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The ‘Probability And Statistics’ Of Bad Bankroll Management

by Nathan Gamble |  Published: May 19, 2021


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I remember returning to college much like any kid after Spring Break: tired, hungover, and sunburned. The only real difference was the virtual wad of bills that were burning a hole in my online poker account.

I went to bed in the same crummy student housing as everyone else, I woke up on the same blue-crinkly mass-produced mattress as everyone else, and I had the same weird roommate problems as everyone else. My first roommate woke me up one morning at 5 am asking if I knew how to shave. (He had made it his entire life without ever learning and decided that was the right time to try!)

I later walked into our room and found him staring blankly at the mirror before turning very slowly to me and asking if I “heard the voices” also. It wasn’t so much the voices that got to me but rather the expressionless look that he pierced my soul with.

I needed to get out of there as quickly as possible, which meant that I needed to up my online play in order to make enough money to move off campus.

The quest for online dominance started off slowly, taking my laptop with me to class with the white lie dancing around in my head that it was there for notes. Inevitably within the first five-minutes of class I felt my attention span waning and saw the poker icons peeking out over the notepad. Within another couple of minutes, the online platforms were open and I was fully immersed in cash games and sit-n-go’s.

Probability and Statistics class was held once a week in the computer lab, and I would regularly squeeze in as early as possible to claim one of the last rows and pull open a couple browsers. My professor rarely ventured into the back rows as he lectured so I was safe to play without the fear of getting caught.

One such day, I was fully immersed in three, nine-max SNGs on Full Tilt Poker. I was focused intensely on the cards, distributions, bet sizing, and position. I was NOT focused on my professor, who showed up beside me and inquisitively asked what I was doing.

Caught off guard, I gave him the only answer that came to my head. “Probability and statistics,” I answered.

The response made him laugh, and he said to see him after class. I then discovered that my professor had also been caught up in the Moneymaker boom and dabbled in poker from time to time. (I hope my endeavors in the poker industry reach Mr. Fitzpatrick one of these days and he gets a big smile on his face remembering that day.)

After a lot of ups and downs, winning and losing, I had finally withdrawn the bulk of my balance from Ultimate Bet and was ready to play in as large a game as I could muster. The game was Omaha eight-or-better. While $10-$20 limit may not sound like a lot, you can still win or lose over $1,000 in a session, especially with the speed of online poker.

I only had a $30,000 bankroll to my name and quickly progressed through the ranks, speed running from $10-$20 up to $30-$60. My bankroll hadn’t grown much, but the wins and losses had grown to between $3,000 and $5,000 a day. There was no rational reason to play that high, except for youthful exuberance and pride.

The $30-$60 limits, however, proved to be just the right fit for me as I cleared over $15,000 in a few short weeks to add to my bankroll. I use the term “bankroll” loosely, as it was all the money I had in the world and it was all in play. There was no separation between poker money and life money.

This didn’t hold me back from continuing my meteoric rise in stakes. In February I had started at $10-$20, and by April I was playing $100-$200. I would sit down regularly and play 3-6 handed with all the known crushers and not bat an eye. Some days it was plus $10,000, some days it was losses at least that big. It was like walking a tightrope and just hoping that I caught myself before the wind gusts and sends me plummeting to the pavement below.

One time I was playing a $50 tournament online while playing two tables of $100-$200. I came in second in the tournament for over $12,500, but somehow still lost $9,000 on the day. That should have wised me up to just how precarious a life I was living, but I was young and felt invincible.

Inevitably, the walls came crashing down on me. Looking back on it now, it was obvious my days were numbered. All the signs were there, I was a kid with card skills but still hadn’t learned the finer skills of being a professional. I hadn’t learned money management.

I loaded my last $10,000 on to a $100-$200 table and sat across from a variety of red-named pros, including Mike Matusow. At the time he was regarded as one of the top five players in Omaha eight-or-better, and if you ask him now, he’ll tell you he still is.

That day, it didn’t take the world’s best to beat me because I was already doing the job for them. I was short for the game, my case money was in play, and I slowly blinded it away by playing tight and scared. I didn’t belong there and instead of walking away with something to show for my journey I gave it all back and left it for the more deserving players.

Is there a lesson to be learned here? Of course. It’s one that is as old as time in the poker world, and one that will need repeating time after time. There is more to poker than just playing the cards. There are a variety of ‘soft’ skills that you must learn in order to make it in this world, bankroll management included. But there’s also table selection, tilt control, presence, knowing when you should and shouldn’t play, etc.

Professionals make it in poker not because we do something fancy, but because we do the common thing well. We try not to make mistakes, we try to study where others don’t, we try to treat the game like the business that it is. If you aren’t a professional and are just playing for fun, then there is no harm in enjoying your time at the table. But if you are looking to make it as a professional in this industry you may want to find yourself a mentor and open your ears, because there is a lot more to poker than just the cards between your fingertips. ♠

Nathan Gamble is a native of Texas where he learned to play hold’em from his father. He is a two-time WSOP bracelet winner, the first coming in the 2017 WSOP $1,500 pot limit Omaha eight-or-better event, the second in the 2020 Online WSOP $600 PLO eight-or-better event. A fixture of the mid-stakes, mix game community, he can often be found playing $80-$160 mix games at the Wynn since moving to Las Vegas in 2019. He is active on Twitter under the username Surfbum4life and streams mixed game content regularly on Twitch under his username Surfbum4lyfe.