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Your poker bankroll is the money you have in your poker account. How you manage your bankroll will have a significant impact on how well you financially survive streaks of bad luck or bad play, but it also affects how well you manage to keep the right focus in order to play at your best.

It’s easy to find guidelines online on how you should manage your bankroll in order to avoid going bust. Although this is crucial and something I’ll cover in this article, I think that not enough emphasis is being put on some other key techniques for keeping your focus where it should be.

The goals of having good bankroll management are:

  • Maintaining a healthy bankroll during streaks of bad luck or bad play
  • Allowing yourself to focus solely on playing at your best and getting better

First let’s cover the technical guidelines for how to manage your bankroll:

Bankroll Minimum Limits

Poker Variant Number of buy-ins
Cash Games 50 buy-ins
Multi table tournaments 150 buy-in
Sit and Go tournaments 100 buy-ins
Double or Nothing tournaments 50 buy-ins
Heads Up tournaments 50 buy-ins
18-man tournaments 90 buy-ins
45-man tournaments 100 buy-ins

“Taking shots”

Once you are starting to reach the next minimum level, say for example your have been playing 25NL cash games starting with a bankroll of 50 buy-ins ($1,250) and your bankroll has just reached 50 buy-ins for the next level which is 50NL ($2,500).

At this time you can either stay on 25NL until you have a small buffer for the next level, like around 55 buy-ins. This will allow you to play at least one session on that level knowing you can lose 5 buy-ins without having to worry about stepping back down. Alternatively you can do what’s often referred to as “taking a shot” at the next level.

The main purpose of this approach is to tell yourself; “alright, I will play one session on this level but if I lose more than X amount of buy-ins I will step back down”. So even if you start playing on the next level at the bare minimum required on your bankroll you have a plan for when it’s time to step back down.

Alright, now let’s take a look at what techniques you can use to allow yourself to stay on top of your game at all times:

The Key Ingredients

Keeping as much focus on how well your play instead of worrying about results is a lot easier than it sounds. Results does matter, there is no point trying to get away from that truth. But the best way to get good results is to play at your best and keep getting better. So if you are constantly worrying about the state of your bankroll, checking your results for the session you are currently playing at, do you think this is helping you play better in any way?

In almost every case, the answer is no.

If this is true to you then you need a bankroll management strategy which takes there worries away. Here are some good poker rules to use:

Be Honest

Before you decide which limits you want to use for your bankroll management try to be as honest as possible with yourself. Maybe you are playing cash games within the bankroll requirements I’ve mentioned above, yet the results are affecting your mood which means you are playing a bit tilted. In that case it might be a good idea to implement an even less aggressive strategy and perhaps step down a limit.

Don’t look at results until after the session
This is a good rule which might need some practise. It’s a behaviour often used to seek confirmation due to lack of confidence and/or used as a reward system; “yes I won a big pot, let’s see how nice my bankroll looks right now!”.

This kind of mindset will quickly take focus away from your play and make you worry a lot more about keeping your bankroll looking nice than playing your best. Remember, results does matter but the best way to get good results is through good play.

Handling a downswing

The most difficult time to implement your bankroll strategy is when going through a downswing. You will often suffer a lack of confidence as well as patience. This will make it even more difficult to keep a good focus but if you combine your bankroll strategy with playing fewer tables as well as shorter sessions you will make it easier for yourself to quickly build momentum again.

Fewer tables means that you will force yourself to keep a good focus on your play while the shorter sessions means that you quite easily can build momentum. If you for example play four short winning sessions you will start to get your confidence back and build momentum.

Handling an upswing

This is one of the most underrated challenges of a recreational player. Winning will affect you just as much, if not more than losing. Mistakes can be to play too high, too many tables or falling in love with your pretty bankroll and set yourself up for instant tilt as soon as you start losing. Make sure you stick to your “rules”, focus and bankroll management even when things are going great. Remember what got you success in the first place.

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