Mike Caro poker word is Bankroll

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2009) in Poker Player newspaper.

Greetings, poker friends. This is another edition of this series of self-interviews. Today’s word is “Bankroll,” so it you’re ready, let’s talk about money.

Question 1: Exactly what is a poker bankroll?

I don’t know, exactly. Some players think it’s just a wad of cash you keep in your pocket. Some think of it as the amount of money you can easily bring to the table without having to sell anything. For the purpose of this interview, I’ll define bankroll as the money you’ve set aside specifically to play poker. This can be cash carried with you or hidden away, money in a separate checking account, funds in a player bank, or money kept in safe deposit boxes at banks or casinos. To qualify as a bankroll, money needs to be dedicated for that purpose and not available for spending.

Question 2: Do you really need a bankroll?

Of course not! Most players sitting at your table don’t have one. Rich people sit down and allocate whatever funds they desire. There isn’t any long-term planning. Poor people scrape together whatever they can beg or borrow and put it on the table. Poker works just fine without bankrolls. And anyone who says you need a bankroll to play poker — and honestly means it — is marginally insane. I’ve occasionally said it myself, but marginal insanity is something I work hard to achieve.

Question 3: Should a serious player have a bankroll?

Well, if you’re only going to play occasionally, it doesn’t make sense to keep a bankroll. You can probably find funding for single sessions that rarely happen. But if by “serious player,” you mean someone who’s trying to treat poker as a business, you should probably have a bankroll.

When you’re trying to play professionally, you need to wake up in the morning knowing that you won’t have to scramble to get money to play today. That’s the purpose of a bankroll.

Question 4: Should you ever risk losing your entire bankroll?

Sure. There’s no big disgrace in losing a small bankroll. Tiny starting bankrolls aren’t worthy of the protection that you afford larger ones. Of course, you can protect small bankrolls by playing in extremely small-stakes games. But often that isn’t worth your time, because you’re putting more effort into preserving your bankroll than you would if you went broke and replenished it from real-world activities.

But when your bankroll grows, it becomes more important to protect it. That’s because, as its size increases, it becomes harder and harder to replace if you lose it. So, simply, you can roll the dice with small bankrolls, but you should be conservative with large ones.

Question 5: If you had a $2,000 starting bankroll, how would you proceed?

Bankroll management is a personal choice, and there’s no really right method. It depends on how quickly you want to get rich and how much you can tolerate the pain of losing. The more risk you take, the more likely you are to succeed suddenly, but the more likely you are, also, to go broke in the attempt.

But since you asked how I would proceed, try this…

First, I’d need to be pretty certain I had an advantage or I wouldn’t proceed at all. Now, in answering this question, I’m assuming that $2,000 is a meaningful amount that took some effort to gather. If it were easy to replace, I’d take more risks. Under the scenario in which this money is important, I’d start playing $3/$6 limit games and jump to $5/$10 when my bankroll grew to $5,000. If I dropped significantly below $5,000, I’d return to $3/$6. Only when I reached $10,000 would I play $10/$20 or larger. Along the way, if I saw a larger or smaller game that looked particularly profitable, I’d play in it. If it were a larger limit, I’d get out immediately if I lost, say, 20 percent of my bankroll.

On those rare times when I jumped into a bigger game because it was especially promising, I’d remind myself that this is a temporary excursion, and I’d be eager to return to the appropriate limits for my bankroll.

I might try some low-stakes no-limit games, as long as the blinds were much smaller than the betting limits I was targeting for limit games. And if I did buy into no-limit games, I’d usually choose to purchase the minimum amount of chips allowed.

As my bankroll grew, I’d promote myself to larger limits, as long as the difference between my skills and those of my opponents remained favorable. But I’d increasingly become more and more cautious about jumping up in stakes, because a meaningful bankroll isn’t something to risk losing suddenly.

Question 6: What common mistakes do players make with their bankrolls?

Most serious poker players get impatient and move up levels too quickly. And they spend their bankrolls. If you start with $2,000, win $18,000, spend $10,000 and lose $10,000, you’re broke and begging. You feel like a loser, but actually — had you kept your bankroll intact, it should be $10,000. You’ve won $8,000, but you’ve spent yourself out of a means to produce income. You’ve sold your business and squandered the profit.

Emotions destroy bankrolls. It’s okay to be drawn out on. In fact, good players get unlucky and lose pots much more frequently than bad players as a ratio of hands played. Why? Because good players are usually starting with the better hands and the only way they can lose is to be drawn out on. So, fix your mental attitude and consider bad beats as a sign that you’re succeeding. When you dwell on bad beats and let your emotions ruin your strategy, your bankroll evaporates. Just play your best game all the time. Do what you do; let the cards do what they do.

