Treat poker like a business. Work hard. Focus on the money. Manage your bankroll. Master plan your work schedule. Take vacations. ~~ Roy Cooke
A white paper is described in Wikipedia as “an authoritative report or guide that informs readers concisely about a complex issue and presents the issuing body’s philosophy on the matter.”
It is meant to help readers understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision. In the complex game of poker there are problems we all must solve and decisions to be made.
This is my effort to help my fellow players solve just a few of those very fundamental problems the vast majority of us have faced, and then based on those issues lead them to making a decision. These decisions are in themselves not complex at all. They’re simple solutions. It is the “human” in all of us wherein the difficulties arise.
This paper isn’t about how to play poker. It won’t mention, flushes, straights or draws. No long explorations into the odds and probabilities. You’ll find nothing here about game theory, little about math, and zero about ranges and solvers.
What you will find here are what I believe to be the basic building blocks. Six essentials and fundamentals, that once committed to, will build a firm foundation on which any serious player will have conquered some of the most common barriers that get in the way of their poker success. Even then, it’s just the basics.
Many of the questions I often see in the various forums and poker-related Facebook pages all have a number of things in common. As I see it, they more often than not fall within six subjects. These are basic, fundamental things that apply to all levels of poker, whether you’re a beginner, recreational player, or a poker professional.
Personally, I’ve been paying rake since 2009. During those years I’ve struggled right along with the majority of you with these fundamental questions. It’s been a very long-haul, but in hindsight a journey well worth taken. I absolutely love this game. I’m fascinated by its application to everyday life, by its storied history and how it has permeated our culture. “The buck stops here,” “the new deal,” and of course “poker face” all have roots within the game.
It’s a shame the public image of poker is far from the experience most of us players enjoy. Sure there are characters of disreputable integrity, but in whose world do they not exist? Those who disparage the game have no idea the quality of the players I’ve come to know and some who have become my friends.
Over these years I’ve read more than 60 books about poker. I’ve put together a database of quotes from these books and other forums including articles and interviews, even off the cuff remarks uttered by some of the world’s best. If printed, I’m sure they’d be hundreds of pages long with thousands of quotes on hundreds of poker subjects. I share a number of them through this paper. One would be hard-pressed to ask me something about the game without my having at least a quote or two on that subject. The database is the result of thousands of hours of reading and hundreds of hours of compiling them. My collection has become a treasure trove for study in my efforts to improve my poker game. Everything that follows is a result of my studies. I repeat, they are essential and fundamental to your success.
Obviously knowledge of the game and knowing how to consistently win is essential. This means not only playing the game, experience is a hard core teacher, but it also requires studying the game away from the table. Those activities should include reading good books, watching videos, and reviewing previous hands you were involved in and how you might have played them differently. Discussing poker with other players you respect can improve your game tremendously.
I’m amazed at the number of players who boast, as if it’s a badge of pride, that they’ve never read a book about poker. They never study the game or think they need to talk with others. The vast, vast majority of them will not be long-term winners. With that said, you can be among the most knowledgeable players in the world, but without these other essentials that follow, lots of luck! So, read on.
2. A SUFFICIENT BANKROLL
Of all the questions I often see and hear, this is one of utmost importance. To carry you through the ups and downs and fluctuations of the game you must have a bankroll. Not just a bankroll, but one sufficient to keep your head above water. There’s nothing worse than not having the money to play. It’s like being in the printing business. Without a printer… you’re out of business.
If you’re a recreational player, who has no cares about preserving their money or being a winning player, then why are you reading this? If, however, you’re a serious poker player and especially if you’re a professional, you must treat your game as a business. One of the most common reasons businesses fail is because they find themselves undercapitalized. They simply don’t have enough money to sustain them through the ups and downs needed to build their enterprise.
It’s no different with poker. Without a sufficient bankroll, like any other business, you will fail and, you’ll never be a long-term winning player. The whole idea of a bankroll is to have enough money sufficient to keep you forever in the game, playing whatever stakes it might be, to meet whatever goals you might want to accomplish as a result.
If you’re a serious player (and I hope you are) especially if you’re one who wants to make money playing the game then, like any financial enterprise (or even hobby), one MUST have the tools of the trade. The tools of the trade in poker is cash. Lots of luck being in the printing business without a printer. Lots of luck being an auto mechanic without a chest of tools. Lots of luck being a poker player without money, unless you think “play money” poker is poker. It isn’t.
Poker, unfortunately, is one of the few games that cannot be played so as to afford any pleasure, without the exchange of money. Indeed one might as well go on a gunning expedition with blank cartridges, as to play poker for ‘fun.’ ~~ Henry T. Winterblossom, The Game of Draw Poker (1875)
So, now that you’re convinced you need to have a bankroll, the next question is: How much do you need? Here’s my Bankroll formula.
MY BANKROLL FORMULA
You don’t really understand something until you can explain it to your grandmother. ~~ Albert Einstein
I believe the formula that follows is a good one. There’s really only one or two numbers a player will need to adjust within this formula, matching the variables in their own game and lifestyle. It’s not rocket science, it’s very simple math.
I’ve studied a lot on this subject and have read numerous opinions. What it boils down to is your own opinion relative to your own situation as well as your own comfort level. Your bankroll depends on a number of things. First your adversity to risk, and how well do you play the game. Are you a professional or a recreational player? Do you play mostly tournament or cash, or a combination of the two? How quickly can you add to or replace a depleted bankroll etc., etc.
