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Poker Strategy | Advanced Poker

Poker Bankroll Management

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The ATM machine began as my bankroll. After meeting with a client in Phoenix, I headed to Casino Arizona, withdrew $200 from the ATM, sat down at a $4/8 table with a rack of white chips, and I was playing poker. After 90 minutes of chasing flushes, the dealer yelled "Chips!" Another hundred dollars got me more white chips. I was able to hold onto these a little longer and ended up losing $60 total for the night. It cost me less than most rounds of golf in Phoenix, so I was a happy camper.

I travel a great deal, playing at any casino I can find, and I've been able to move up to $15/30 whenever I'm at the Bellagio or Foxwoods . I'm not ready to sit down in the big games, but I'm able to play from my winnings without dipping back into the ATM.

Next up was Party Poker : $100 deposit, $4/8. Busted! $200 deposit, $2/4. After investing another $1200 or so, and holding my own, then losing it all, I quit playing online. For whatever reason, I was not a good poker player online. Fast forward another six months, a final $500 deposit was built to almost $5,000 online, then another crash to erase $3,500 of this in a matter of 10 days, wiping out weeks of hard earned pots over three months.

Welcome to Bankroll Management Anonymous. I am Craig Cunningham, and I have a bankroll management problem.

The common rule of thumb for a bankroll is 300 times the big blind, although some professional players will suggest a number as high as 1000 times the big blind. Many players are closer to the 1000 number online and 300 for live games. Most will advocate 25-100 buy-in's for NLHE as a good rule of thumb.

Why are these good guidelines for us?

There are two main reasons that we lose a pot: we either fold our hand or we're beaten by a better hand from someone that doesn't fold. As Phil Hellmuth has famously said, "If luck weren't involved, I guess I'd win every one of these." Sometimes luck means having a strong hand but someone else catching two pair or a straight. Other times luck means starting with a great hand only to be up against an even better hand. Luck combined with not making the right decisions leads to losing pots. Lose enough pots through not improving, having villains catch cards, or bluffing and getting called and suddenly we've lost a pile of chips. The need for a poker bankroll comes from weathering these storms and still being able to play.

Even when a player is good enough to make the right decisions and stay immune to the emotional toll of losing, every poker player will have a run of several losing sessions. If we play at stakes where can weather these losses, then we can have six or seven losing sessions that result in a significant loss yet still play on. How ‘significant' really depends on bankroll management. If you're playing with a bankroll of 50-100BB (for example, $200-500 for a $2/4 game), it only takes a small string of misfortune and poor play to wipe out a bankroll. Most of us don't have unlimited wealth, so protecting our bankroll truly becomes our enabler to continue to play.

How do you know if you have a bankroll management problem? Here are a few signs:

  • -Replenishing your bankroll. Dipping into your pocket for more chips is different than having to come up with something in your pocket in the first place. If your bank statement has a few poker related withdrawals, then you probably are playing at stakes beyond your bankroll.
  • Wins and losses of >15% of your bankroll. Swings like this mean that you're putting too much of your bankroll at risk during any one session. Notice that wins of >15% of your bankroll is included in this. Too often we only focus on bad sessions as an indicator of problems with our play.
  • -Losses impacting our decision making. Most of us think of tilt as something that happens after a bad beat, we go on tilt. Tilt can also be a state of mind over a period of time. It comes in two forms: trying to make something happen by loosening up significantly or wimping out - either being bullied or tightening up too much.
  • Not having a bankroll. For some casual players, each session is a new start. They dip into their wallets or purses and off they go. For the long term players, you need data and accountability of your progress and the bankroll is one of the key metrics.

If you find that you do have a bankroll management problem, it's best to investigate the specifics. Do you have some big leaks in your game? Are you jumping up in stakes to chase your losses, compounding the problem? Are there certain games or players that are cleaning your clock? If you have friends that can help you figure it out, you might find some more honest assessments of what the problem is. Remember, proper bankroll management leads to not going broke, which leads to continuing to play. Which leads to improving. Which leads to winning and becoming a better player. Ignore it at your own peril.

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