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There's lots of advice for managing your bankroll from a starting balance, but I don't have much in the way of an actual bankroll. What I do instead is set aside a monthly budget ($100) just for poker. It kinda works out like a $100 bankroll that resets every month - if I'm ahead, I cash out the winnings; if I'm behind, I put money in. If I bust, I'm done until the first of next month when I put a fresh $100 in.

I tried pretending it was a $1200 bankroll that I'm parceling out to myself over the course of a year, but that doesn't help the problem - it just changes the scale of it (that is, instead of "next month" I would look to "next year.) If I say that the bankroll is, in fact, $100, then would put me on $5 buy-ins, but my cash games typically run $10 - $40.

I find that I come out ahead more often than not, so I think my cash buy-ins are about right. I'm just starting to get serious about my poker game and track my performance.

I can figure out my win/loss rate over time with a spreadsheet, and my monthly budget puts a limit on my losses within a time frame. Is there a reason to come up with a number that represents my "total bankroll"? And if so, how should I calculate and manage that number?

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    Do you ever plan to try to move up in stakes? – Chris Farmer Nov 14 '14 at 16:49
  • Great point, Chris! Yes, I do hope to move up in stakes as I get better. I suppose I would either increase the monthly budget (e.g., $250 a month if I wanted to try $100 buy-ins), or let the bankroll grow a small balance and count on the monthly replenishment to handle variance. Either way, I'd definitely not wind up with the prescribed $2,000 balance in my bank account. – Mark Tabler Nov 14 '14 at 20:11
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In general, I don't think there should be lots of changes. If you have x dollars in your bankroll now, and if you have the financial situation where you can afford to add y dollars per month to your roll over z months, then your virtual bankroll z months in the future is x + yz. You still need honestly to assess your win rate and variance to know whether this is sufficient for the stakes you're playing and for your tolerance of the possibility of going broke.

I have a major question though: If you're planning to add to your bankroll monthly, why would you also cash out any monthly winnings? If you want to move up in stakes eventually, I think it's important to

  1. Have a dedicated poker bankroll, even if you've got the finances to add to it later, and
  2. Honestly audit your game in terms of both play and cashflow.

If you're always pulling money into and out of the poker account, it seems like you're not likely to be treating it as a serious dedicated space. That's totally fine if you want poker to be a fun way to spend time and maybe with some luck make some extra money. But if you want to move up in stakes and have both your level of play and your bankroll well-suited for the move, I think it's important to be able to honestly assess your poker-related cashflow, and you can only do this through keeping records.

I'm worried that being able to casually add and subtract from your bankroll makes it harder to keep yourself honest about your play, and it might make it easier for you to "hide" from deficiencies in your play. "Aw, I think I'll make this call even though I think I'm beat and not getting sufficient odds, because it's the 29th of the month and I get to add another $100 tomorrow anyway." It's a totally legit way of thinking if you're comfortable with it, but I think you would need to explicitly acknowledge that in doing this you're not optimizing your play. In terms of improving your play, I think you'd be better off in many ways in treating your poker bankroll as a limited resource, adding to it only in cases of high negative variance or as a means by which to level up in stakes.

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    I think you've found the nut of the problem: however I fill it up, I'm not treating it as a bankroll. The answer is excellent, and here's how I'm using this information to fix my problem: knowing that I'm comfortable at $40 buy-ins, I'm setting my starting bankroll at $1000. Each month for the next 10 months, I'll add $100 to my poker account - whatever I've won or lost in the meanwhile goes in there as well. Doesn't matter that I don't have the $1,000 today - the whole point is that you never play the whole amount. By August next year, I'll have built my real bankroll. Thanks, Chris! – Mark Tabler Nov 15 '14 at 6:59
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I'm going to play the devils advocate here just because I personally despise credit which is how you are treating your actual bankroll.

You cannot ignore variance in poker. And for that reason alone you cannot 'pretend' you have a $1,000 bankroll. Because in fact you have a $100 bankroll. Next month if you break even then you have a $200 bankroll. Less if you lost and more if you won etc.

If you play as if you had a $1,000 bankroll and variance is not kind to you, then you've shot yourself in the foot monetarily. The kicker here is you are getting less hands played as a result of pretending to have a $1,000 bankroll.

Sure if you win it looks good on paper until you factor in all the risk you are taking. If you have 2 bad games you're out of money for the month. And when variance isn't being kind this is an easy situation to run into.

You have to treat poker like a business. Any hand you play in improves your skill, some more so than others. With that in mind playing in lower stakes with a $100 bankroll is only going to help your long term run. And if you have a couple of bad games you've still got enough bankroll to pad these bad games as long as you win/loss rate is still profitable. If you start to fall behind on the win/loss rate try tournament structure, try sit and go's, change up your play. Track your games see where the money sink is. Plug that hole, like if you tend to over play or under play AQ.

The bottom line is you can't pretend you have a $1,000 bankroll unless you physically have $1,000 sitting in your poker account. Make it a goal to turn your $100 bankroll into a $1,000 bankroll from just poker profits and use that extra money on poker books/training, poker tracking etc. This is a business and in the end the more you put into it, you will get out of it.

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  • You raise some great points about playing on credit. I can tell you how this played out in reality. I never played more than 3 games a month, and brought $30 to each game, so I was always covered by my $100 a month budget. I pretended my bankroll was $1000, and it's currently sitting at $930 (actual cash). I was up for a while, and I'll hopefully be up again soon. This system worked out for me just fine. But I acknowledge that if I unexpectedly couldn't add $100 a month to the bankroll, then I'd have been overplaying against my own "credit." This was an acceptable risk to me; YMMV. – Mark Tabler Nov 19 '15 at 23:12

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