Bankroll Management
by Jason Kirk  

As a poker player, your bankroll is your lifeblood. Without it you can’t play - it doesn’t get any simpler than that. Despite this simple truth, many people don’t see bankroll management as a skill of the same importance as being able to calculate pot odds or read your opponents. All the skills you can wield in the game don’t mean anything, though, if you blow all the money as soon as you win it. For a purely recreational player, learning to protect your bankroll can be the difference between enjoying freerolling and paying for your hobby. For a player who wants to move up in limits, it’s one of the most important skills you can have.

The first thing to do is to establish a definition of what your bankroll is: it’s money you can afford to lose. Don’t put any money into your poker bankroll that you can’t comfortably part with if worst comes to worst. Paying rent, putting food in your stomach, taking care of your health, and paying your bills should always come before poker. If they don’t, you’ve got much larger problems than an article like this could ever address and you probably won’t be playing poker for very long.

 Second, let your bankroll dictate what limit you’ll be playing. A standard rule of thumb is that a good player should have 300 big bets (BB) at his regular level of play, e.g. $3000 for a 5-10 hold’em game. That’s an amount large enough to cover 95% of the swings you’ll experience. If you go on a horrible run you might lose all 300 BB, but in most cases the downswings you experience will just be normal fluctuations. (There’s a caveat here for multi-tablers: you should have 300 BB for the average number of tables you play.) If you drop under 300 BB total in your bankroll you’ll be endangering one of two things: your ability to keep playing solid aggressive poker as you naturally become more protective of your money, or your ability to play poker at all if you continue to play an aggressive game and your bad run doesn’t end. It’s for this reason that I like to have a cushion of 100-200 BB above what I actually need for the limit I’m regularly playing - normal downswings aren’t going to affect my ability to play my regular game.

Third, don’t be too proud to move down in limits if your bankroll’s in bad shape. If your bankroll dips below 300 BB for the limit you’re playing after you finish your session, you need to be absolutely certain that your next session is at a limit your bankroll can support. Otherwise you’re leaving your ability to play poker to chance. One of the benefits of poker, as compared to other forms of gambling, is that you can minimize the effects of chance over the long run through the application of skill - so why sacrifice that advantage voluntarily? Chances are you can beat the next level down relatively easily, so take the step down for a bit and rebuild your bankroll. As Marsellus Wallace told Butch Coolidge in Pulp Fiction, “Pride only never helps.” Don’t be too proud to keep your bankroll in good repair.

Last, don’t make a habit of using your bankroll for anything but poker. Many people feel that their bankroll is money that can be tossed around, and that’s fine if you don’t plan on playing your current game forever. If you don’t plan on playing 2-4 hold’em for the rest of your life, though, you need to limit your bankroll to poker. That means no -EV gambling (craps, blackjack, roulette, slots, etc.) and no lavish dinners every time you have a solid session. There’s nothing wrong with taking money out for a small reward for yourself from time to time, but that only holds true as long as you make this the exception rather than the rule. If it does become the rule, you should probably have a lot more than 300 BB to play your regular game.

Managing your bankroll really boils down to discipline. There are many players who could play higher limits than they do if they were simply to place a few limits on themselves. If moving up is a goal of yours, you should take careful stock of how you treat your bankroll. Managing it wisely is best insurance a poker player can have.

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