Poker, especially big bet games like no-limit Texas hold’em and pot-limit Omaha hold’em, have a very large element of chance in the short run. Over time, skill will obviously win out, but while you’re waiting on “the long run”, you need to take measures to protect yourself from the inevitable swings that come along with playing a lot of poker. Here we’re going to break down a three-pronged approach to managing your poker bankroll which is based on giving you the protection you need from the chance element of the game.
First you need to realize a truth about the game that is not what most people want to hear: your edge per hour is relatively small compared to what your poker bankroll should be. If you’re playing $1/2 no-limit Texas hold’em in a casino setting playing 10-hour sessions, then you may only see 400-500 hands in a session. Even if you’re winning eight big blinds per hundred hands, that’s only an average of winning $64-80 per session. Meanwhile, your bankroll should be well over $4000 to even sit in the game to begin with, and even more than that if you’re relying on poker as your main income.
After you’re comfortable with the idea of having a lot of money backing your play, you need to realize that you’re going to need even more money behind if you are playing in a game that’s high-variance. The wilder the players, the more streets of betting, and the higher the cap on the betting per street, the larger the bankroll you absolutely must have. All three of these factors create more of a statistical term called variance. An increase in variance means a direct increase in your chance of going broke in a given game with a given bankroll.
Finally after you understand how deep a bankroll needs to be and after you understand the role of variance, you need to realize that there is a major psychological component to the size of your bankroll. When you’re on a really bad streak of cards (which will happen from time to time), you will have a much harder time recovering and playing your best if the swing takes out 20% of your bankroll than if it takes out only 5% of your bankroll. The comfort of having a large number of bets (or buy-ins if you’re playing no-limit/pot-limit games) left before you have to move down or go broke cannot be overemphasized.
The intelligent gambler does not only find a game that he has an edge in. He (or she) also evaluates the role of luck in the game and the probability that they will go broke based on the chance aspect of the game. This management of your gambling bankroll is crucial to longevity in the game.