The following lecture is an extension of the very first lecture that took place on September 29, 1998, and later appeared in Card Player magazine.
Before I get into this topic, I need to point something out. I’m not a strong advocate of bankroll science. In fact, I think that most things said about bankrolls are not science at all. They are mostly just homespun wisdom. I’m going to start by telling you something that you know is true in your heart. You should never criticize a person for taking “too much” risk, so long as that person understands the risk being taken and has the best of it. The more risk you take, the more likely you are to capture sudden wealth, and the more likely you are to be damaged in the pursuit.
The risk is up to you.
That’s important, and I’ll repeat it. The more risk you accept, the more likely you are to suddenly prosper and the more likely you are to suddenly go broke. So, you see, it’s your choice. What’s an unacceptable risk for you may be tolerable for someone else. It’s a personal decision. It’s up to them. And it’s up to you.
Also, you should be aware that there are mathematically derived methods that can be used to maximize your chance of success once you’ve defined your goals. Although we’ve discussed these concepts before, we won’t deal with them today. Here are the things that I spoke about at the Tuesday Session…
How big does your bankroll need to be? It is folly to criticize a player for having an insufficient starting bankroll.
Taking 100 shots with $50 each time gives you about the same chance of eventual success as taking a single shot with $5,000 – provided you play your best game at all times.
Of course, this isn’t precisely true. Other factors may influence your fate substantially. What factors? Well, if you play with a single buy-in, you’re more likely to go all-in. These all-in situations change your prospects. Actually, being all-in can often work to your advantage, because other players may then eliminate themselves from the showdown by not calling bets. While this is happening, you are guaranteed to make the showdown. This means you will win all pots where you can stumble into the best hand, while your opponents will not.
You may also play differently on short money and your opponents may play differently against you. You sometimes will not have the opportunity to stay in a good game with $50, although you might have stayed and made profit if you had a big bankroll behind you. There are many other factors to consider, but – in general – taking 100 shots with just $50 each time can be considered the same as gathering $5,000 before you play the first time. If you play the same type of poker, your prospects will be similar.
So, the common notion that short money is at a big disadvantage is a myth. You are much more likely to go broke with only a small buy-in, but the force of all those short buy-ins combined should give you about the same opportunity overall as one big bankroll.
Not everyone needs a bankroll.
Players who only expect to play occasionally, or who are playing recreationally, can just bring whatever they can afford whenever they can afford it. Bankrolls are things you build and are designed for people without infinite assets who want to play regularly.
You must play your best game all the time.
The policy of playing your best game most of the time is the greatest destroyer of bankrolls there is. At higher-limit games, players actually seem to take turns “going on tilt.” If you pass your turn quite often, without your opponents realizing it, you’ll win the most money. This is known as “Caro’s Law of Least Tilt.”
I first wrote about this almost 20 years ago. It remains one of the most fundamentally important things you can learn if you want to succeed at poker. You are not likely to succeed if you decide to blatantly take advantage of knowledgeable opponents’ super-loose play. If they’re taking turns going on tilt, and you come into the game and play perfectly stable, you won’t fit in. They will resent you and often they will stop providing you with profit.
The trick is to play along and show some fast action, too. Simulate tilt. Make them aware of it. But pass your turn when they don’t notice. Among equally skilled players, the one who spends the least time on tilt (or simulating tilt) wins the most money.
Don’t make the mistake of routinely promoting yourself to higher limits as you continue to win.
You might eventually find a level you can’t beat. When this happens, most players refuse to step back down, and they lose or “spin their wheels” for the rest of their poker careers.
This is actually an application of the Peter Principle (about how people get promoted until they reach their level of incompetence) to poker.
Be selective about your games.
Don’t routinely take the first one you see. Most of your profit will come from good games. Even most winning players lose money in tougher games.
Those are fighting words, but they’re true. If I could select the worst 50 percent of games that professionals played in throughout their careers, most would be losers for those sessions. It is the other 50 percent of their games – and sometimes an even much smaller portion of their games – that supply the profit for most pros. Game selection is much more important than most players suppose.
You should be less protective of a small bankroll.
The larger your bankroll grows, the more worthy it is of protection and the less chances you should take. That’s because a large bankroll would be much harder to replace from sources in the world beyond poker. You can usually get a small starting bankroll from the “real” world, but it’s unlikely that you will be able to replace an established bankroll in the same way.
Don’t treat your bankroll like a tournament buy-in.
You can have a “tournament” almost any day you want. Just keep jumping into higher and higher limits until you reach a long-shot goal or go broke. But in a tournament, only one player ends up with the chips. Everyone else goes broke. Don’t treat your bankroll that way.
Don’t spend your bankroll.
It’s tempting to start with $500, win $20,000, spend $12,000 you think you don’t need, then lose $8,500. You’ll be flat broke, on the rail, and begging for money. But you actually won $11,500! Don’t let that happen to you.
As strange as it seems, the majority of winning poker players – players who actually beat the games and have an expectation of profit – are broke or nearly broke most of the time. Why? Because they spend their bankrolls. Think about it.
Tuesday Session is adjourned. – MC