows that you can lose a 20% shot many, many times in a row. Another variable in this is based on your style of play. My style of play is to not worry so much about getting in the money, compared to winning the whole thing. Because of this, I have more straight up losses and more deep runs. If you are the type of player who goes for the cash first, then worries about a deep run, you may have more min-cashes. Min cashes net you very little and even at a 20% cash rate, you are waiting longer for that big score that will get your graph pointing up. You can see how either one of these styles can lead to a downswing. Basically, there is a bunch of heartbreak and then the occasional big score. Make sure you have enough buy-ins to outlast that heartbreak.
Cash Games: Cash games have much less variance and if you are patient and play correctly, it is very easy to string together a nice streak of winning sessions. Since you aren't moving tables, it is pretty easy to remain profitable at cash games, because you can find the fish and pounce on them. I recommend having at least 20-30 buy-ins in your roll for cash games. This gives you the opportunity to move up in levels fairly quickly, but keep in mind that the higher you go the less fish you will find, so be prepared to move back down just as easily.
Sit and Go: Sit and Gos are the most solved game in poker. There is a specific strategy that if you follow, you should be profitable in the long run. Of course, like with everything else, luck is a big factor and there are also many other regs who are aware of this same strategy so the big money here is to be made based on small edges and plenty of volume. In order to get that volume in, I recommend having 40-50 buyins available at any time.
Heads Up Sit and Go: This is my favorite game, especially hyper turbos. Due to the fast structure, they have the highest variance and you are going to be forced to play cards you wouldn't normally play. I recommend having at least 200 buyins at any time for hyper HUSNG. For regular turbo and non-turbo, I would say 100 is a good amount.
I am not a big fan of taking shots. The idea increasing your buy-in once in a while to go for the big score is okay, in theory. But the problem many people have is once they get a taste of higher stakes it is hard to go back. If you lose a larger amount than normal, you may want to stay at that level and try and get your money back. Or perhaps someone will take a shot at a higher level, get sucked out on horribly but decide that the higher level is beatable and keep playing it. Remember that due to variance, the buy-in level you play is not necessarily about what you can beat, but what you can afford to lose. Exceptions that I think are okay are things like playing in the World Series of Poker. Obviously most people who play the main event don't have the $1 million bankroll that would be required by management guidelines. However, since this is a once a year (maybe once in a lifetime) experience, I think it is okay to take this kind of shot because when you get home you will no longer have the opportunity to play such large events and likely cannot succumb to any bad gambling habits from doing so.
When you are winning at poker, you get a feeling like you are invincible. The cards are falling in your favor and the extra confidence you gain from winning helps you make intelligent, clear-headed decisions. Sometimes you feel like you will never go on a downswing again and this will lead you to throw bankroll management out the window because you know you can get back whatever you lost. This is gambling fucking with your brain. Don't let it. 4 years ago I had the best year of my life. I was a winning reg at $1200 heads up sit and gos and even with the huge variance, having a 1% roi was making me $75-100/hr. Besides this, I played a couple hours of 10/20 every day on a very soft site that is no longer around. I remember in April, I had 23 straight winning days at 10/20. I was living like a king. I had no budget. Everything I wanted, I would buy. Everywhere I went, I would fly first class. I thought I had found the magic formula and it would be like that for the rest of my life. I didn't bother saving my bankroll because I figured whenever I needed more money, I could just win some. Then I went on a downswing at 10/20 and lost everything I had on that site. I had no savings. But at least I had my online bankroll. Then I got in a heated match with a $1200 HUSNG reg. He played well. So did I. But he also got super lucky! And the luckier he got, the more it made me want to keep playing him and get it back. I have never ran so far below EV in my life. I kept losing. And I wouldn't quit until it was all gone. Minus $40,000 in one day. In just a few weeks I went from on top of the world to having to borrow money to play $30 mtts. It took me over a year to get out of the borrowing cycle and back on my feet where I could sustain myself. That was the moment I needed, to change my life. Hopefully you will not have to have a moment like that and will take a lesson from my mistakes.
There isn't much, in poker, that feels worse than going down a buy-in level. If you have been playing at a certain level for a long time and know you deserve to be there, why should you have to go back down and play in the bush leagues? Because you don't want to go broke! Of course, this all changes depending on how much you rely on your poker income. If you are a full time pro, you have no choice. If you go bust, you have no way of earning a living. Dropping down is your only option. If you are a semi-pro who relies on the extra income from poker, it is still important to go down when needed, but at least you know that if you bust your roll, you can always put a little aside from your day job and rebuild. And if you are purely recreational, you know you have that check coming in every week so you can fund your poker account when it disappears. And maybe that's all poker is for you, a fun way to blow off steam or hang out with your friends. But even if you are just in it for fun, you will have more fun if you are winning and not losing and playing above your bankroll is the easiest way for a good player to lose.
After having a great summer last year, I went on a $25k tournament downswing. It wasn't enough to devastate me financially, but I had to make a conscious decision to drop down and build my roll back up. Considering the smallest buy-in I would bother with at that point was $100, it was tough for me to go back to playing $30 and $50 buy-ins. This was for two reasons. When you are used to playing for a certain amount of money then all of a sudden you are playing for much less money, the new money you are playing for seems trivial. If I am used to playing for a top prize of $10,000 it is tough to put in the same amount of effort for a $2,000 top prize. The second reason was ego. I felt like I was above those levels. Plus I was gaining some notoriety at that time for being a higher stakes player and was embarrassed to have people see me at the lower level games. But I cannot afford to go broke and have learned from my past mistakes. Thankfully, I was able to make the commitment and drop back down and have slowly worked my way up to the bigger games, but now I still play the $30s and $50s too.
It seems simple enough. Play a percentage of your bankroll and never go broke. But gambling does something to people's brains and causes us to think irrationally at times. The best thing you can do is take a good look at yourself. Think about what triggers you to go on tilt and make bankroll mistakes. Sometimes it's as easy to fix as taking a 5 minute break after a bad beat to collect your thoughts. One thing that has helped me tremendously is that Betcoin makes deposits and withdrawls so fast and with no fee. This gives me the ability to keep most of my bankroll off-site. I like to have a tournament schedule for the day and keep enough money on here for that schedule, including a couple reentries, if needed. If I have a bad day and lose it all, I deposit the next day for that day's schedule. But I never lose more than I planned or more than I can afford to lose. And after a win, Betcoin makes it so easy to withdraw, even a small amount, to keep me from doing something I might regret. This is what I have to do for myself. You may not have to do this, but management is all about learning about yourself and your tendencies and doing what it takes for you to keep that healthy bankroll alive!
I will be giving away three 250 Guaranteed Freeroll tickets to people who respond below. What is your best bankroll management method? Entries must be received by Wednesday at 10AM EST to Qualify.
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