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Time To Move Up In Stakes? Dealing With Variance And Managing Your Bankroll

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: Jan 11, 2023


The Pros: Nadya Magnus, Matthew Rosenfield, and Frankie Cucchiara

Craig Tapscott: What stakes did you begin at? How did you progress up to your current level?

Nadya Magnus: I started playing poker by playing freerolls on PokerStars, probably like thousands of other players. Slowly moving up to $1, $5, $10, buy-ins, etc., including sit-n-go’s and taking shots at multi-table tournaments. Soon I managed to win a package to go to the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure in the Bahamas. While I had a great trip, I didn’t do well there. And once I felt I was on a downswing, I went back to playing freerolls.

I slowly moved up. I started consistently playing higher stakes after I made the final table of a $5,000 WPT Five Diamond side event at the end of 2016. It gave me an enormous confidence boost, which I think is extremely important in poker. In 2017 I made a PCA final table. Soon after I won my second WSOPC ring in a high roller event, made several WSOPC high roller final tables, and almost won a third WSOPC ring. At that point, I felt confident enough to move up to higher stakes.

But I do have to say that I’m probably the most cautious player you’ve ever met in terms of moving up stakes. I’m taking baby steps and I’m very patient. I’m happy with my progression in that regard.

Matthew Rosenfield: I began playing poker at 10¢-25¢ in my college fraternity house. From there, I would shot take at $1-$2 at Winstar in Oklahoma and at my hometown casino in San Diego. I was a losing player for the first year of my poker journey, which was hard. Then I started to take my studying more seriously, met amazing coaches, and now am playing stakes as high as $10-$20-$40 and winning.

I think the biggest lesson to learn is how to battle one’s own ego. So many times, I used to say, “I’m running so bad,” or “I got unlucky again,” as an excuse for losing. But being able to dissect your play and be critical of your decisions is a crucial skill to master.

My best advice is to take diligent hand history notes. One thing I used to do is when asked about losing sessions, my response would be something along the lines of, “My aces got cracked,” or “I missed all my flush draws,” or “This guy rivered me.” None of those responses allow you to accurately revisit the hand and learn from it. Taking notes allows you to see if you misplayed your aces, chased draws too liberally, or let your opponent draw for a cheap price.

Frankie Cucchiara: In the beginning days of my poker journey, my college friends would all buy in for $10 at our games. No one was worried about losing their stack or going broke. This is where I first fell in love with poker.

Only a few months after learning poker I was playing $1-$2 at Winstar Casino for a $200 buy-in. I remember losing my first session. Brutal. On the next trip to the casino, everything changed. It was Friday night and I played $1-$2. That day I turned my $200 stack into $1,000. I’ve piggybacked off that adrenaline and love for poker throughout every ladder in stakes.

I started playing $1-$2 consistently for over a year before I ever moved up in stakes. It would be a much longer grind up to $2-$5. I was able to find a tight-knit group of poker professionals who wanted to coach me into playing higher stakes. With their guidance, I started playing a very intimidating $2-$5 game in Dallas, Texas. It was not easy for me. I struggled a lot at first. However, as I continued to book a few wins my confidence slowly started to build. I wouldn’t have reached that point if it wasn’t for my friends and coaches giving me encouragement.

I studied more and started to make poker content for YouTube for over two years. I then started to shot take some $5-$10, $10-$20, and $20-$40.

I want to emphasize how important it is to stay grounded while climbing the stakes. I would stay away from comparing your results to others and instead prioritize playing as many hours as possible of A-game poker at the highest stakes you think you have an edge in and are rolled for. The more experience you take from the last level, the more confidence you will have to immediately crush the higher stakes. 

Craig Tapscott: What are your main keys to dealing with variance in poker on a day-to-day, session-to-session basis?

Nadya Magnus: When it comes to dealing with variance, I suck at it. There is simply no other way to put it. While I’ve become significantly better over time, I still have my truly bad moments. No, I don’t scream, yell, or throw things at people. That’s not me. I do worse. I shut down and keep everything inside. It affects my loved ones, and it makes me feel even worse. I usually need 24 hours to get over a bad session. But even that is too long.

I’ve learned to be upset a lot less and I must thank my fiancé for that. He played a huge role in teaching me how to handle stress and variance. He was the only one who could really make a difference in the way I dealt with bad runs. He taught me to think of it in terms of life priorities. He’d put me in the situation where I’d realize that crying over busting 28 tournaments in a row was not my life priority and that would make me immediately get over any variance grief.

Also, I’ve learned to take a break from poker at times. It’s amazing what two-three weeks away from the tables can do. I come back a totally different person after that. I think it’s an absolute must to take periods away from the game to recharge. 

Matthew Rosenfield: Variance can suck, but it only sucks within a certain mindset. Learning to accept variance was crucial in climbing the poker stakes. I was a math and finance double major in college, so I had some understanding of variance coming into my poker journey.

The Law of Large Numbers was one concept that I found applied quite nicely, learning not to think about poker in a day-to-day or even session-to-session mindset, but as one continuous journey. I can thankfully say I never crashed and burned along the way, but I was definitely close to it.

