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Bankroll Management

Written by Saeid “BnB” Halvaeian

Many poker players firmly believe that poker is a game which requires more skill than luck. However, once all the chips are pushed into the middle of the table and hole cards lie exposed, nothing can be done about what the flop, turn and river bring. As well as you may have played on all previous streets, there’s just no telling how the cards will fall when you’re all in.

Because of this luck factor, players often find themselves amidst hot streaks and cold streaks. These ups and downs are commonly regarded as the effects of variance. Winning players don’t win all the hands they play, and while they may have played a certain hand exceptionally well, they could very well lose the pot due to variance.

Poker Bankroll Strategy

Variance can last for hours in a session, or for many sessions in a week. There is no way of knowing when you’ll stop “running bad,” and to combat this, players must take certain steps to protect their online bankrolls.

The most common method is through Bankroll Management (BRM), which refers to playing poker within your financial means. The concept is simple enough: play with a small percentage of your bankroll to lower the effects of variance while padding your account at a steady rate.

The problem that many players run into, however, is actually adhering to bankroll management rules. Players are mistakenly anxious at the opportunity to jump into a 6-max $1/$2 NL game with just $1k in their accounts. The (often false) hope of winning hundreds blinds them from realizing that they’re just one sick two-outer away from losing 20% of their bankroll.

I began my personal poker journey with a $50 bankroll on UltimaeBet, one of the best poker sites, and had the good fortune of winning a few low-stake MTTs right off the bat. I was on cloud nine and became really excited about playing. I took a lot of risks by jumping into NL200 ($1/$2) games. I was yet again met with good fortune and after just six months of playing I had ran my $50 initial deposit into nearly $2,500.

Fifteen days later, I had lost my entire bankroll, save for a small withdrawal I had made to show my friends that my work was paying off. The check I got in the mail meant nothing to me however. I had lost nearly $2,000 in a span of few weeks and it made me sick. At the time I blamed it on a combination of variance and tilt. When I tell the story now, I add poor bankroll management to the list. I circle it, underline it, and bold it for emphasis. I agree that variance and tilt are hazardous, but I firmly believe that neither are reasons for losing a poker bankroll that you’ve worked hard for.

Players practice bankroll management in a variety of different ways. Generally speaking though, all bankroll management is similar: you have a certain amount of buy-ins for a certain level/stake. Some players are comfortable maintaining a 20 buy-in rule, while other players are more conservative and enforce a 50 buy-in rule.
Consider the following scenario: you are primarily a cash game player and have a bankroll of $300. Assuming that 1) you buy-in to cash games with a full stack (200 big blinds) and that 2) you adhere to a 20 buy-in bankroll management rule, you should be playing NL10 ($0.05/$0.10) since you have 30 buy-ins for that level. You cannot play NL25 ($0.10/$0.25) because you only have 12 buy-ins for that level. Once your roll becomes relatively close to $400, it becomes okay to take small stabs at NL25. Once you clear $400, move up.

Also important to remember is that there is no shame in moving down stakes. While it can be difficult to adjust to winning smaller pots (some players begin to feel apathetic or bored by size of the pots after moving back down), it is crucial to follow your bankroll management guidelines.

The number of buy-ins a player allots to him or herself depends on the player. There are two primary factors: player skill and also importance of bankroll. The later sounds funny, but recall that some players are playing for recreational purposes and don’t mind playing too high and re-depositing money onto the poker site. For the more serious player though, one who is playing for a source of income or perhaps doesn’t have the means to re-deposit, setting a conservative bankroll management plan is the way to go towards steady profit.

Thousands of dollars are transferred from hand-to-hand everyday on the online felt. Poker players can become accustomed to having hundreds of dollars thrown their way out of nowhere. It is important to never forget the value of a dollar. Protect your money through bankroll management.

“The mark of a top player is not how much he wins when he is winning but how he handles his losses. If you win for thirty days in a row, that makes no difference if on the thirty-first you have a bad night, go crazy, and throw it all away." - Bobby Baldwin

Additional Information:

Chip Reese interview about Bankroll Management and what makes a great poker player.