In my eyes, Bankroll Management is one of the most overlooked and under-appreciated parts of poker strategy. This article will break down the variables involved in deciding which stakes you should play, how many buy-ins you need to play those stakes, when to adjust your Bankroll Management strategy, and when to move up or down in stakes.
I will discuss online cash, zoom vs regular tables, and live cash games. We will also talk about shot taking, mindset, edge, variance, game selection, selling action and short stacking, finishing with the top 3 reasons I see causing people to bust their bankrolls.
As a general guideline, you can use these numbers to start with and then adjust the strategy based on the aspects outlined in this article.
Why do zoom games require a bigger bankroll than regular games?
Zoom games generally have a higher rake and a lack of game selection. In regular games, we can choose games with weaker players and decide not to play against reg filled tables, but we do not have this luxury in zoom, so the overall win rate is likely to be lower.
Remember that Bankroll Management is flexible and fluid - you don't have to employ the same strategy today as yesterday. Finding what works for you is what matters, and at the end of the day, it's essentially just a question of your appetite for risk.
My best advice for managing your bankroll effectively is - to be honest about your ability and be conservative with your money.
Let's look at some factors that we should consider when deciding which stakes we should be playing.
How are you feeling going into the session? Are you focused on playing your best, putting concepts you've been studying into practice and focusing on the input, or are you feeling distracted, low energy, splashy, or focused on the money/trying to win?
Are you someone who tilts easily? Whether it's through losing, winning or external factors such as a grating player, a bad experience earlier in the day, or because the Starbucks barista got your order wrong, people experience tilt in different ways and with different intensities.
Tilt is one of the most destructive powers in poker, and the most skilled player in the world will be a rapid loser if he cannot control his emotions. When we feel like our mental game is at its best and have been putting good results together, we should be taking shots. Having the discipline to limit yourself to playing below your max stake when you're not feeling confident is a skill that few people possess, but one that can drastically alter the trajectory of your bankroll.
How much studying do you do? How much of a sample do you have, and what is your win rate over that sample? A player with a 10bb/100 win rate over 100k hands can employ a drastically different Bankroll management strategy than a player with a 3bb/100 win rate, although both players beat the game.
The player with the 10bb/100 win rate has developed a strategy to win more and lose less in spots that the 3bb/100 player is yet to discover.
The difference will significantly impact the size of the swings each player experiences, as the higher the win rate, the less variance a player will experience.
Less variance means fewer buy-ins are needed to play comfortably, and we can play more confidently at the tables!
How much experience do you have with poker swings?
Newer players may struggle with the feeling of losing five or ten buy-ins in an online session or getting stacked twice in a live game, which can negatively affect the profitability of re-buying. An effective poker player must learn to master their emotions, and those who have developed this side of themselves will always come out on top.
It's all very well having fifty buy-ins for a game. Still, if losing three buy-ins makes you so tilted that you lose five more, you will need a much more padded Bankroll than a player with the same skill level who brushes off losing with ease and can maintain their A-game no matter how the session is going.
A big part of building a solid mindset comes from experience.
Higher rake = Higher variance and lower win rates.
Meaning we need to operate with more caution as we will experience much larger swings to win money. The higher the rake, the more buy-ins we need, and at a certain point, the rake becomes too high even to consider playing in the first place. Look for/ask for the rake structure of the games you intend to play and make adjustments accordingly.
Anything over 10% rake (depending on the cap) in a live setting and 6% online is very high and will drastically impact your profitability in the game.
Game selection and edge are tied together. The softer your opposition, the bigger your edge, the lower the variance and the more money you make.
We go back to the 3bb/100 vs 10bb/100 player - it's possible to be both of these guys, depending on the other players in your game!
I might be a 10bb/100 crusher in one lineup full of exploitable fish, but a losing or breakeven player against a different set of stronger players. Objectively assessing your ability and the ability of your opponents is key to making good decisions when it comes to game selection.
If you are a strong regular who finds a high stakes game filled with a couple of active recreational players and some regulars, then you can and should be willing to shot take aggressively.
Income and expenses
Is your bankroll also your life roll, or is poker something you have funds deliberately isolated for? Do you have a job? Do you have any sources of passive income? What does your future look like if you don't win/lose money for the next 3-6 months?
All of the variables that decide how to utilise your bankroll best are connected, and only you know your financial situation. Being honest about your finances and being conservative when estimating expenses is always good.
When most people play poker, they quest after playing the highest stakes possible. In my experience, most players tend to lean towards playing higher and be somewhat under rolled than play at a level that they're comfortable or over rolled.
I think this is at least in part human nature, but in practice, it can have a substantial negative impact. Just as big winning sessions can boost our confidence, a significant loss at a higher stake than you're used to can set you back mentally, some people more than others.
Another way to test yourself at higher stakes without massively exposing yourself financially is to sell action. It's common practice in tournaments and cash games to sell action, and if you have a previous sample of hands showing you can beat the game at the levels you currently play, you should have no problem finding buyers!
Selling action is an excellent way to move up in stakes and gain experience with the players and the swings at the new buy-in level while maintaining a reduced risk. You can tailor the amount you sell to suit your bankroll, and if you have a strong win rate at your previous buy-in level, you can even charge a markup on the action you sell.
Allowing the seller to reduce variance by earning money for the EV they create by playing without going through the variance involved with winning. It also allows the investor room to profit on his investment, as the markup should be much lower than the player's win rate.
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