More than anything else: Treat your bankroll with dignity. — MC

Next self-interview: Mike Caro poker word is Annoyance

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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.


16 thoughts on “Mike Caro poker word is Bankroll”

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  1. I’m starting with very little but have decided to make a go of playing poker for a part time profession. My husband has a great job but I want to build my own bankroll. I was dissappointed to see so much about short stack buy ins being a bad way to enter a cash game. I study constantly and love the game and I feel that I can actually contribute to my household by doing something that I love. Right now my bankroll is very small so I am buying in for the min at my 1/2 NL game. Last week I won a tournament so it helped but I don’t want to risk too much at the cash table yet. This article makes me feel much better about how I am starting. If I were to wait for a 2k bankroll it would take way longer than I would like to get started. I’m already profiting so I’m hoping to get a good padding up before the downswings hit me in the face. I only play once a week for now. If it proves to continue being lucrative I will try playing more often and buying in for more. For now min buy ins feel right and tournament play is my strength.

  2. started out 5 times with 300 dollar start up cash . my last endeavor has me up to 1500 .i have mostly earned this through small wins at local tournaments and 1/2 no limit in casino.right now im really eager to play 2/5 no limit although the only thing i have mastered is tight piay with short out bursts of exteme agression.been studying and practicing for a year or so you think i should stick with games i know or take a little temporary move up

  3. What bankroll management guidelines would you give for online tournament grinders like me?

    1. Hi, Christopher —

      Unfortunately, I haven’t created any bankroll guidelines for tournaments yet. And there would be a large number of variables that would muddy the standards, anyway.

      Keep in mind that tournament results fluctuate wildly, because only a few high-profit results are needed to balance the majority of times when you’ll lose your entire buy-in. So, you need a bankroll that is probably larger than most players imagine.

      Sorry, I can’t be more helpful on this one.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

  4. I don’t think people will ever fully understand this bankroll concept fully. I live here in Vegas and seemed to be trapped in this low limit world. Mike is so right, if you plan on moving here and playing for a living.
    Sadly, you need to know that your way of life unless you are coming from a terrible nothing to lose situation, your living standards drop dramatically. I been playing here for four year (paying my rent,cable,electric)with every lil come up, the swings stink you could win five sessions in a row and come Saturday night you end up right back to where you started. Let me tell you on the weekends these folks would need a gun to their head to actually fold a hand here in Vegas.
    I though online bad beats were something else and now I forgive them because at least you are seeing 4x the hands. In Vegas, you better not push with those kings because if he flopped that queen he will have no problem snaggin that bottom pair or getting the infamous runner runner flush and the countless other perfects perfects n 4 per centers.
    I see the same kid every other month, they just have different names. They talk about every player that they seen on T.V like they were lifelong best friends, you hear every pot odds theory and guess what in 30 day they make the journey back home busted.On top of that, you need should do every lil free promotion you can such as the I.P slot tournament, P.H press you luck and million dollar spins all over the world.
    I am quite sure by the results I seen the prouder you are the faster you fall, so you shouldn’t leave money on the tables with winning these slot play freeplay and I would lean towards playing jacks or better video poker so you can pull out the most cash possible.
    You also better watch your tail, the guys that get money from you for tournament chops, buy ins cause they just got busted and you feel sympathetic for them. Then you watch them do it to the next guy and the next guy forever. They never get ahead in fact they usually get pretty scarce after they hit up everyone.
    The players in the low limit no limit, oh boy mike is dead on when he tells you to play 3/6, the sucks out may be a lil more often but stacks don’t fluctuate like no limit. In 1/2 no limit you have some many different types of players which makes you have to stay on your toes, I think you need to really watch the table and recognize the players (the internet kids, the nofoldem holdem tourist, the grinders,the playing dealers, the drunks, the squeeze players and than in June the series kids or the internet men so to speak). Now put their mood that day into consideration, shake it all up and every single day you have no way to predict the outcome as easily as most folks exceptions may be. A bankroll with bills and no regular revenue coming in.
    In low limit games is tough, not impossible but tough, you need to lose as well as win. Now you have the ultimate beast at least here in Vegas which is Aces Cracked or Action Aces or whatever they come up with next. You get stuck in these games and it’s real mind effer, pardon.
    You take the theories you have of poker and have to disassociate them with this game. Here you cant shake the aces, so their is no making moves that would ever get them to fold and the kings and queens cost you half your stack because what could they possibly being flat calling you with.
    That isn’t the bad part because you start getting gun shy and enabling bad habits, so when your still in aces cracked mode to out of it you play like a a idiotic nit. The insurance is nice but you would prefer to be in a game that range of hands you put people on is more realistic.
    It makes trying to succeed in this game of ours that much more challenging, you need to maintain a borrowing power type image without borrowing, at least in these limits if the players see you borrowing they assume your a loser and now you have bad credit rating.
    The real fun part is anywhere outside of the strip, now you can be like some that live off of comps and stay free( lugging their crap around every 5 days and having a real hatred for elevator conversations) or need a home base that is a cheaper living like 500/month. Well when you move off the strip yet close so you can walk or bus it, you most likely will deal with some type of robbery, auto theft and the classic hustlers from the Hookers, Drug Dealers and Vagrants.
    I was robbed here twice, lost my scooter which yes as lame as it is, was pretty convenient not to be trapped into over paying for groceries or all the little things we often take for granted. I also had my rent money in a little box, unfortunately for me I left my oakleys right near the box, so when I was robbed the first time rent and the oakleys were gone. That hurt the bankroll a lot because there is no quick fix there and when it happen, I couldn’t shake it myself I threw good money at bad over and over again.
    I would overplay my big pairs, chase all the draws in the big pots and gambling more. It took me a month to get back on track and to remember that everything in one way or another is replaceable, you need to keep your dearly regarded stuff in a safety deposit box(there was convenient boxes at mirage but I heard about them a day to late) and prepare for the worst and expect the best, cliche i know but 100% the truth.
    In closing I want to say in no way do I think bankroll management is overrated for surely it is not. There needs to be the realistic expectation of sacrifices that have to be made for your success and the positive attitude in knowing that this game can take care of you.
    There is a magic that will always be Las Vegas and a absolute treasure to give yourself the privilege to be involved in this poker community and the amazing history about Legends that built this game from it’s infancy. Even with not being a high stakes player, everyday is truly dream come true for me and there is always that next goal to reach, the next book to learn from and irrelevant player to listen too. here’s hoping you run like champs for as long as the poker gods shall allow it.