I never took a break from poker, but I did take a ton of time away from the tables to work on my mental game. One’s mental game is the key to dealing with variance in poker, and it also has opened my eyes regarding dealing with variance in life. That is one thing I will forever be grateful to poker for showing me.

It is so important to not worry about things we cannot control. We can control every decision we make on every street in poker, and that is what I learned to focus on. Thinking about poker in that mindset has helped me tremendously.

Frankie Cucchiara: I dealt with the variance poorly in the beginning. I got very emotional after the losses. It wasn’t until after reading The Mental Game of Poker by Jared Tendler that I started to take my reactions to losses into question.

I can say confidently that I would never have moved up in stakes until I learned how to control my emotional response to variance. It’s right to have the mindset walking into every session that you are going to win. However, that’s not the reality of poker.

Even though I had some bad outbursts in my early days, I never wanted to take a break after losing. Instead of taking a break, I would go play poker and focus specifically on my mental game. I wrote down my profit/loss, and I made a column to rate my mental game from 1 through 10. I’d document my emotional response to certain situations and write notes to my future self, like, “bad players have to win sometimes, this is what keeps them coming back.” My response to poker’s variance immediately improved.

Craig Tapscott: What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned when dealing with your poker bankroll?  

Nadya Magnus: I’m naturally a very risk-averse person so I had to break myself from that issue. It was the hardest thing I had to do for the growth of my game. I’ve never played above my means. I’ve never gone broke. I’ve never gambled with my living expenses money. I always played with money I could lose so I never worried about it.

More so, if I don’t feel confident or feel I’m running badly, I’ll play less or lower the stakes. The only time I broke that rule was during the hunt for the GPI Female POY title. I had a goal, and the goal justified the means.

Aside from that period in my poker career, being cautious has always been my way of handling my bankroll. I didn’t want to feel pain at the tables because money meant so much to me. But I do feel pain at the tables when I play well, but the results are unsatisfactory. This is something I’m still working on.

Matthew Rosenfield: Bankroll management is so insanely important. It’s one of my strong suits. I have tracked every single poker session I’ve ever played. Whether it was 10c-25c after a party at my fraternity house or $10-$20-$40 on Hustler Casino Live, it’s on my spreadsheet. Being able to accurately track wins and losses is crucial to managing your bankroll.

Learning to avoid what I call “selective accounting,” was a big thing that helped me accurately represent my bankroll and win rate in poker. It can be tempting to exclude a session from my results tracker where I showed up to a game after a party and donked off $200. “That game doesn’t count, I wasn’t trying” is what one can get caught up in convincing oneself. Keeping discipline in tracking money as it flows in and out of your bankroll is massive in staying afloat in this game.

I can proudly say I have never gone broke playing poker. The money will come in poker with patience, studying, and discipline. And developing a passion for the game supersedes it all.

Frankie Cucchiara: Bankroll management is crucial if you want to have a long successful career in poker. Thankfully, I have always excelled in this because I’m naturally fickle with spending money. I’ve always liked to save my money which means I like looking at a nice big number in my bankroll. If my bankroll number started to lose its sparkle, I’d go down a stake and grind it back.

Everyone has an ego, and some players let their ego decide which stake to play instead of their bankroll. I’ve heard people say, “everyone goes broke at some point” but I disagree with that sentiment. I will always have 20 buy-ins or more of the stake I’m playing. If I’ve continually been losing and have less than 20, then I know that I need to move down in stakes.

The main point of bankroll management is that you are constantly managing your finances. If you care about being a winning poker player and climbing up the stakes, you need the statistics of your sessions. But do not get into the trap that many people do and let a short sample size impact your confidence.

10 sessions is not a strong sample size. If you are not winning after 10 sessions, do not get discouraged because sometimes bad results are just variance. The best poker players in the world can tell the difference between the two. They don’t let the short-term results impact their perception of being able to achieve their long-term poker goals. ♠

Nadya Magnus has come a long way in her poker journey since appearing as the “loose cannon” on the PokerStars Big Game back in 2010. The 2021 GPI Female Player of the Year has racked up nearly $1 million in tournament earnings in the last two years. In 2020 she finished fourth in the $3,500 WPT Lucky Hearts Poker Open main event for $171,642, and the next year returned to the same series to finish runner-up in the $2,000 side event. She also has two WSOP Circuit rings. You can find her on Twitter @NadyaKGB.

Matthew ‘Rosey’ Rosenfield is one of the three members of Next Gen Poker, a poker social media account with over 400,000 followers and 150,000,000 views across all platforms. The 22-year-old graduated from Southern Methodist University in May of 2022 with degrees in math and finance, and currently works in Dallas as a financial analyst when he’s not hitting the poker tables.

Frankie Cucchiara is a poker vlogger and also a co-owner of Next Gen Poker. He has played on many of the most popular cash game poker streams including Hustler Casino Live, The Lodge, and most recently, in the $25-$50 WPT Festival Cash Games. You can find the Next Gen crew on Twitter @TheNextGenPoker, or check out their YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok pages.