Bankroll Management in Live Poker
In live poker, bankroll management is a special topic, because it can't really be compared to online poker. When you are playing in brick and mortar poker rooms, you'll be handling real cash. You may not only need to bring thousands in cash with you when you go to play, but you'll also need to keep track of how much is won, lost, and how much you have left to work with.
One of the biggest mistakes that you can make as a live poker player is to simply play each day without any regard for how much money you are winning or losing. Record keeping is absolutely critical to your success. It's very much a repeated theme in poker that the small things will separate the long term winners and losers. If you aren't willing to put in the extra work away from the felt, you should expect lessened returns on your play.
Bankroll management in live poker doesn't mean that you keep a box somewhere and put money in it. You don't need to grab wads of cash and place it back away when you are done with a session (though there isn't anything necessarily wrong with this.) Most people will keep their significant amounts of cash safely in a bank account. This won't only prevent you from losing the money, but it will also allow you to easily determine how much money you have on hand at any given moment. After you have your money carefully stored in a bank account, there are a handful of other steps that you'll need to take.
Separating Life and Poker Rolls
A term that poker players like to use is "life roll," which is in reference to how much money they have access to altogether.
Your bankroll may be $3,000, but your total life roll may very well be closer to $20,000. The important thing to remember is that you should try to not make your life and poker bankrolls one in the same thing. This is the type of situations that will allow you to lose more money than you can truly afford. Beyond this, taking shots shouldn't be done if it means that you'll need to dip into money that is truly meant for other expenses and uses.
The easiest, although not always the most practical, way to separate your two bankrolls is to have two different bank accounts. Many serious live poker players find that this makes for very easy accounting. It will also help to ensure that you aren't pulling money from your normal checking that's intended to be used elsewhere. This is a very simple way to ensure that your money is kept apart from itself, but it also requires that you have the will power to not break your own rules.
Tracking Wins and Losses
We're going to break this down into two very important parts:
There are many poker players who trick themselves into thinking that they are winning players, but this isn't based on anything other than their own personal recollection. The truth is much more than the majority of poker players are indeed losing players. Anyone can win for a day, a week, even a month, but a weak player will ultimately lose to their stronger opponents if they play enough hands. No matter how sure you are that you win money playing poker, only accurate and honest record keeping will be able to absolutely prove it.
A heater isn't a reason to be taking big and risky shots in bigger games, but a 200 hour sample with a solid win rate can be enough motivation to take your game to the next level. This isn't necessarily an element of live poker that's directly involved in bankroll management, but it will make it that much easier to ensure that your wins are maximized and that your losses are minimized.
How Much You Need
The biggest question that brick and mortar poker players have in regards to bankroll management is the most obvious:
While this answer is hardly cut and dry, it's much easier to answer than it would be for online players. There are three primary limits that most Texas Hold'em players will be participating in:
As you move to higher and higher limits, the more buy ins that you will need. This is one of the fundamental reasons why the player pool thins out as you move to bigger games.
No Limit games will typically carry buy ins that range from $200 Max to $400 Max. There are always going to be the rare games with no cap, but these are more of the exception than the rule. In these games, provided you are a winning player, $5,000 should be more than enough to play with. In online play, this would be nowhere near enough due to the strong skill level of most players at these limits. The difference is that $1/$2 is low limit in live play whereas it's mid limit in online play. If you are bleeding off money and at risk of going broke with this bankroll, it's time to rethink your strategy.
No Limit tables have buy ins that are usually either $500 or $1,000 Max. It's more common to see uncommon or deep stacked $2/$5 games than it is at lower limits. This is the limit where skill level starts to pick up, but it's not fair to say that the games are difficult by any means. As a regular at this limit, a $12,000 bankroll should be more than ample, and many would argue that even $10,000 would be plenty.
This is when you'll start to run into a lot more variance, tougher opponents, and fewer games to choose from. This is really the limit where games drop off sharply. As a result, you are going to be playing with a lot of the same people over and over and will generally have a lower (bb/100) winrate, though this should also create a higher hourly earn which is all that really matters. For $5/$10 NLHE, nothing less than $25,000 should really be considered. You'll be at greater risk of down swings, there are more deep stacked games, and the destruction of your bankroll is much more likely if you aren't very careful.
Author: Jonathan Wanchalk
Updated: December 2015
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