  5. How should I take this GOOD, BAD, or WHATEVER

    I played a long three day
    session last week. I played 26 hours in
    three days and left $450.00 on the felt at the end of the sessions. Now I am not even trying to say I played
    perfect for 3 days I know I did not and I have the notes to prove it, but I am
    wondering if I played as bad as I think.
    quick break down of the three days is
    like this

    one. Played 8:30 PM to 1:30 AM sat $100.00 cashed out $100.00

    two. 2 part session 12pm to 6pm took dinner break changed tables and played
    to 1:30 am sat 300.00 overall cashed out 40.00 (-260.00)

    three Played 12PM to 10PM sat $240 cashed out $50.00

    all plated 26.9 hours and left 450.00 this is where I am looking for
    REALISTIC feedback. I have tracked this game many times and I know I average
    4 buttons per hour so I pay 4 sets of blinds per hour. Blinds are 1 and 3 so
    (4) and 4*4 is 16 or 16 dollars and hour in blinds at a minimum.

    is $430.00 so I paid this amount in basic blinds technically just to sit at
    the table for this many hours overall.

    Does this mean
    I did not play as bad as I thought or felt and this is basic fluctuation and
    a flat session overall

    I maybe played too tight and need to look at missed opportunities and
    possibly am not defending some blinds enough

    I did play as poorly as it feels and I need to look at my overall game and
    find a leak or more

    numbers are confusing me a little bit. I take a lot of notes as I play and I
    think I play fairly snug pre-flop from early positions and will take a flop
    late with alot of loose timid action in front of me witch happens frequently
    at this level. 6 or more will limp making it hard to pass up seeing a flop
    with 89s and the likes.

    help and feed back is appreciated

    1. wow. No feedback I am a little disappointed. Thought for sure I would get something here

    2. Hi, Moneedude —

      I think you actually did get a reply to your post on my Facebook page. Remember, Poker1.com isn’t official open yet. During testing, this might not be the best place to seek advice. There have been over 1,500 comments so far, anyway — but some entries have none.

      First, I’m sorry you ran so poorly for those 26 hours. At first, it may seem like a lot to lose at a game with $1 and $3 blinds, but I can almost guarantee you that worse results than that will happen to you over a long poker career. Still, for most players, it always feels terrible when it does.

