Playing on a Small Bankroll
2006 Jason Kirk  

If you're a small-stakes player who's serious about building a bankroll and moving up to bigger games, you're in for a bigger challenge than you might know. Starting off with a small deposit only leads to bigger things through plenty of hard work and effort. Beyond the personal effort required, there's the matter of the rake. Players whose bankrolls keep them from moving above low limits are hurt the most by the rake because they have to earn more big bets per hour to overcome it. There are plenty of things a small-bankroll player can do to help himself get ahead, and none of them require superhuman effort.

The first thing those with low bankrolls can do is stick strictly to cash games. Even the best tournament players in the world go on long-term losing streaks where they don't make any money for months at a time. That's because of the live-or-die nature of tournaments, in which one mistake or bit of rough luck determines when any player's day ends. Cash games are a much more reliable source of profit than tournaments, especially for those with limited means.

The next thing for a player with a limited bankroll to do is limit his cash game variance. Most often this means playing full-ring games rather than shorthanded games. In games with few players at the table, your range of playable hands in any game of poker has to widen considerably. Playing a larger number of hands raises your variance, so sticking to full-ring games is one of the best ways to make sure your swings aren't too big for you to handle. Another way to reduce variance is to play fixed-limit games instead of no-limit or pot-limit games - unless you're a total maniac, it's much harder to lose large amounts of money when playing limit.

Also worth considering is sticking strictly to online poker. Online poker rooms tend to charge a much lower rake than casino poker rooms, thanks to the lower overhead associated with doing business in virtual space. (Also, there's no need to tip anyone online.) Where you might find a 10% or higher maximum rake in a casino poker room, more often than not you'll find rakes in the neighborhood of 5% at online poker rooms. Another factor to note is the rake structure at your favorite limit - some rooms begin collecting rake immediately (e.g. $.25 for the first $5 in the pot) rather than waiting for the pot to hit a certain size (e.g. $1 for the first $20 in the pot).

Any player with a limited bankroll who's primarily playing limit hold'em should give serious consideration to playing solely a straight-ahead, tight-aggressive game. If tight-aggressive limit hold'em doesn't sound as fun to you as being the table maniac - well, you'll probably make a great poker player because you've been paying attention. But if you really want to grow your bankroll you need to either put fun at the bottom of your priority list or learn to find the joy in limit hold'em. Playing tight-aggressive poker wins the most money in limit hold'em, and that should be the only concern for a player trying to build a bankroll for taking on bigger games.

Finally, stay conservative when choosing the limits you play. If you only have $2,000 to play on, don't plan on making $5-10 or $10-20 your regular game - your bankroll isn't big enough to withstand the normal swings of variance you should expect to weather in those games. Plan on keeping a bankroll with at least 300 big bets for whatever limit you choose to play, and don't play over your head unless you've scouted out a great opportunity at a higher limit and have decided beforehand that you're willing to accept the loss of a buy-in if worst comes to worst.

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