Building Your Poker Bankroll Part 2: The Pro Roll

The Rio
Las Vegas: the holy mecca for poker professionals.

Part two of two: This concluding half of our bankroll article focuses on the bankroll size needed to play and live as a poker professional.

So You Want to Go Pro?

This is where it gets tricky. The majority of players wanting to go pro base the size of their roll strictly on the numbers I used for a merely obsessed player. The problem with this is it does not take into account the little thing we like to call living.

As an obsessed player, your day job is earning you a paycheck, which is used to fund your life. Your poker roll is used to play poker, and make money without swings or variance affecting your quality of life.

When you start to play professionally, your bankroll is your only money. Unless you have massive savings you can live off , you'll be forced to live off your earnings and roll.

Daniel Negreanu
Daniel Negreanu quickly lost back all of the money he made with his first big tourney win.

Scenario One: A Bad Month

It is very common for professional poker players to go on very long losing streaks. But we'll take a moderate approach for our scenario. Let's say you have an average roll, and are sporting $3,000 for your very tight conservative game.

You run into a bad month (by our conservative standards) and end up breaking even on the month. For the obsessed player, they are still ballin' with a huge roll. For the professional, you now have a problem. You didn't lose money, but you also didn't make money. So now you have to pay for your life out of your roll.

Rent, car, loans, credit card, food, entertainment, various and sundry other bills - whatever your standard of living is, you now have to pay for. Again, let's go conservative and say that you can cover all of that, and live quite comfortably, for $1,000 a month.

Your bankroll is now down to $2,000.

The next month, you make a total of $1,000. That money goes to living for the month, so you are still down $1,000 on your roll, without having lost money at poker. If you have another month like the first, you will then be down to $1,000 total, still having not had a losing month yet.

In order to get back any money, you have to make your living expenses, plus extra on the month. If you're playing at a very low limit, this can be harder than it seems.

Scenario Two: It Gets Worse

If we take a worse scenario than the first, and you managed to lose $1,000 that first month, plus paying for living expenses, you're going into month number two with a $1,000 roll. If you only break even that month, you are officially broke.

It's not uncommon for the world's best players to go on losing streaks for upward of six months, yet you're broke after two months. Having to pay for living expenses out of your roll take a larger toll than you may think.

Until you do the math and work it out, you don't realize how hard it is to get back to where you started once you get into a hole. If you want to be successful, you're going to have to plan for the worst, and be prepared for it.

You should have two to six months' worth of living expenses, in addition to a complete roll. This puts a "safe" roll right at around 50Bis while living cheap.

Mike Matusow
Mike Matusow is probably not the best person to choose as a bankroll management icon.

Life Comes First

If you fail to earn living money in your month of play, it should come out of the living fund. The next month you make money above your living expenses; all profit goes directly back into the living fund. Only once the living fund is full, your monthly expenses are paid and your roll is back to full will you have the chance to save money, or try to grow your roll.

This still won't cover you for a serious meltdown, or horrific downswing. I've watched players lose $1,000 in one session at a $200 buy-in game; it's not unthinkable that you could lose $4,000 in a month without breaking a sweat.

It also doesn't cover you for a life downswing. It's not uncommon for $1,000 of unexpected debt to pop up, especially if you own a car. How do you suppose you're going to cover that?

The first thing you always have to remember is that life comes first. If you get into a slump, or just can't beat the game you thought you could, you need to quit playing while you still have enough money to continue living at your standard of life, for however long it will take you to find a real job.

Playing poker professionally requires much more capital than it may seem. If you've been making consistent money for the last year playing as an obsessed player, you still need this capital to make the move. Without having a proper bankroll, the ability to continue playing will depend on you getting lucky out of the gate.

I never like to have to gamble on things this important. If you're short-rolled, you're throwing the dice on starting your new career on an upswing, to get you where you need to be, roll-wise, before any downswing hits.

Respecting Money

The more poker you play and the higher stakes you get into, the less you'll respect the value of a dollar.