      You really don’t give us enough information to make a judgment. No limit? How many handed? Antes? It seems like a full game, because you say “6 or more will limp.” In that case, I doubt you’re getting four rounds an hour, on average — as you believe. Few tables get that many deals in per hour.

      I could be wrong, but you seem to be justifying calling with a liberal amount of hands when there are a limpers from earlier positions. This is probably a bad strategy, especially in a rake game. (Search for entries here at Poker1 about rake and how it affects the hands you can play profitably.) The 9-8 suited you cite is probably okay to play, though.

      The main point is that we don’t know how well you play or how well your opponents play, so it’s not possible to compare your results to what would be expected, on average. In any case, 26 hours is not a meaningful amount of time to make any conclusions.

      Professional players’ results differ dramatically from month to month and sometimes even from year to year. A poker career does not provide a regular income that you can count on. Profit comes in clumps. Droughts can be long and painful. If you can handle that reality and play superior poker, you can earn a living. Otherwise, success is unlikely.

      That’s the hard truth. The good news is that you seem devoted to playing correctly, because you’re taking the trouble to keep notes.

      Thanks for sharing your experience. Sorry I can’t offer better advice.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

      1. Sorry if I sounded off a bit I was actually meaning from other members or guest. I would love to see your face book response but can not seem to find a page for poker 1 or you when I type in Mike Caro all I get is an information page and nothing under poker1 poker 1 or poker one where is it???? I would love to see it and any response.

        Just for fun it is a 3/6 limit game with a 9 person table and I have timed the button on several occasions and I get a button on average every 14 to 18 minutes steady I will time again for fun. I take a lot of notes on myself and my opponents as well all away from the table at what I call break intervals as I play about 10 hours a day 3 days a week. I am also trying to use your FSI scoring method to track my own game. This little run has also set me into investigating deeper than I should standard deviations and average win rates for my self the math is a bit above me for standard deviation but I think I am getting the formulas down ok
        You can learn a ton if you study and search the internet

        I would really like to see that face book page

        1. Hi, Moneedude —

          It’s http://www.facebook.com/caro.mike.

          I can’t immediately find the post beneath which you commented. Maybe it wasn’t on Facebook. Maybe it was in the forum here. Not sure. I remember that someone commented, saying that wasn’t a large enough sample (or something like that).

          Straight Flushes,
          Mike Caro

        2. I didn’t reply because I thought you were only looking for feedback from Mr. Caro. Since you have opened the thread up to feedback from others, I would only ask whether at any point in this frustrating sounding session you went on Tilt?
          If you did, there’s your leak.
          If not then congrats on keeping your head and not donking off your whole bankroll under the merciless torture of a cold deck.

  6. Thanks for the explanation…makes perfect sense.

    keep up the great work on the site..very informational.

  7. If I were playing a 1/2 NL game min 60 Max 200 you suggest buying in for min?

    Can you explain the min buy in theory for a low stakes NL game?


    1. Hi, Dave —

      Beyond the obvious factor that smaller buy-ins reduce the risk of losing more money immediately on a single hand, short buy-ins have an advantage of sometimes allowing a player to survive to the showdown and win hands they would otherwise have had to fold.

      The easy way to demonstrate this latter concept is to imagine a poker game with no blinds where all eight players ante $100. In this extreme example, you only have $100 and can only play for the $800 in total antes. If you get an unbeatable hand, you’ll wish you had more money. But that lucky happening averages out among equal opponents and isn’t a mathematical advantage.

      What is an advantage is that other players will wager and drive each other out of the pot. You can’t be driven out, though, and will sometimes claim $800 ($700 profit) at the showdowns with lucky improvements to hands you would have folded against those bets.

      That’s the “ultimate” example, but anything that approaches that all-in-for-the-ante state is an improvement over having great amounts of chips in jeopardy. Some players like to buy greater amounts of chips so that they can have leverage against opponents. This leverage only works for players who are superior, though. And even then, that added edge often isn’t enough to overwhelm the above advantage of playing short stacked.

      It’s your choice, but when you’re initially building a bankroll, buying the minimum is often the right choice.

      Hope that helps.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

  8. Very much appreciated, this is a heaven of good reads, glad I have a bit of time at the moment to get through as many as possible.

    Thank you fellow MC!


    1. Hi, Martin —

      I’m guessing we’re not the only MC people at Poker1, but thanks for making your first comment and joining our family.

      I’m a hermit in the Ozarks, which means I’m “Home Alone” a lot — so McCally Caulkin comes to mind.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

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