One of the most important skills in becoming a great professional poker player is money management. In fact, money management is, in some ways, much more important than talent. I have seen many good poker players go broke because of poor money management skills: playing too high for their bankroll, playing in the pit, or jumping into games that are too high for the game they regularly play.
It is obvious why the first two are examples of poor money management skills. If you only have a bankroll of $1000 then playing $20/$40 is a terrible idea as you can go broke in one play. Taking your poker bankroll and playing pit games such as craps where skill does not count is obviously poor money management. But what do I mean by the last example. Shouldn’t you sometimes jump into a game that is higher than you generally play if the game is great? No!
Let’s say you generally play between $10/$20 and $15/$30 hold’em. You walk into the poker room one day, or log onto the computer, and you see a fantastic $30/$60 game with a big $15/$30 sucker in it. What is going to happen to your bankroll if you play in this game? Let’s consider the downside.
If you play in this game, it is twice as big as the highest game you generally play in. This means you’ll make twice as much, right? Wrong. The pros playing in the game are going to be much better than you; after all they consistently beat a game twice as big as you play in. Consider how bad the suckers have to be in order to outweigh the fact that you are playing with pros who frankly play on a different level than you do. What often happens is that even though you can pound on the suckers in the game, you become merely a holding station for the suckers’ money on its way to the better pros in the game. So if you want to take a shot at a big game you had better consider how much more skilled than you the pros sitting at the table are.
It all comes down to simple risk versus reward. If you are a great $15/$30 player maybe you are beating the game for a full big bet an hour, $30. If you jump up to take a shot at what looks like juicy a $30/$60 game what happens to your earn vs. variance? With the significantly better pros in the game, combined with the fact that you may be playing out of your comfort level, you may now only be taking Â½ a big bet an hour out of the game, or $30. That’s the same $30/hour you were taking out of the $15/$30 game with twice the risk! You are earning the same amount per hour but having to fade the variance of a $30/$60 game rather than a $15/$30. In fact the risk is probably more than double as a juicy game is generally wilder; and the wilder the game, the higher the variance. If you are only moving up when the game is really juicy then you are specifically choosing to jump up in high variance situations. So even if you did increase your earn to say Â¾ of a big bet per hour, or $45, you are still having to endure significantly larger fluctuations in your bankroll, fluctuations your $15/$30 bankroll may not be able to endure.
I know you are thinking that if the game is good enough maybe you could take out a full big bet an hour and double your earnings. Then you should certainly jump up, right? I still say no. For there is still the simple fact that, in the short term, luck is very powerful in poker and on any given day the best player in the game might be the biggest loser of the day if luck isn’t with him. If you want to take a shot at a game you had better make sure that game goes more than every once in a while. Otherwise, a bad day in the game, no matter how good the game, could ruin your whole month. If you jump into a big game and have bad luck it could wipe out all the hard work you have done in the smaller game in one fell swoop. That’s right, poof! Your profits for a month of hard work are gone because you jumped into a wild, albeit great, game double the size of the game you generally play.
So consider the risk when you see that juicy game. It might not be as juicy for your bankroll as it looks!