Every poker player should treat their bankroll as if their life depends upon it. In fact, many of us do, but there are plenty who don’t and always fall foul of the same flaws in their preparation and execution.
So what can a player do if they perpetually bust their poker bankroll and are forced to start again, either from the very smallest stakes or saving up their hard-earned cash from working?
First, for the newest players, the first rule is always to keep their poker bankroll separate from the rest of their money. This is a golden rule, but yet again one that is roundly ignored by many.
If any reader is feeling disheartened over their own bankroll management, don’t feel too down about it because as it turns out you’re in good company in the big scheme of things.
Stu Ungar, one of the greatest poker players of all time, was hideously bad at managing his money. Both poker bankroll and life money, would you believe. Over his entire career, he won a reported $30 million and died flat broke.
Always Play Within Your BankrollIt might sound obvious but there’s no point in having a bankroll if you don’t follow any system as to what size games to play. The idea of keeping your poker bankroll separate isn’t to stop you from pilfering from your bank account, it’s to allow you to correctly manage what stakes you play based on skill level and risk tolerance.
For cash game players, it is thought that for your regular games that 30-50 buy-ins will keep most players safe from going busto. But this also depends on how well you can beat that game too.
Some players choose to play lower than what their skill level allows for, which will let them use a more aggressive bankroll strategy, but those who are pushing themselves must be more conservative.
There is also shot taking to take into account. Not every player feels comfortable trying to move up in stakes and many will just stick to their favourite game without any ambition, however, those who do should consider shots at the next level up for around five buy-ins. Do not get carried away thinking you can plow through a bad patch thinking that the variance might turn around.
MTT players are still arguing today over what is a sensible bankroll strategy for tournaments, even after 24 years of online poker. Anything from 200-500 buy-ins is considered normal depending on stakes and whether amateur or professional.
The advice above still generally applies to MTT players but more flexibility is required due to scheduling. MTT players use an average buy-in strategy and must decide how far to flex from the mean.
Keep Detailed Results of All SessionsTo know what stakes you should be playing, you must have an accurate record of past results. As an online player, this is simple enough on the many sites which allow poker databases. In this case, each session can be reviewed in detail with an overall picture easy to see.
For live players and online players who prefer sites that don’t allow HUDs, it’s going to take a bit more effort. But don’t worry it’s a lot simpler these days than in the past because there are countless smartphone/tablet apps that allow you to plug in all of the relevant numbers in seconds.
Detailed records to review hands are important for improvement and also to feel that you are plugging leaks and making progress.
Game Selection Is Still KingIt’s no secret that poker is tougher today than at any time in the past but people seem to have forgone to old classic advice of game selecting heavily to ensure the softest playing environment at whatever stakes you play.
Consider how strong the average opponent is at your stakes along with rake and rakeback to help you along. Playing in games where your edge is minimal will lead to wild swings and a worsening mindset.
Ambitious players can take this advice a step further and factor in the benefits of playing against stronger opposition with the view that this will lead to a faster rate of improvement when pushing aggressively up the stakes.
Reverting to soft games to feel comfortable might make for a more enjoyable experience but it isn’t the best way to improve your skills. This is a decision each player must make for themselves always keeping in mind that playing higher stakes than normal will put your bankroll at risk.
Final ThoughtsKeeping a poker bankroll intact is a far from an easy proposition. One of the oldest cliches in poker is that a losing player will never have a big enough bankroll because they always go broke. But this must be understood because it forms the basis of all bankroll management strategy.
Players must always be honest with themselves about their skill level and do their best to understand how much variance is at play in any recent or long-term sample.
Once this is taken into account, any player’s poker career will run much more smoothly. Keep to the rules that you set yourself and never be afraid to move down if results are not meeting your expectations.