Believe it or not, there is one factor that has little to do with actual poker strategy, which can ground even the most skilled poker professionals like Negreanu and Ivey: bankroll management. It doesn’t matter how good a poker player you are and how thorough your knowledge of game theory is. If your bankroll management is nonexistent or faulty, you’re never going to be a long term winner, simply because you won’t even be around for the long term.
Most people move up the stakes/limits as soon as they can afford to pay out a single buy-in. That’s just like playing pro football in your underwear and hoping for a long career. Your bankroll needs to be long enough to handle fluctuations.
Let’s take a look at NL cash games for instance. NL poker and especially NL cash poker, is about the implied odds and about playing the player. Techniques like set-mining and other such implied odds moves (which yield the majority of winnings for a successful player) involve going all-in quite often. It only makes sense that in order to make the most of your opportunities you get as much money into the pot as possible. This is also the reason why you should keep your stack close to the maximum allowed at all times.
It sometimes happens though, that your otherwise excellent implied odds hand takes a huge whooping. If you came into the game on that single buy-in, you just felted yourself for good.
If you can reload though and continue to push such hands, you will eventually make a profit.
This is why some experts say that a huge part of being successful at NL cash games is mere survival.
You have to have at least 10 buy-ins in your bankroll to give yourself a real shot at winning, but to be safe, you’d to better to have 30 buy-ins. Remember, there’s no fail-proof bankroll management strategy, but the general guideline is: the bigger your bankroll is in comparison to a buy-in, the better off you are.
The fact alone that a meager bankroll makes you extremely vulnerable to the swings which are so characteristic of Texas Holdem is not all there is to it. The knowledge that there’s a continuous pressure on you, will make you play scared and as you probably know, scared money never wins.
In cash game Holdem, taking full advantage of every bit of EV+ is extremely important. All these tiny edges will add up at the end of the day to deliver your winnings. You cannot afford to skip marginal EV+ situations in order to wait around for more obvious EV+ ones. The majority of the time, you’ll only get relatively marginal EV+. If you decide to give those hands up, you’ll deal you overall effort a huge blow, you’ll give up loads of value, and on top of it all: your play will become predictable.
The best way to illustrate this predicament is through a tournament example: you know that when your stack is huge compared to the size of the blinds, you have all your strategic moves at your disposal. As your stack shrinks when compared with the blinds, you witness yourself robbed of one weapon after the other.
In Fixed Limit cash games, the variance is much smaller and it tends to creep into the game on a hand-to-hand basis. You cannot really go all-in in a FL game if you’re playing on a reasonable stack and therefore you cannot take a huge hit to your bankroll on any single hand. This doesn’t mean that there’s less money in FL than in NL. It just means that the variance will be somewhat tempered.
Therefore, if you have a bankroll which contains 200-300 big bets, you should be OK.
When it comes to tournaments, determining your minimum bankroll for a given buy-in level is done in a similar manner. For STTs (in which individuals stand a better chance of finishing in the money) you’ll need about 50 buy-ins. For MTTs, your bankroll should be much bigger, because winless spells will last much longer there.