Money Management and Self-Control

We’ve already discussed the basics of money management in our section for beginners. This is where we turn to two specific questions of poker discipline: choosing your limits, and knowing when to quit.

Choosing your limits

Choosing your limits is a critical element of playing poker. Generally, you should decide which limit to play based on your financial situation, your poker ability and your aversion to risk. These are the three main points to consider.

No matter how wealthy you are, it’s often best to start out at the lower limits, simply because the competition there is easier. Everybody can benefit from a little warm-up exercise. Few professionals play at the $1-$2 games, so it’s a relatively safe place to begin your career, or just your day.

So how do you know when it’s time to move up or down a limit when playing poker? Generally, you should only move up a limit if you think you are comfortable playing at that limit for seven sessions or more. Don’t choose a limit that’s so high it makes you scared to play. That’s just foolish. Playing scared is one of the main ingredients of poker failure. It’s also not wise to go for it at a higher limit since, if you’re making a run for it with the big boys sitting at your table, you probably don’t have the bankroll to keep up for long. Even if you win two straight sessions, you’re likely to bust out at some point and will have to move down, which is a bit like climbing off the high dive at the swimming pool with everyone watching.

Regardless of how you might feel about climbing down from that high dive, sometimes it’s necessary. If you take a hit at a higher limit, you should move down. You might have to swallow your pride a little bit, but it’s better than swallowing all of your money. Note that moving down doesn’t mean moving ALL the way down. It’s better to move down just a little bit, instead of going back to the $1-$2 tables. Moving down too much can result in a lack of motivation, and playing too loose is a dangerous habit to get into as well. If you’ve moved up to a $25-$50 table from a $10-$20 table, we recommend going back to the $10-$20 level, but not much cheaper (unless things continue to go badly).

Quitting for the day

Even if you’re the best poker player in the world, you’ll have some losing days. Knowing when to call it quits will do a world of good for your bankroll. If you play limit poker, it’s wise to quit if you have a swing of 40 big bets or more in either direction. Forty big bets at limit poker is a lot (especially longhand), so having swings that last longer than this may drive you insane. The only reason to break the 40-big-bet rule is if the game you are in is extremely good.

Fundamentally though, you should quit because you are tilting, you’ve played a lot already and risk being tired, or you just have other things to do.

Here are some signs that you may be tilting:

1. You always think your opponents are bluffing.

2. You really want to break even for the day.

3. You want to get back into the action as soon as possible.

Here are some signs that you may have played too much poker:

1. You are falling asleep at the table.

2. You’ve played more than 10 hours on the day. (Never play more than 10 hours at any one time. It’s better to play many short or medium sessions than a few long ones.)

3. You find it harder to pay attention to your opponents.