Bankroll management - or lack thereof - is probably the number one reason people end up busting out of poker - and I'm not just talking about busting out of a game. I'm talking about busting out of the game.
Bankroll management is essentially tilt control.
In poker, our bankroll is pretty much all we have. It's our lifeline: it keeps us alive and allows us to play. If that balance hits 0, you're out of the game, and personally, I prefer to be in. This is why, as long as I can remember, I've always made bankroll management my top priority.
If you're smart with your money, you can take a miniscule amount and turn it into a fortune. It's been done countless times before. It just takes a commitment to patience, discipline and overcoming temptation.
Bankroll Management: The Anti-High
I think the main reason bankroll management tends to be ignored is because most people are drawn to poker by the prospect of winning big, fast. It's about the money and only the money. The game itself is just a means to an end. There's no real appreciation of the intricacies and artistry of the game. People go for the high. That's it.
People who ignore bankroll management are playing for the wrong reasons. Not like you.
You're reading this article, and you may even be a subscriber to our YouTube channel or play with us at Twitch. You're playing for the right reasons. You love the game, and you don't like losing. Everyone knows winning is a million times more fun than losing.
So if you don't like losing, then why is playing for money the wrong reason?
It isn't the wrong reason entirely, but winning fat stacks can't be the only reason you play poker. It leads to some bad habits.
If you only like the thrill of big money (i.e. that high I was talking about earlier), then chances are you've already deposited on a poker site and put it all on the line, just waiting to run up a big stack, but ended up busted in a short period, the majority of the time.
How to Create Good Habits through Bankroll Management
The best way to learn to play properly is to play for low limits where the competition is softer. If you can ignore the fact that you're playing for about $2 an hour and making less than a minimum wage job at first, perfect. When you do play for big money, you'll have the foundations of a proper skill set and you'll enjoy a higher likelihood of success than those who were reckless.
Is the juice worth the squeeze?
Too many times I've heard people say they want to be great, profitable players, but they aren't willing to do the grunt work for $10 stacks. To be blunt, unless you're willing to learn at low stakes, you're wasting your time and I'd rather have you as an opponent over a student.
If you want to be successful, my advice ensures that learning to be a strong player will cost you next to nothing money-wise. It's the time investment that's important.
Here are my bankroll recommendations that will keep you from busting out:
1. Adequate Buy-Ins, Unlimited Money.
For cash games, you want 40 buy-ins for whatever stake you are playing. For sit 'n' gos, you want 60 buy-ins for whatever stake you’re playing and for multi-table tournaments (MTTs), you want 100 buy-ins for whatever stake. Bear in mind these are aggressive bankroll management numbers, and while they are not set in stone, they’ll keep your stack pretty safe.
The 'Unlimited Money' promise is simple: if you play within your bankroll, you'll be desensitized from the pain of losing money because it will only be a small percentage of your total bankroll.
If you're playing a solid game and winning more than losing in the long run, and you're investing only a small portion at a time, it should feel like you have unlimited money to play your poker game. You can always reload, you can always have a full stack. You'll never feel like you're running on empty.
Now, it's important to remember that these are the minimum buy-ins you need to play certain stakes. If your bankroll ever drops below the minimum requirements, you should drop stakes to re-build. By dropping stakes when you have a large amount of buy-ins, you'll make sure you never go broke.
Downswings happen, but to go broke using my system, you'd have to lose 40 buy-ins at every stakes starting at wherever you are. You'd have to lose 40 at $1/$2, 40 at $$0.50/$1, 40 at $0.25/$0.50 - all the way down. THAT sort of downswing is not bad luck or bad coaching. That's weak playing.
It can be frustrating having to move down stakes, but all successful players have done it. It's just part of the learning process.
2. Overcoming Variance.
Why is the buy-in number higher for MTTs than cash games? Variance, my friends. Tournaments are much more dependent on luck than cash games. This is why we see absolute nobodies winning tournaments. While it doesn't mean there is no skill involved, it does mean that luck plays a bigger role; this variance will determine whether we win or lose in these short-run games.
Cash games also involve luck (obviously - it's gambling), but since cash games can be repeated over and over (you can top up your stack), you can't lose your cash game life. You can in a tournament when you run out of chips.
By having adequate buy-ins, you'll be able to see enough hands to let the coolers balance out. For every bad beat you get, you'll dish one back. For every set-up hand you take, you'll set one up yourself. You'll always have enough money to reload, because you'll have enough for the stake you’re playing.
Moreover, since you can play to eternity on your bankroll if you follow the restrictions, you can hit the long run, when it all comes down to skill. This long run case will never be true in tournaments, since they're a short run game. Even MTT pros go long periods without winning. This is why I suggest being very conservative when investing in MTTs and focusing primarily on cash game play where you can consistently grind out a profit. Save MTTs for fun, or for when you've developed as a player and can handle yourself in a rockier terrain.
The idea here at Gripsed is that you don't have to make more than one deposit, so stick by my cash game guidelines and you'll be golden.
3. Scared Money.
Adequate buy-ins will also allow you to play confidently. I'll admit it, I've gotten in over my head, and I'm sure some of you have to. It sucks. When you're in over your head, you’re passive, easy to bluff, and afraid to pull the trigger on a big move because the money seems so big. Playing bigger than your bankroll leads to poor playing. Precious few people play better under these circumstances, so follow my bankroll rules, and stay safe - and in the money.
4. Know When to Quit.
Even the most level, experienced players tilt. It's called being human. I'm guilty of it. Take one too many bad beats, and you lose it. This is when it's important to take a step back and ask yourself if you're playing your best game.
Ask yourself if you're acting the way you usually would act. Are you calling raises without proper odds? Re-raising just to push people back? Limping trash? Making big, crying hero calls with sketchy hands?
If you see yourself exhibiting any of these signs, take a break for an hour or two. Maybe even a day or a few days. Regroup. The games are always going to be there. There will always be donks and fish. Just because the game is good right now doesn't mean you have to play it. If you're not feeling your best, don't play. Odds are those same fish and donks will be there tomorrow, and you can rake them over the coals then. You're not going to miss the action just because you take a day off.
The devil of poker. Downswings are characterized by losing multiple buy-ins, like 10 or more. There's no way around it. Sometimes variance just whoops us. Now, the tighter you play and if you play full ring rather than short hand, the more rare they will be, but they will happen. Even the best players have plenty of downswings over the course of their career, but if you follow the rules I've outlined above and drop stakes when suggested, the downswings won't define you.
Above all, remember...
Losing happens, but if we never lost, we'd never try to improve. And that's why you're here at Gripsed - to get better. Play your A-game, and the chips will come. I promise.
If you really want to broaden your practical and theoretical knowledge of bankroll management, I strongly urge you to read up on the Kelly Criterion. It’ll teach you what you need to know about risk versus reward through strategic bet-sizing.