Some recommend you invest no more than 5% of your bankroll on any one tournament or a cash game buy-in. Others disagree, saying that isn’t nearly enough. There’s a lot to think about when it comes to having enough to avoid the “risk of ruin,” and it’s one of the most important considerations a serious poker player can make. It is the difference between playing at a comfortable level (not playing with scared money) and/or watching from the sidelines because you underestimated your bankroll needs.
After a lot of thought I’ve come up with a comfortable formula for my own bankroll and when I can move up in stakes OR when I need to move down.
It’s always open for revision and works for me, but not necessarily is it the way another would manage their own game, but manage it you must.
Here’s my formula in a nutshell. For strictly cash game players, at the very minimum you should have enough in your bankroll to cover 20-25 buy ins at 100 times the big blind. To move up in stakes I’d go by the same formula, which translates to a simple number: at least 2,000 times the big blind.
PLUS if you’re considering moving up in stakes 30% more (six buy ins) should allow you a kickstarter sufficient to test the waters. If you lose those six buy ins at the higher stakes, just fall back to the lower level and regroup. Give it a shot again when you have at least those six additional buy ins or, better yet, require even more on your next try, maybe eight.
For those who dabble only in tournaments, the minimums should be at least twice those as needed for cash players. 40-50 buy ins, likely more. When, like me, you enjoy both tournaments, as well as cash games, the formula becomes more complicated and depends on which type of game you favor the most.
It works for me, but we all have our own comfort levels when it comes to risk and have differing abilities to rebuild our bankrolls, if necessary. Some like living on the edge, others do not. Your individual mileage may vary, your numbers may differ from my own, but at least it’s a start.
3. GOOD MONEY MANAGEMENT
If you control the downside, the upside will take care of itself. ~~ Richard Branson
Playing strictly within the stakes and parameters as dictated by your bankroll size, and your comfort level, is another fundamental requirement in poker. If you want to stay in the game without the risk of ruin and watch your bankroll increase in value, or to provide you a stream of income, then good money management skills are absolutely essential. If you can achieve this it will allow you over time to play at higher stakes and the higher those stakes the quicker your bankroll will grow and the larger your stream of income can be. But remember, the Peter Principle applies.
Until you reach your own Peter Principle — the highest levels you’re able to play — bankroll management is simply one of the most important things you must practice for long-term success. The greatest majority of players simply do not have it. It is often the difference between success and failure.
Money in poker (the root of all evil) is how we keep score. In poker, cash is the absolute essential. And here’s the rub. The amount of money one needs is highly dependent on a number of variables that are all exclusive to each individual. These are personal decisions, but nevertheless decisions we must make. But one thing is certain: If you lose your bankroll and go broke, or have to constantly infuse it with new money, your numbers clearly weren’t enough. It is undeniable proof, you broke at least one of the essential bankroll and good money management rules. Beyond that discovery, you’ve also proven, you are not a very good poker player. Anyone who thinks otherwise is simply fooling themselves.
Mandatory for anyone other than maybe a recreational player, if you don’t have a system of accounting for every hour of your poker play, who do you think you are fooling? It’s easy to say, “I’m a winning player.” But, my first thought is, “Prove it!” Show me the numbers. At least tell me you keep track of all your sessions, of all your winnings and all your losses.
If you don’t know the answer, to one simple question, you don’t have to share it, but you do have to know it, then you’re not a serious player. The questions is: “After all your winnings and losses are taken into consideration, what is your hourly poker profit?” If you don’t really have a good idea what that number is, again, you’re only fooling yourself.
It’s not enough to know how to play well. To survive the test of time, you must play well consistently. ~~ Roy Cooke
Discipline is critical. In poker YOU are your own worse enemy! You need to have the discipline to follow all the rules and all the conditions of these previous essentials, along with the ability to execute your poker strategy.
Patience, understanding the math, table selection, reading ability, instinct, etc., etc., while they are all important, without a bankroll and the discipline to grow it, what does a serious player really have? Pipe dreams!
It’s not the cards, nor the dealers and certainly not your bad luck or bad beats. Suck outs on the river are a common thing in poker. If you can’t accept it, then quit. While short term events are the privy of the Poker Gods, ultimately the one in the mirror is responsible for the long-term outcome of their game. It’s not easy, nor is it sometimes fair, but that’s poker! Take responsibility for your game. Make no excuses!
Any job that pays a lot of money wants either your time, your soul, or both. ~~ Andrew Brokos, The Thinking Poker Diaries
Finally you must make a serious commitment in time and effort to be successful. To master the game you have to be willing to learn as you grow, read books, talk to other players, study the game, play while you lose (consider your losses tuition), and adhere to these basic principles without wavering or faltering. To most of us, poker success doesn’t come easy. You have to work hard at it. It’s a very competitive game, and you’re competing against players, no matter at what level, who have that commitment. Players with just one purpose at the table… to take your money. If you want to play poker, commit to keeping them from doing it.
There you have it, the six essentials of poker. None of them are optional. Now that you have these down pat there’s still a lot to learn.
Unless you’re strictly a math-based player (and this is debatable) there are often no “right” answers. A lot depends on the players, your reads, the psychology, your gut, and your nerve. I can’t help you there. I’ve done all I can in building that foundation I spoke of earlier. So move along, but good luck.
I sincerely hope this white paper has helped you in your quest, Whether it be fame, fortune or fun, whatever your goals might be, in this fascinating game called poker.