Bankroll management

During your progression as a poker player there will be times when you have to make the decision whether or not to move up in stakes. To do this you have to be in tune with yourself and be aware of your goals in poker. Be introspective and ask yourself important ques‐ tions like “Am I committed to putting a lot of time into poker for the long haul or not?” or “Do I want to play for a living?”

The significance of these questions is that moving up in stakes is normally an investment. It is rare that when someone moves up in stakes they are immediate winners – the more likely outcome is an initial struggle to make it there. It will take significant investments of time to learn to adjust and improve to win at the new stakes. However, that investment will pay off in the long run because mov‐ ing up in stakes is a way to increase your win rate, and in poker win rates can improve with huge leaps or even exponentially. The ques‐ tion is are you going to put in the time and thinking required?

You may also ask yourself, “Do I have a family to support?” One of the most common ways for a person to tilt is when they are playing for money that is important to them. If you live off your money, or need it to support a family then the money you are playing with and money you are playing to win become even more important to you. Losing will cause a lot of stress, which is bad for living a healthy life and for playing good poker.

Then you may ask “Do I tilt easily?” The previous paragraph gave reasons why a person might tilt easily but – even ignoring that – a person might tilt more easily than most people just because it is in their personality. Be honest with yourself. If you have better mental discipline than most then you can move up in stakes faster, and if you lose it’s not as bad as for most people because you won’t com‐ pound the problem by going on tilt and losing even more. If how‐ ever you do tilt relatively easily, you have to be more conservative with bankroll management and moving up in stakes.

Finally you must ask “How good am I?” This is a straightforward question and, obviously, the better a player is, the less variance will affect them because they could be so good relative to their oppo‐ nents that they win even when experiencing negative variance. Thus if variance isn’t as much of an issue, a smaller bankroll is needed to sustain losses due to variance and the better a player is, the less money they need to try moving up in stakes.

Keep in mind that when you move up it will take some time to ad‐ just to new and better players. You might want to try playing a couple of tables at your current level and adding one table of a higher stakes game. That way, if you lose at the higher stakes game while you are adjusting, you will be bankrolling your losses by playing two tables of the game you are comfortable with. Think of this ad‐ justment period as an investment and soon you will learn and adjust to be able to play higher stakes successfully and make more money.

An additional advantage to moving up in stakes is that you are forced to refocus your game and improve your play. For example, when I started out in poker I moved up in stakes very aggressively. If I had ten buy‐ins to my name I considered that enough to play at a given level. Or if for some reason I didn’t have a lot of money online and had to start out at stakes extra low for me I’d give the stakes a go at five buy‐ins (although granted I did have more money in the bank) because my skill advantage was so huge over lower stakes players. The reason this worked for me is I had good mental disci‐ pline – I had no expenses or responsibilities and I was very commit‐ ted to the long term and ramping up my win rate as high as I could. So even if I lost money I could justify it to myself as an investment in the future and not be bothered too much. Also I had a lot of flexible free time so if I jumped up in stakes and lost I was able to play more hours than normal at lower stakes to win it back and then give the higher stakes another go.

Now five years later things are very different for me. A lot of my money is invested and poker is a part time job. I am not interested in making it the centerpoint of my life, and am not interested in study‐ ing the game as intensely as is needed to improve and move up in stakes further. Necessarily because of poker’s place in my life I play worse now than I used to – either you are moving up the ladder or down, it’s hard to stay in the same place. Now although I have much more money to my name then I used to I actually play lower stakes.

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