Advanced Poker Advice: Your Psychological Bankroll

There have been countless articles written on proper poker bankrolls. You ask any professional player the top-five questions that he or she is asked most frequently, and the bankroll management question is bound to be on everyone’s list. However, I think that the reason people struggle so much with answering this question on their own is because they fail to factor in the fact that there are two bankrolls you must manage: your physical bankroll and the less mentioned psychological bankroll.

Everyone has heard about the physical bankroll. The standard is that it should be between 300-500 times the big bet. There should be some money set aside for living expenses and $100 or so for buy-ins to the average tournament. You could argue these figures, but more importantly, you should start to consider a very widely ignored and important consideration, the aforementioned psychological bankroll.

Whether you are just starting to play poker, or you have been playing for a while, you are always going to encounter your losing days and downswing streaks that can be tough to handle. To me, your psychological bankroll is the amount of money you can stand to lose before it affects your mindset, and adversely, affect your game.

When I was just starting out, I used to play poker and deal blackjack and poker in the casinos. The fact that I had a paycheck coming in every week to fall back on during my losing streaks was important for my psychological mindset, but there was still always a threshold of the amount that I could lose before I would literally lose sleep over it.

When I would lose that amount, it would bother me so much that I found that I was no longer playing well that day, and it would than often affect the next session or two, as I was trying to protect my stack from suffering a similar fate that it had suffered the session before. Losing that amount essentially made it too difficult to continue playing poker optimally until I got over it, and I eventually learned to stop playing when I reached my limits and that helped me to overcome the problem. As you move through poker limits, your threshold may increase or decrease depending on how your results are for that week or that month, but it’s important to stay aware of the amounts that you can and can’t handle, and then maintain the discipline to quit before you overstep your boundaries.

Everyone’s threshold is different, and I have found through my experience that there are several ways to prevent yourself from becoming a victim of what I like to call “psychological bankroll tilt”:

You can give yourself a stop-loss limit. The term basically means exactly what it says. You set a limit that you feel comfortable losing for the day, and you stop when you have lost that amount to prevent yourself from falling into the zone that makes you uncomfortable

You can keep a detailed record of all your sessions. If you take poker seriously, you should be practicing this method already, but if not, then you should start. On top of the easily recognizable benefits of knowing if you are ahead or behind, the records can serve as a positive reinforcement to get you to feel better about the day’s losses by forcing you to focus on the big picture.

By setting limits for your physical and psychological bankroll, you allow your regard for money to rule the table without it negatively affecting your game.