What Stakes To Play


A short answer to this topic would be -  'Whatever your heart desires.' After all, it is your money. You can decide whether you want to take shots at a bigger stake, or you prefer building slowly and gradually at lower stakes.

High Risk - High Reward vs Low Risk vs Low Reward. But if you want an informed advice based on years of experience, read on.

When I first started playing, I was at the lowest stakes, grinding it out. Occasionally, I would take shots at higher ones, but usually that didn't go well and I came back to basics. 

The simple rule of thumb:

Your Bankroll should be at least 50 times the full buyin at that level. 

For e.g. if you are playing at 5/10 with a 1k buyin, having a 50k bankroll is recommended. Ideally, 100 buyins is much preferred especially if you multi-table, but 50 buyins is a decent place to start at.

Let's say you want to take shots at a higher level, but you don't have that much money. Does this mean you cannot play until you have 50 buyins? If we are talking specifically about shot taking, you could take a shortcut. Here's the rule:

Shot Taking is OK if your bankroll is 50 CURRENT buyins + 10 times the buyin of next level.

For e.g. if you are playing at 5/10 and want to take a shot at 10/20, then the minimum BR according to our rule of thumb you need is 100k. But by our shortcut, you need 70k instead. (50 buyins of the lower level + 10 buyins of the higher level).

Point to note: You need to have the discipline to drop down at the lower stake if you lose the 10 buyin of the higher level.

Why this conservative approach?

Poker is a game of variance. Like most sports, it involves an element of luck, perhaps more so. But the difference is that unlike other sports, this factor of luck directly translates into money earned. 

For e.g. last year, Paul Pogba of Manchester United hit the frame of the goal more than any other player in the league (somewhere around 14-16 times), which is very unlucky. If any of those shots were a few inches to the left or right, they would have been goals. It would have made a big difference in the eventual final standings of the club. But it didn't directly affect the income of the club.

Now a poker example, say you have AA pre flop. And your opponent has KK. If you do the maths (check our basic maths article), you will win this hand 81% of the time when all the money goes in pre-flop. So, 4 out of 5 times. or 40/50 times. or 4000/5000 times. You get the gist right? But here's the twist:

It is a statistical possibility that your opponent hits his, 19% times in a row. He might win with kings against your aces 10 times in a row. Of course it is unlikely, but still possible. And it is against this situation that we protect ourselves against by having a conservative approach towards bankroll management.

Running bad, Variance, Downswing, Bad Beats - whatever you prefer calling it, is a real phenomenon in Poker. And when it happens, it not only erodes our bankroll, but also our confidence. We start questioning our poker knowledge, and we wonder if we've forgotten how to play.

Trust us, we've been there.

Managing your bankroll properly, and staying strong during downswings can often mean the difference between a great and a good player. More on that in some other post.

Good luck on the tables. Leave your comments and questions below.



Mayank Jain is a writer who plays poker for a living. He writes at http://mayankja.in/ on mindfulness, travel and art, among other things.