Poker Coverage:

Bankroll Considerations for Serious Amateurs

by Andrew Brokos |  Published: Oct 02, 2013

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Andrew BrokosA dedicated poker bankroll is indispensable for anyone who relies on poker to pay the bills, either entirely or in part. A professional poker player needs to be able to withdraw a predictable amount of money from his bankroll each month. He needs to know how many hours at a particular stake he needs to play in order to do so, and he needs to know that even if things go badly for him during a given month, he’ll be able to pay his bills and keep playing his regular game next month.

Many serious amateurs would benefit from keeping a dedicated poker bankroll as well, though few actually do so. A bankroll makes it easier to set goals and track progress, easier to stay in action, and easier to make the right play when a lot of money is on the line.

Yet, as an amateur, you can presumably afford to take on more risk than a professional, so the generic bankroll advice you find may not be optimal for you. This article will discuss the advantages, for a serious amateur, of maintaining a bankroll and offer some suggestions for how you ought to manage yours differently than a professional would.

Advantages of a Bankroll for Serious Amateurs

I use the term “serious amateur” to distinguish from both a professional or semi-professional and also from a purely recreational player who plays solely for fun and, although he surely prefers winning to losing, doesn’t invest the necessary time and study in his game to make himself a consistent winner. A serious amateur has a day job and doesn’t rely on poker to pay his life expenses. Nevertheless, he is serious about winning, studies hard, and aims to have a positive expectation in the games he plays.

The best reason for such a player to maintain a bankroll is to improve his ability to make the right decision when a lot of money is at stake. One of the big advantages of keeping poker money separate from your other assets is psychological: you know that it is a tool to be used and potentially lost. As Doyle Brunson says, “if you want to be a strong no-limit player, you can’t think you’re betting a Lincoln Continental every time you bet ten or fifteen thousand dollars.” If you make no distinction between your poker money and your regular finances, then a failed bluff could cost you a meal out, a vacation, or even a new car, depending on the stakes you’re playing. Once you think of it that way, it’s easy to wimp out and check when moving all-in would have been the correct, if riskier, move.

A separate bankroll can also help your family to appreciate your need for what is, essentially, operating capital for a small business you’re running in your spare time. Many amateurs tell me that their spouses don’t understand how poker works and want to treat any profit from a winning session as disposable income that’s immediately available to be spent on luxuries. Losses, of course, are not reciprocally offset by reduced discretionary spending.

Establishing a poker bankroll enables you to resolve this potentially contentious issue with a single conversation rather than having to negotiate it every time you return from the casino. You can agree that a certain amount of money will be set aside for a poker bankroll, and perhaps that a certain percentage of your winnings will be deducted from the bankroll for luxuries, but that the majority will be reinvested.

Watching a bankroll grow can also provide motivation, positive reinforcement, and attainable goals in your quest to improve as a player. You can set benchmarks at which you will withdraw some portion of your bankroll for luxury spending or to move up in stakes. Working towards these benchmarks provides incentive to play well, and achieving them reinforces your good studying and playing habits.

Conversely, watching a bankroll shrink can be a call to action. Most players overestimate their own abilities, and in the absence of good record-keeping, they often overestimate their results as well. If your bankroll is indistinct from and constantly replenished by the rest of your money, then it may take you longer to realize that you aren’t winning and change course.

Bankroll Suggestions for Serious Amateurs

If you find bankroll advice in a poker book or on the internet, it will probably be written with a professional in mind. A professional’s bankroll is his livelihood, so most authors advise managing it conservatively to minimize risk of ruin.

As an amateur, you can probably accept much greater risk. Losing your bankroll won’t mean that you’re out on the street nor even that you’re out of action. Probably it will just mean reloading with money earned elsewhere. Of course you’d rather not have to do so, but it’s a much more acceptable worst case scenario.

Bankroll considerations vary from game to game, and it’s beyond the scope of this article to discuss them in detail. The point I want to make is that when you find generic bankroll advice, you should understand how it factors in risk tolerance. You may be willing to double or even triple the risk of going broke or at least moving down in stakes. This doesn’t necessarily mean halving the advised bankroll requirement, though — this is why it’s important to know how the number was reached. Just be aware that you can assume more risk than a professional, especially when it comes to taking occasional shots at games that are above your bankroll.

Aggressive bankroll management, like many high-risk investments, offers potentially higher returns. Assuming that you are good enough to win in a bigger game, growing your bankroll quickly enables you to move up and start winning more money sooner.

You can think of bankroll management as a race to get to the highest stakes that you can beat as quickly as possible without exceeding a maximum risk threshold. Because your risk threshold can be much higher than a professional’s, you can move up faster and give yourself a much better chance of winning that race. Thus, it’s not uncommon to see moderately talented amateurs playing and winning in bigger games than more skilled professionals.

As a serious amateur, your reasons for using a dedicated poker bankroll aren’t exactly the same as those of a professional. Consequently, the way you manage and grow your bankroll aren’t exactly the same either. Yet if you want to take poker seriously and give yourself the best chance of winning, then you ought to set some money aside and cultivate it. ♠

Andrew Brokos is a professional poker player, writer and coach. He blogs about poker strategy on ThinkingPoker.net and is co-host of the Thinking Poker Podcast. Andrew is also interested in education reform and founded an after-school debate program for urban youth.