It doesn’t matter if you play poker professionally or as a hobby, the thing you want to avoid is running out of money. Maybe you made your first poker deposit, or someone gave you a free poker bankroll to get you started. Your goal should be to protect that initial investment and make it grow.
Why it’s important to manage your poker bankroll
First and foremost, it’s because you enjoy the game of poker. While it’s true that you can play poker for free at play money tables, the experience and the level of competition is very different when there is money on the line. Real money poker is much more fun than play money poker. Because you love playing the game, it is important that you play within your financial means, whatever they may be. If you run out of funds, then you’re back to the play money tables and that’s not as fun.
A common poker myth
“You need to play high stakes poker to make money”. Wrong! You can make a lot of money at low and middle stakes poker. While the payouts in high stakes poker are much more attractive, the bankroll required to play at those levels is one that most of us can’t afford. In addition, the higher the stakes, the harder it gets because the competition is a lot more skilled. There’s a lot more fishes in the low stakes limits than there are at the higher limits. Playing the lower limits to start means you can grind your pay check gradually, but steadily without having to put all your money on the line.
The appropriate stakes
Various authors and websites will explain that the proper bankroll is determined by a multiplier of the big blind. Typically, you’ll read about the requirement to have enough money to cover the cost of 300 to 500 big blinds. In other words, if you have $3000, you should play at tables where the blinds range from $3/$6 up to $5/$10. Many players think that with $1000 in their bankroll, they can afford to play $10/$20 tables and that’s not the case. If you take that $1000 bankroll and divide it by 500, the value of the BB appropriate to your bankroll would be $2, meaning you would play the $1-$2 tables. I personally like the 300 rule myself because I am a better than average player and I am aggressive in my goals.
If you’re an average player or a beginner, then the 500 rule is better suited for you. If you start out with a free poker bankroll of $25, simply divide $25 by 500 to end up with the BB amount of $0.05 or whatever table is closest to that amount, which are the $0.02/$0.04 tables in this case.
Just memorize this simple equation when you want to pick the proper cash game stakes:
“Total Bankroll” dived by 500 = appropriate BB value of the cash game table.
Changing the stakes
At some point you’ll need to consider playing different limits. Let’s say you’ve been playing at the $5/$10 tables and you’ve been very successful and managed to make your bankroll grow steadily, you’re probably thinking about moving up to the $10/$20 tables. You don’t have to wait until you reach a bankroll of $10,000 to make that move if you’ve been very successful up to this point. Perhaps you are a better than average player after all, so go ahead and test the waters but be prepared to drop back to $5/$10 if things don’t work out. You will notice a difference in the skill level of your opponents when you change levels. The higher the limit, the harder it gets. Don’t think your earnings will go up 25 times if you move from a $1/$2 table to a $25/$50 table. The competition will be much tougher at the higher limit and you will win less games overall. When you’re playing at a limit and you find yourself struggling because the competition mops the floor with you, then you should drop to lower limits where you perform better. Changing the stakes doesn’t necessarily mean you go up in levels. Sometimes dropping to a lower level is the intelligent choice.
Keep a log and set objectives
Don’t “guess” how well or how bad you’re doing in terms of winning or losing. You’ll notice that when we guess, we tend to be “about even” all the time. Stick with factual data because it is very important to know where you stand, how you perform, and to have a quantitative way of determining if your goals are accomplished or not. I like to operate on a monthly log, but if you play poker multiple hours every single day, consider using a weekly log. In this log, I track all of my activities: What kinds of tables I play at, the number of opponents, the game type (limit, no limit, etc), the buy-ins and payout structure, and of course my results.
By tracking my performances, I can quickly identify where I’m strong and where I’m weak. For instance, I may notice that I’m losing money at $5/$10 NL Hold’em, but making gains at the $5/$10 limit Hold’em tables. I like to play my strengths and what I would do in this case is spend more time playing the limit tables, and play a lower limit for the NL tables until I get better at it.
Set tangible and realistic goals. What is it going to take for you to move up to the next level? Write it down in your plan and use this for motivation. Don’t rush yourself, take your time and only move up limits once you can afford it, are comfortable with it, and give it some time. If you can’t manage to earn as much as you did in the previous limit, then drop back down until you get more experience. Never put all your eggs in one basket. That is your ticket to the play money tables. Protect your investment and make it grow. If you can manage to do this, then you’ll enjoy poker for the rest of your life.