Robert Turner’s opinion, and don’t buy the necklace

This article first appeared in Card Player magazine.

Today we’re going to discuss something really important about bankrolls… Wait! First, I want to mention something equally important about tournaments. Linda Johnson, in her publisher’s column, has been analyzing the rules and structures of tournaments, and suggesting standardized improvements. I strongly agree with most of her suggestions, with the strong exception to any proposal to limit free speech at the poker table.

As I wrote last time, I believe your poker hand is your poker hand, and that means you should be able to misrepresent it, lie about it, or even tell the truth about it. That’s poker. Any rule — however well intended — that limits our ability to do this will never win my approval. Anyway, Robert Turner, one of poker’s most capable and dedicated promoters, recently gave me his opinion about a trend in poker tournaments. His opinion belongs on Johnson’s list, if it hasn’t already been entered.

How do you know if the prize pool is the size that it should be? As almost all regular players know, the answer is easy. You simply count the value of the chips and weigh against the dollars awarded. If all tournaments issued dollar-for-dollar chips equaling the amount of your buy-in, the process of comparing would be easy. If the total prize pool to be awarded were announced at $20,000, then the value of chips at the final table to be gathered by the final player after the last pot should also be $20,000.

How it really works

Usually, this isn’t how it works, though. Typically, because many players like the illusion of playing for bigger stakes, the amount of chips surpasses the actual buy-in. So, you may get $300 in chips for your $100 buy-in — three times what you’d expect. This doesn’t mean the casino is being generous. It just means the chip values are exaggerated — but the prize pool, unfortunately, will not reflect this. So, if the prize pool is announced at $20,000, then the chips gathered by the final player might be $60,000 — three times what is actually paid out.

As you can see, it’s not hard to know whether the finalists are being paid what they should. This also works for rebuy tournaments, because when you buy again for $100, you get another $300 in chips, the same as you did for your original $100 buy-in. The process of verifying whether the prize pool is correct remains the same: Does the value of the chips at the final table equal the announced prize pool?

Now, we come to the problem Turner was talking about. In some recent tournaments, the players get various values for their rebuys, depending on which stage of the tournament they occur. For instance, suppose the original buy-in got $300 in chips for $100 cash. Fine. During the first hour, you can buy-in again and get an additional $300 for $100 cash. So far, so good. But, in the second hour, your $100 buys $400, and in the third hour it buys $500.

How big should it be?

Do you see the problem? As Turner correctly points out, it is now impossible for the final players to know exactly how big the prize pool should be, because they don’t know how many players only got $300 for their buy-ins, how many got $400, and how many got $500. Although I know of no proven situations where this method was used to short-change the players, the system is bad because it causes doubt. It’s also a nightmare for ethical managers, because they may find it impossible to know exactly if a few hundred or a few thousand dollars slipped between the cracks. Well, OK, that’s a nice way of putting it.

So, I agree with Robert Turner on this one: All buy-ins, rebuys included, should be of the same value, so that the final money winners can simply count the chips and compare this with the prize pool.

Don’t buy the necklace

Every once in a while I get the urge to advise players who are new to poker about how to approach the game more profitably. Nobody I know has ever managed his bankroll correctly from the beginning. Here is today’s monumental suggestion for those who are just starting their poker careers…

Yep, you read it right. One of the most important things players serious about their careers need to know is DON’T BUY THE NECKLACE. What the hell does that mean? I’ll tell you what the hell it means. It means you better pay attention or you’re likely to be broke.

His name was Benny. He was 24 or thereabout. It was 1975 or thereabout. I was impressed with Benny. He could have been one of us — one of us who survived the poker wars, one of us who made mistakes and grew, and who made mistakes and grew some more. His mind was quick; he was keenly analytical; he wanted to win at poker. And he DID win. But he left us one day, broke, battered, and heartbroken. And here’s how it happened.

Benny met Betty. Betty was a bitch, but Benny didn’t see it. She was cute and cuddly and 22 and uncaring. She didn’t play poker, but she liked the fact that Benny did. She liked the fact that he drove a Corvette — albeit one with body damage and a bad transmission — and the fact that he had a sizeable bankroll stuffed in his right front pocket which he frequently flashed.

Betty also liked jewelry. One day when we were in the restaurant at the Rainbow Club in Gardena, Betty complained, “Did you see that necklace Smithy bought Georgia? Why don’t you ever buy me anything like that?” As I sipped my coffee, I could read the conflict on Benny’s face. All was not well.

Proud and prudent

Proud of the fact that he had built his bankroll hour by hour and win by win, Benny had finally achieved a level of comfort in poker. He played for sensible limits, and knew that even if the next month brought him poor luck, he would still have an ample bankroll to survive until the cards romanced him once again. He was frugal, seldom spending unnecessarily. He planned for his future.

Then Betty began to fondle and flirt with other guys in front of Benny, guys more mature, guys with much more money. And she did this, I think, deliberately to belittle Benny. I already told you what she was, right? Anyway, Benny’s heart began to break, and you could see it happening. And so he took his $18,000 bankroll, which was significant for playing poker in those days for those limits, and bought a necklace that cost $11,400. Betty thanked him with a kiss and clung to him all that night.

About a week later, Betty announced that she had found a matching bracelet. “You won’t believe this, Mike,” she gushed, addressing me even though her comments were really intended for Benny nearby, “but it matches perfectly. You could think it was a set.”

So, yeah, you’re right, Benny goes down to the jewelry place and gets her the bracelet. Another $5,000 hit on his bankroll. Now he little more than $1,000 to play on and his poker game is in shambles. Fear on every call. Missed bets because he worries about going broke. Every hand an agony. On the night that Benny goes broke, he gets ahead about $200, then hardly wins another pot.

And Betty tells him, walking together off the poker floor, “You don’t know how to manage your money. I would have quit when I was $200 ahead.” I told you what she was, right?

The lesson

I saw Benny a few times after that, and then I didn’t anymore. He came, he played. He had lost his spirit, and he had lost Betty, too. What can we learn from this? Something very important, my friend. If you want to play poker for a living, then your bankroll is not money that you can spend. Your bankroll needs to be kept separately. Your bankroll isn’t designed to buy necklaces, or to buy video cassette recorders, or even to pay the rent. Your bankroll is a machine that makes money. Once that bankroll is whole, once it is so large that that you can count on it to do it’s job and even to survive a very long losing streak, then you can siphon off the profit. And this — only this — you can spend, because this is the benefit of your bankroll.

Think about it. If you bought a restaurant and that was how you expected to earn your living, would you sell the stove to pay the rent or to buy a necklace? Of course not, because then you’d be out of business. Well, it’s the same with a bankroll. Your bankroll IS the stove you need to stay in business. If you spend it on a $20,000 car, and then can’t stay in action, you’ll be losing money everyday you sit home and sulk. Every day.

And the $20,000 might cost you, in the worst case, your whole career at poker if you never recover. In this reality, cars and necklaces can cost a million dollars and your dreams. That’s why I stress this so very strongly to beginners who want to play poker for a living. You should not, you must not, and you cannot spend your bankroll. You won’t get good value for your dollar, and Betty ain’t worth it. — MC

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Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.


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  1. Isn’t this largely fixed with modern tournament clock software. Which will give you most stats. I think there is still a slight chip inflation problem with color ups because the inflation never gets reported. From a tourney standpoint this is largely irrelevant but from a security issue it could be a problem. People remove chips for non nefarious purposes too.

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