Five Rules to Save Your Online Poker Bankroll

Viktor Blom
Even the best can burn through their rolls.

Lots of poker players - even winning players - are prone to burning through their online bankrolls quickly.

And even the best players can ruin weeks or months of successful grinding in one or two bad sessions.

Not surprisingly, players who lose money playing live poker (about 90% of the live-poker world) also claim they're simply unable to keep a balance online. Strange.

What is surprising though is the number of truly winning players who have the exact same problem.

If a player is a consistent winner in live poker, it stands to reason that his or her game is profitable and should be similarly profitable in online poker.

Unfortunately, being successful in online poker requires significantly more discipline and control than live poker.

Players are stronger, play is quicker and you don't have anyone to see when you go off the deep end.

If you're a good poker player, and you know you're capable of making money online yet can't seem to keep a roll, this article might be just what you're looking for.

1. Play Within Your Roll

Start with the most important concept first: you absolutely must play within your bankrroll if you want to make money online.

The simplest way to explain it is to look at the mathematical theorem Gambler's Ruin.

Tom Dwan

One of the concepts of Gambler's Ruin is this: take two players and pit them against each other in a zero-sum game (such as flipping a coin, where each player has an expected win/loss rate of exactly 0%).

One player has a finite bankroll. The other has an infinite bankroll. Given infinite repetitions of the game, the player with the finite roll will eventually go broke.

In the online poker world, it's you against everyone else. This means it's your roll against the infinite roll of the rest of the world. If poker was a zero-sum game, you'd go broke.

Luckily, if you're a winning player, you can expect a positive return on your investment.  But you need to have enough money in your roll to make the swings and variance irrelevant.

Your bankroll, although finite, needs to be large enough to seem infinite. Stick to the standard rule of having less than 5% of your roll in play on one table at a time.

If you really want to be robusto, drop that number as low as 1% or 2%. Some of the most profitable and serious online grinders play with rolls 10x that.

If you never have to worry about going broke from losing at a specific game, chances are you won't.

2. Don't Monitor Your Balance

If you're following the first rule and playing with a legit bankroll, then (outside of a serious and lengthy downswing defying all odds) you're in little-to-no risk of going broke.

You play poker with chips, not money. You can't think about the money you're playing the game with as it's completely irrelevant.

With checking the amount of your online poker bankroll as easy as clicking a button, it's very easy to fall into the trap of micro-managing your poker account.

When you're on an upswing, every time you check your balance you feel good.

The number goes up, so does your spirits.

But it only takes one beat to make that number go down. A lot. And if you're still checking your balance, seeing that smaller number will make you feel bad.

You want it back to where it was and you want it back immediately.

As soon as you have that thought, you've started "chasing your losses." You're going to start forcing your play to get back to where you think you should be.

This can be the first step towards total self destruction.

Typically in poker, making money is a slow grind and losing money is a quick drop.

If you're watching your balance, you'll fall into the depression of "a week's work lost" or "It will take me a week to get back what I just lost in an hour."

The only way to get it back fast is to jump limits and take a shot at a big score.

This breaks rule #1, and is the first step to going broke.

3. Treat the Game Seriously

When you're playing poker for real money, every session, pot and decision matters. Even the smallest of mistakes costs you money.

The more money you lose from mistakes, the harder it becomes to generate profit and keep from going broke.

Limit distractions: By the very definition of the word, a distraction is something that takes your focus away from the game and puts it on something else.

As soon as you start playing online poker without paying attention, you're almost certain to make multiple mistakes.

Every person is different.

Some players can play just as well, if not better, while watching a movie. Other players need to shut everything else down to keep their mind on the game.

You need to honestly assess your capability for multi-tasking and set yourself up to play in an optimal poker environment.

Don't play out of boredom: You play poker because you want to play, or because it's what you do to make money.

Playing because you're bored will force you to make poker your personal entertainment.

Sometimes, poker is not entertaining at all. If you're only playing because you're bored, and you're having a boring session, chances are you're going to make dumb moves to push the action.

If you're bored and you don't legitimately feel like grinding, find something else to do.

4. Pay Attention to Your Human Needs

You are human.

Humans require constant maintenance and upkeep to stay healthy. If you're not healthy and feeling good, you're not going to be playing your best poker.

The most important of these factors for poker:

Hunger: If you're not eating well or just plain hungry, you're not going to be thinking as quickly or proficiently as possible.

Also, if you're hungry, that's just one more distraction to keep you from thinking about poker.

Herman Miller Aeron Task Chair
Gat a good chair.

Comfort: If you're uncomfortable, you're distracted. Get a good chair, a good monitor, and set yourself up as ergonomically as possible.

If you want some good tips, Google is your answer.

Googling "Home office ergonomics" gives you pages like this:

Use every tip you can find to keep yourself healthy, comfortable and carpal-tunnel free.

Exhaustion: If you're exhausted, you're not playing your best game. If you're not playing your best game, you're losing money.

Regardless of how good the game is, when you feel extremely tired, go to bed.

Mental Distractions: If you have anything pressing on your mind, you're going to have a hard time playing your best game.

It's best to not play at all when you're in a mental state that's anything other than "normal."

Drugs and booze are another mental distraction. It's one thing to have a beer or two while you play; it's another to try and play while hammered.

