Not everyone treats poker as a part-time job; most of us are casual players who see the game merely as entertainment (although we also enjoy winning). If you are interested in regularly supplementing your income with poker, particularly on the Internet, please see Bankroll Management for Serious Players. For all others, who play session-to-session without much regard for the big picture, continue here for some tips on maximizing the potential of your bankroll.
For this discussion, I’ll use myself as an example. I visit the casino to play poker a couple times a month and usually play low-limit Texas hold’em, either 3-6 or 4-8. Occasionally I’ll mix in some tournaments or no-limit hold’em, but I’ve found that I do best with the limit games. Since I don’t play frequently or keep track of my winnings, I don’t see much point in having a special poker bankroll. Instead, I will set some money aside each week and only go to the casino when I have enough to play. ‘Enough’ is the key term here, as many casual players do not understand this term. Too many 3-6 players will sit down at a table, buy in for the minimum (usually $60), play until they lose that, and then rebuy for another $60 or possibly $100. This method, while seemingly harmless, ensures that you will never be a consistent winner. Instead, you should sit down with a minimum of 20 big bets – $120 in a 3-6 game – and more if possible. It’s okay if you only buy in for $100 or so, as long as you make sure that you have cash behind (i.e. in your pocket), ready to be turned into chips the second you get too low. By ‘too low,’ I mean about $60; when you hit this level, reach into your pocket and buy back in for another $20-$60.
You might ask, “What is wrong with buying in for $100, playing until I run out, and then buying in again? It’s the same amount of money.” Though the last statement may be true, it is not the total that is important but the amount you have when holding the cards. If you get dealt a monster hand and have $40 in front of you at a 3-6 table, the most you can win from another player is $40; had you been playing with $80, you could have won the maximum of $72 from each player, assuming the betting was capped each round. These lost bets can add up over time, seriously limiting your winnings.
As you can see, the most important part of bankroll management for a casual player is knowing how much money to play with. The rules for no-limit hold’em are similar; you should always buy in for the maximum amount allowed and not let your stack fall too far before rebuying. Some players do not like to do this because they are afraid to lose a whole stack in one unlucky hand. Good players, however, cannot worry about losing money; instead, they must only concern themselves with making correct decisions, letting the cards fall as they may. Successful players like Doyle Brunson, Barry Greenstein, Johnny Chan and Liz Lieu have been making money off that fear in other players for decades!
Tournaments are a little tricky, as they have very high variance and are often expensive to play, especially if one gets knocked out early. As a rule, beginners can play in cheap tournaments where the blinds move up quickly, since these amount to little more than a crapshoot. More skilled players need to pick and choose their tournaments wisely, avoiding the cheapies but also playing within their limits. Know how much money you are willing to lose and let that be your guide.