After enough play, the value of money becomes moot. I remember before I ever played poker for real money, looking at a restaurant menu and thinking that there was no way I could justify paying $12 for a burger. A few years have passed, and now I'm known to leave $20 tips for $30 meals.

I've been out with friends and, while looking for my phone or rooting through my pockets for some other reason, have pulled out my roll. People will say you're crazy for carrying around a few thousand dollars in cash ... what if you get robbed?

Most people never carry that much money at one time, and it goes without saying that a normal person can't even comprehend the idea of losing it all in one session of poker. But if you're playing $10/$25 No-Limit, losing $3,000 only counts as a marginally bad day.

Antonio Esfandiari
Antonio Esfandiari has been known to be quite the baller.

The amount of money that pro players view as being an acceptable loss for a session of poker can be more than a normal person will make in a couple months of honest work.

Don't be mistaken: They are normal. We are the ones who are mixed up. This detachment from the true value of money is what allows them to play poker at a high level. You can't be thinking about how many months' rent the last bet was.

The concept of the value of money is meaningless on a poker table. If you are playing properly inside your roll, you can afford to lose everything in front of you. So the only thing you need to worry about is if you're putting your money in when you have the best of it. You have to leave the real world at the door.

When you get off that table, though, you need to find a way to achieve a normal perspective again. If you're grinding low-stakes poker for a living averaging $20 an hour, you're making more than enough money to live - provided you manage your expenses carefully.

You simply cannot afford to take that cavalier view of money from the table to your life. At this pay rate, you can't afford to be buying a brand-new 61" plasma. Even though you have $5,000 in cash in your pocket, you have to realize that you're only making $20 an hour.

Your lifestyle should reflect your average hourly wage, not your cash in hand.

More strategy articles from Sean Lind:

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sweetpea 2014-12-30 03:08:25

Let's say one wanted to make a $100 a day average, 4-5 days a week, at low level NL game, say buying in at $2-400. At what point should a player quit when winning?

When losing I am done when I lose the $2-400. When should a [;ayer quite when winning?

I guess my question is more about managing your buy-in bankroll for a game and when to get out than an overall bankroll question.

Mario c. 2014-03-05 06:22:54

@ mike Bi is short for buy ins at a no limit game assuming you buy in for 100big blinds ex. 1/2 with $200 max buy in x 50 = $10,000 bankroll to play at these stakes, makes sense?

Mike 2013-11-11 08:27:42

You should have two to six months' worth of living expenses, in addition to a complete roll. This puts a "safe" roll right at around 50Bis while living cheap.

What does "Bis" mean? What amounts to "50Bis" ?

MJEP 2012-05-08 08:22:03

What a douchebag

bennie99 2009-11-01 15:24:00

Good advice. I can't really imagine going full time as a pro, especially as a cash game player. So diffcult. I have a friend who does it full time, and he had six months of downswings this year which ate into his bankroll. He had worked as an engineer the previous year whilst living at home with his parents, so he had a bit of money saved up. Thankfully he was able to push through and is now doing very well at the moment. It's tough though...his whole life is pretty much poker so it's a big sacrifce to be a full time pro, unless you happen to become a very very good professional player.

nexgen 2009-10-25 04:36:00

Great advise. you should never risk a stable life without having the proper bankroll for poker. It will take it's toll on your poker game if you have alot of stress away from the poker table

Anon 2009-10-13 22:11:00

Good article. Solid advice for the aspiring pro. So much bankroll advice just focuses on the 'poker' bankroll. I imagine the extra pressure a professional player would be under as a result of not having a 'life' roll could seriously affect them at the table. U dont win u dont eat. lol.

I think the guideline given for 2-6 months of living expenses in reserve is good advice for a mid-stakes pro living reasonably cheap. For a high-stakes pro I think 2-3 years living expenses wouldn't be too conservative a guideline. Mason Malmuth in his book 'Gambling Theory and Other Topics' explains how because of the unusually high standard deviation and tough competition of high stakes poker a 2 year losing streak would not be uncommon for a winning player at those stakes, who would otherwise be beating the game.

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