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.

More Poker Bankroll Articles:

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John 2009-09-03 22:52:00

Someone wrote in a post here above that he knows someone who makes $60k a year, playing $0.25/0.5 NL.
This seems very unlikely to me and outright impossible.
It' s $5k per month, so $1250 per week or $250 per day, playing 8 tables simultaneously. See for yourself if this is possible or not.

John 2009-09-03 21:22:00

"his or her game is profitable and should be similarly profitable online."

Can you please stop using this 'political correct : "his or her" .

If you want to be really political correct, you must say : "his or her or its" to not exclude the poor bastards, who are castrated or lost their balls.
What a discrimination !

James Smarson 2009-08-15 19:37:00

What an obvious article same things anyone would know.

Astral Raven 2009-08-11 22:32:00

I really like this discussion, do I smell a follow up article?

Some interesting points (I hope):
1. Full tilt's new lobby is great for bankroll maintenance. Using "Favorites" and "advanced filters", I am only allowed to even SEE the games I am allowed to play. The rest of the pokersphere is invisible to me until I go up a level. This is great psychologically.
2. Not every game is raked, not all of the rakes are the same. FTP buyin satellites aren't raked. In fact, some sats a while ago had negative rake (roundup errors). The fergusons aren't raked. and also, the lower the level, the higher the rake (as a percentage).
3. Nearly all guarantees are filled these days, the overlay is just advertising (this is due to Late reg. mostly.)

As a pitch, I would very much like to read an article devoted to rake, rake calculation and rake consideration (Things like tie-ing the nuts on Omaha Hi or splitting on Omaha Hi/Lo) - as these are the "hidden fees" of poker. So hidden even Sean got confused ;>

bo 2009-08-06 11:04:00

Vince,
I really dont think you play poker right if you expect a negetive outcome. There are plenty of grinders out there who are playnig as low as .25/.50 and making an honest living. One of my friends from high school ONLY plays .25/.50 NL. He started with 0, won a freeroll, and built to about 20K, but then he got cocky, and played 25/50NL, and took some beats, needless to say, he went broke.

After that he just plays .25/.50, which is where he made most his money before. He probably makes about 60K a year doing so. He usually plays 8 deep stack tables across 4 monitors, and I rarely talk to him and he says he had a losing day.

If you cant make up for the negetive expectation of the rake, you gotta work on the game a bit.

Noroll 2009-08-04 04:37:00

First of all: I REALLY like this article. What you're pointing out is in fact quite simple, but still almost every player violates some or all of the principles.

I think you're wrong Vince. You don't have to grind 12 tables 10 hour a day to make money. You just have to play well WHEN you play.

We all pay rake. But luckily we all get some sort of rakeback too. Both directly and in terms like reeload-bonuses, overlays in tourneys, VIP gifts, free-rolls etc.

I play on Pokerstars and as a supernova I hav a "flat" rakeback of 28%. On top there's the weekly (+ monthly freeroll), occasional reload-bonuses, tourneys with overlay etc.

From what I know 1-2% of all poker players are long term winners.

Sean Lind 2009-07-29 17:25:00

I hear what you're saying, My thinking was flawed. I think it's mostly because I like to try and ignore the rake, since I have no choice but to put up with it if I want to play.

The calculation of the winners paying the rake is absolutely true, my bad.

vince 2009-07-29 03:38:00

RE: "In a single table sit and go you buy in for $11 ($10+1) and win $45 for first. Your ratio of rake to winnings it 45:1 or just better than 2%."

That's not the right way to look at it. The claim is that 1st place pays 50% of the prize pool. But the total buy-ins were $99, so 50% should be $49.50. But only 90% of this amount--$45--is actually paid. The 1st place finisher is paying 10% of his 50% prize to the rake, not 2%.

RE: "The total table pays 10% rake versus prizepool, but the losers subsidize the rake of the winners."

This is wrong. The losers lose exactly what they're supposed to: 100% of their buy-in. They're not subsidizing anything. It's the winners who are paying all of the rake due to the reduction in the prize pool from $99 to $90.

It's no different than a cash game where you only pay rake when you win--the rake comes out of the pot and reduces your winnings. This is a fundamental truth of all gambling--whether poker or craps or slot machines--you only pay rake when you win.

(Sorry, dave, there's no way you're sustaining an 80-100% win rate at $20 HU NLHE. Or, you're the best player in the world that no one's ever heard of).

Sean Lind 2009-07-28 17:41:00

Vince:

In a single table sit and go you buy in for $11 ($10+1) and win $45 for first. Your ratio of rake to winnings it 45:1 or just better than 2%.

The total table pays 10% rake versus prizepool, but the losers subsidize the rake of the winners.

The larger the tournament, the lower the % of the rake becomes.

I hear what you're saying, and it's true that if you were a break even player the rake would break you.The answer for beating the rake is not long hours (since the more time you put in, the more rake you end up paying), it's quality over quantity. You need to make your sessions count.

dave 2009-07-27 23:47:00

Vince i think your missing the point that people don't win 1st through 9th the players that make money online are alot better than that.

Every night i play 10 $20+$2 heads up sit n gos and every night i average 8/10 wins meaning i have spent $220 including the rake but won $320 giving me a profit of $100 i multi-table so this takes me around 35mins to win that - now imagine i was doing this all day or if i was playing alot higher stakes the profit would be even greater.

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