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Poker Bankroll Management

Poker Bankroll Management"Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes."
-- Henry David Thoreau


I write a lot about how poker is a game of the long run, and really needs to be viewed that way. In the heat of the moment it's reasonable to forget that, but it's a disaster to not understand this at a basic level, and merely think superficially. Here's one example.

Bankroll management is one of the most important skills necessary to be a winning player over the long haul. It's a poker skill as surely as bluffing and game choice and starting hand selection. An adequate bankroll can compensate for a lot of weaknesses in a player's game, while an inadequate bankroll can (and usually will) often kill a player playing spectacularly.

But some people have a pretty peculiar idea of what a "bankroll" is. Many players don't even have a bankroll. Microsoft's Bill Gates sometimes plays 3-6 in Las Vegas. It could be said that Bill is adequately bankrolled for that game, but more accurately, he has no poker bankroll. Bankroll is a non-issue for well-to-do players playing at a small or moderate limit.

On the other hand, for purely professional players, bankroll is everything. It's like a truck to a truck driver. If you don't have one, you don't work (or you work for someone else). Bankroll is the issue for these players.

In between these two groups falls the mass of players, and here is where a poker "bankroll" starts to befuddle many people.

I have seen quite a few people refer to something called a "session bankroll", apparently the amount of money a player should put at risk in a certain game on a certain day. Others then also wonder how much they should buy-in to a game for (for instance, $100 for a 3-6 game). It's hard to come up with two less important strategy issues in all of poker!

To winning or breakeven players with an adequate job for their lifestyle (meaning they don't absolutely need poker income to maintain their basic lifestyle), and to players who depend on poker for part of their income, how much money they put into action any particular day should be a reflection of decisions they've made based on the amount of money they have consciously deemed their overall poker bankroll. They should've already chosen to play at a limit where the results of any particular day have virtually zero ramifications to their overall bankroll -- as long as they have the sense to not turn a "day" or a "session" into a 54-hour hemorrhage-fest.

If you are a winning or breakeven player, playing at a limit you are adequately bankrolled for, what you do on Tuesday is irrelevant. What you buy-in for also is irrelevant (as long as you always have enough chips in front of you to play each hand as it should be played). The dollars you are winning or losing that day should be irrelevant in your considerations of when to quit the game. What matters is playing correctly, here and now, in conjunction with a preconceived, sensible, overall strategy. To oversimplify it, this means: play good at a limit you can afford to play. The other considerations are not just trivial, they are giving in to superficial thinking, which reflects a flaw in your mental game.

What about losing players? That's even easier. Losing players should bring to the casino exactly the amount of money they can afford to lose -- both on a dollar basis and a psychological one. And they should mentally put all that money on the table when they sit down. Buy-in for any amount more than the minimum needed to play each hand, but consider all your afford-to-lose money on the table -- no more, no less.

Bankroll issues are usually more a function of personal circumstance than poker variance. So, what is an adequate bankroll for a winning or breakeven player with specific life responsibilities playing a specific game is another, more complex question. It's an important question. What is not important, as long as you exercise a microscopic amount of self-control, is how you do on any particular day. Expending brain cells to think about how much to risk on a day, or how much to sit at the table with (unless you are considering image issues), is missing the point of winning poker. Winning is doing, and the reasons you do. Forget the superficial and focus on the important.

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