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Your Bankroll: Where It All Begins

Earlier in this book we talked quite a bit about the importance of intelligently establishing and managing your bankroll. Serious poker players put a lot of thought into this seemingly basic requisite of the game. As a general topic, it’s often referred to as money management. The really tough hombres—professional poker players—think about this stuff on an entirely different level, because they are actually making their living at the game. For the beginning or casual player, however, your bankroll can be defined simply as the amount of money that you have available to wager at any given time.

In a broad sense, these are the funds you use to play any and all poker games offered by the online cardroom—cash game or tournament. It’s essentially the amount of cash currently in your real-money player account. In a more specific sense, though, your bankroll can also mean the amount of chips you bring to the table for a particular cash game—your starting chips. (The bankroll concept in this case doesn’t really apply to tournaments, because everyone starts with the same amount of chips.) The chips that you bring to a cash game may or may not be equal to the total amount of money in your account.


Poker Pros and Bankrolls For the working poker professional, those lucky few talented and persistent enough to play the game for a living, the concepts of bankroll and money management are very serious, concrete concerns. That’s because the professional poker pro must maintain a certain amount of capital to compete in cash games and tournaments with stakes appropriate to his or her game. If the bankroll gets too short, the player must fall back to lower-stakes games or find another source of revenue. The professional’s bankroll works essentially as the operating capital for that player’s personal small business (or large business, as the case may be). Of course, poker pros have to pay the bills just like the rest of us, and so they must derive some sort of personal income from their playing. The pros map out their finances very carefully, and essentially pay themselves a living salary from their winnings. When a player converts too much of an operating bankroll into personal income, it can put the entire operation in jeopardy. History is littered with once-successful poker players who lost it all by bleeding off their winnings and failing to maintain an operational bankroll. Some players who are down on their luck and low on personal resources will agree to be a horse, taking on a financial backer who fronts the bankroll for a percentage of that player’s winnings.


The core idea here is that you want to have enough starting chips to ride out any short-term fluctuations in the game. Let’s take the example of limit Texas Hold ’Em. Assuming you’ve chosen a table that is appropriate for your level of play, your starting chips should be of an amount that keeps you in the game even if you take a few bad beats or you’re just not catching cards.

The amounts discussed earlier are aimed at beginning and casual players. For a single session of play, 10 times the big blind is an absolute minimum. In a limit game of $3/$6 Hold ’Em, $60 will sustain a conservative player for the minimum amount of time to make the session worthwhile.

20 times the big bet is a better starting amount, if that fits into your budget. In our $3/$6 example, then, you want to bring $120 in chips to the table. If you play smart poker against opponents of a similar skill level, this will keep you in the game long enough to settle in and get a feel for the table. You can wager without worrying too much about your stack, and this frees you up to apply your full arsenal of strategic weapons. This is why your starting chips can be thought of as an issue of strategy. At the low-stakes limit level, having more starting chips opens up more options down the line and protects you from power surges of plain bad luck.

Players looking to maintain a starting bankroll through several sessions of play—weeks, months, even years—should probably consider the issues of starting chips and overall bankroll separately. And big-bet poker games of the pot limit and no limit variety require a different approach entirely. Generally speaking, if you’re a beginning player interested in big-bet cash games, find the table with the lowest blinds and buy in with as many chips as you can afford.

F    Remember that at most online cardrooms you have the option to play in low-level tournaments instead, where all players start with the same stack—almost always a better option for the beginning player.



2005 Deal Me In! Online Cardrooms, Big Time Tournaments, and The New Poker Book . All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed)

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