Regardless of what you may think, you can't play your best poker when you're drunk.

Jeff Madsen
Tilt: #1 bankroll killer.

5. Integrate a Tilt-Induced Kill Switch

Tilt is the #1 bankroll killer in the world.

Usually brought on by breaking any combination of the previous rules, or something as simple as a bad beat, tilt can drive even the most measured player into a frenzy of ridiculous bets, raises and calls.

The cause of tilt is personal and can come from anywhere. Although it will vary in degree from one person to the next, it's impossible to avoid all tilt entirely.

Some players, such as Phil Ivey, are rarely tilted. And when they are, it's rarely enough to affect their game all that much.

For the rest of the world, when you feel any signs of tilt, no matter how slight or seemingly harmless, it's time to log off, get up, and go do something else.

Poker will always be there when you get back.

End Note:

If you follow all of these rules, and you're capable of playing winning poker, chances are you will never go broke online.

But be warned: Once you break just one of these rules, the others can come crashing through the door right behind it.

Be diligent, and at the first sign of any rule being broken, abandon ship.

Remember, poker will always be around tomorrow, but once your roll is gone, it's not coming back.

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Sunshine68IOU 2010-05-18 17:43:06

P.S. The reason I like playing cash games is because I don't have the time for tournaments. Takes too long and I do have a life outside this computer.

Sunshine68IOU 2010-05-18 17:35:58

Hey Sean
I'm like lj, I do well in tournaments but not so good in cash games. I'm getting better and hanging on but I've never really increased my BR. Should I play more tournaments or learn some cash game tricks? I like going to the Casino and playing 1/2 but have yet to be successful. Tips?

Jeydub 2010-05-14 04:40:30

thanks for the article. I am a new player, and have had some good luck early on. Recently, however, I have struggled. I have found that there is a lot I didnt know, and your article affirmed some of the truths and rules I have picked up, but was uncertain of. I am sure many of the more experienced players may find this information elementary, but for a new player, validating what I think I know is priceless.

Thanks again.

lj 2010-04-22 03:24:20

Thanks for the article. Regardless of what anyone says a winning player has to follow at least some of these rules to be successful, unless you are rich and can just keep depositing. Most of us aren't.

I've never deposited. I won $4 in a freeroll and grinded .10 and .25 tourneys then moved up to $2 and $5 tourneys. Whenever I have a win I treat myself to one higher game (within reason). I'm up to $150 and have been unknowingly following most of these steps.

I would like to add one principle though: Play where you are comfortable and profitable playing.
For me it's tourneys. I learned early that I'm not good at turbos and not good a cash games. I don't know why. It's just not my style. But I've made a living in the tourneys.

Thanks again. Good luck.

Sean Lind 2010-04-06 19:55:28

patrick,

As with any poker plan, you have to take all of these into consideration:

Your skill
Your edge on the competition
Your proven record of results
and the size of your roll

It's fine and dandy to assume that you can always finish in the top 50%, but that's not realistic. You have to take into account outright losses into your factors as well.

This is why most tournament players stick to the 100 rule. You should have a roll = or > than 100 buy-in's of the limit you're choosing to play.

This rule is not set in stone, but it gives you an idea of the kind of roll you should have if you want to get serious.

patrick 2010-04-05 21:08:59

i want to know if this is a good idea....multi table nothing but 20 dollar - 50 dollar double or noithing ten person tournaments....as long as i can finish in the top 50th percentile over the long term.. i can make money..i feel as if i can do this....any disadvantages to this theory? except fot it being boring....

Moondoggie75 2010-03-26 23:48:49

On the subject of rake on pokerstars the rebuy tourneys only charge rake on the first buyin. making these the least raked and most profitable that i have found. if you buy in, immediately rebuy for double chips and take the rebuy typically 25% of players will earn back at least 6 buyins this coupled with low rake and the occasional final tables make these games very lucrative especially with proper bankroll management.

EYE-GOTCHA1 2010-02-09 04:37:17

I would say it was great reading n i've been playing for 3 yrs now n just started money mangment(ive read 12books n played 500k hands of play$ then freerolls till i got $ then .01/.02 n .10 trnys hand cont is now over 1mill) n ive bilt my roll from $180 up to $799 in 1 week. I only play SnGs that take no more then 3-5% of my BR n play trnys the same way as my BR grow's tho i still stick with 3-5% rule. Just took $300 out. If u study n play by these rules u well grow n it well happen. GLA P.S. i play pokerstars stop by n C me well play if u dare. >:} 1` thing is for sure tho try n learn something new every day n with tht WSOP here i come.

Sean Lind 2010-01-27 00:43:20

JMoney,

You're welcome. It's nice to get comments like these from time to time, I appreciate it.

As for books, I'd recommend "Elements of Poker" by Tommy Angelo, it's a must read really

JMoney 2010-01-26 23:49:41

Hi Sean,

I've been reading your articles for sometime and would like to take a second and thank you for your informative pieces. I especially like this one because I think my biggest enemy on the felt is myself (tilting, distractions, etc.). I've printed this out as a reminder and a refresher to a book which has similar principles- "The Poker Mindset" co-written by Matthew Hilger. I don't think a lot of people realize how much the psychological side of poker impacts their play.

Is there an article reference or recommendation you could give for books on this subject?

Thanks again for your articles!

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