Show me the money: how to manage your poker bankroll

Poker is a fun game, but in order to keep playing, let alone make a living from it, you must learn to manage your money responsibly.

Paul Phua explains why you must be a rock with your ’roll

Last week one of my readers emailed the Paul Phua Poker site with a question: “Paul Phua, please tell me: how can someone make a living from poker, how much cash and/or income would they need, and what stakes should they be playing?”
This is a great question. In fact, I will soon be releasing a video of tips from top players including Phil Ivey, and he says in it that managing your money is one of the most important things for beginners to learn. I hope the following insights will be helpful to players wishing to take poker seriously:

Bankroll management

When poker players talk of their “bankroll”, it means a sum of money they have set aside exclusively for poker. It is very important that this money, whether it grows or shrinks through playing, is kept separate from all your other funds and financial dealings. One reason is so that you don’t start dipping into money you should be using to pay important bills. Another is that it enables you to tell whether you are making or losing money at poker.
Equally importantly, your bankroll should be money you can afford to lose without giving you problems in your daily life. We all hope to win, but no one can guarantee to make money at poker – even the world’s best players can simply have a run of bad luck.
How big should your bankroll be? It could be $500 or it could be $5 million. The principle is the same: it’s money you feel you can afford to risk at poker. The only thing that will change, according to the size, is what stakes you are able to play at.

Choosing the stakes

The bigger the bankroll you have, the higher the stakes you can afford to play. This doesn’t mean you have to play at the highest possible stakes – billionaire Bill Gates supposedly enjoys a bit of poker, but only plays at $1-$2 blinds – but it does mean you shouldn’t play at stakes that are too big for your roll. For one reason, you may be playing scared, and that never results in the best decisions. For another, if you play for too large a proportion of your bankroll, just a few unlucky games could wipe you out.
Poker is a marathon, not a sprint. Only once you are making money consistently at one level should you consider moving up to the next.
So where do you start? Typically, the cheapest live cash games you will find in casinos are $1-$2. Since it is recommended that, in No-Limit Hold ’Em cash games, you sit down with 100x the big blind (some might say 200x is preferable in order to maximise your potential winnings from big hands), you would need $200 to play each time; with another $200 in reserve in case you need to rebuy. And since you may lose in that game no matter how well you play, your total bankroll will need to be several times bigger than $400.
Tournaments are a superficially cheaper option. Though entry to one-off tournaments can be anything from a few hundred dollars to many thousands, regular casino tournaments can be found for $50 or so. Bear in mind, however, that only the top 15% or so of players get paid anything at all, and only the top 5% or so get back a significant return; so again, you will need to have enough in your bankroll for many tournaments.
If your bankroll is not big enough for the above stakes, you will find every possible size of cash game and tournament in online poker sites.

Can you make a living from poker?

There’s an old saying about poker: “It’s a hard way to make an easy living.” And that’s never been truer than today, when so many players have understood that they need to read up on strategy. All the same, it is at least possible to make a living from poker. There is no such thing as a professional roulette player, but there are professional poker players!
Most people will start out losing money, until they develop the experience to become winning players. My advice at that level, when you are still likely to lose, would be to spend no more on a session of poker than you would spend on a typical night out. Poker is, after all, a fun game. A lot more fun, in my view, than most forms of entertainment!
Whether you can then convert that experience into making a living from poker, that will depend on you. You will need skill, strategy, an understanding of the odds and of psychology, a calm temperament, the ability to learn from your mistakes. A good start is to follow the above rules on money management – and to keep reading my strategy blogs on Paul Phua Poker, and watching the videos on the Paul Phua Poker YouTube channel.
— Paul Phua