How to Set a Budget for Your Poker Playing

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People play poker for a number of reasons. For many it’s a fun social event with a possible prize at the end of the evening. It’s a night with the boys where you can get a break from the wives (and if one shows up, she’s usually bringing in some chips and beer).

For others, it’s a full-time income stream. Up to eight hours a day is spent at the computer playing games or you are making regular trips to the casino. It’s a cash cow, and while you enjoy it, the idea of fun is secondary.

If you read this blog more than once in a while, it’s probably somewhere in between those two categories for you.

Once you’re playing poker enough, whether it’s “fun” or “work,” it becomes something you have to set a budget and limits for. There is a real price per admission, and at some games, you could seriously clean out your bank account if you don’t set any boundaries on what you’re willing to gamble. Here is a process to set a budget on how much you can spend on your poker games.

1. Decide if You Even Play Enough to Think About This

Despite the concerns raised in the introduction, there is a possibility none of this even applies to you. If you play a tournament every day with a five dollar buy-in and no re-buys, then you probably don’t need to budget. Your risk of financial breakdown in this case is about the same as your granny with the chronic Bingo habit.

But even if you play a $100 game every night, you might still be ok without a budget. It really depends on your income. If you make $700,000 a year after taxes, then blowing 5% of your paycheck on poker isn’t so bad, even if you never win. A lot of people spend a higher percentage of their salary on their morning Starbucks.

However, once your poker hobby becomes a possible threat to your living expenses or other cherished activities, it’s time to set an iron-clad poker financial plan that you can stick to, without fail.

2. Find the Amount You Can Afford to Lose Every Week



This is a very simple concept, but most people have a hard time applying it. All you have to do is see how much you could lose every week in poker non-stop, without it interfering with your other bills or overall lifestyle. Let’s say it’s $100.

Before we go on, you may think that pretending you’ll lose is a very negative and unnecessary assumption to make when calculating your budget. After all, you can’t lose all the time and if you’re winning on some weeks, shouldn’t you be able to bet more on other weeks?

There is some truth to this, but it misses the point. You can never fully take the risk element out of poker. However, what you can do is neutralize the emotional effect this risk has on your playing ability. We’ve already discussed in other blog posts that your ideal poker playing state is calm and without fear or passion. If you’re only playing with money you can afford to lose, then you will not get scared when things are not going your way. You’ll be far less likely to go on tilt and screw things up. It’s challenging enough to make an objective, emotionless decision on a hand without worrying if you’ll be able to make rent next month.

We’re picking a cash amount we’re sure won’t have you sweating all over when you go all-in and are wiped out thirty seconds later.

3. Quit Gambling for the Week Once Your Limit is Spent

I don’t care how lucky you’re feeling. If your weekly limit is $100, then pack up and go home once it’s gone. Take the rest of the week off. Don’t even look at a game until then. It’s a self-sabotaging lie that you just have to play a few more hands to make it back. The “I’ll make it back” idea has to be the most costly thought in poker. Your ego gets in the way, and only bad things can happen once you’re committed to correcting past poker mistakes.

And yes, you have to keep the number consistent. Even if you won $1,000 the week before, still play with that $100 the next week. Believe it or not, your subconscious may try to “auto-correct” itself and even out your winning average the following week, so just add your winnings to the bank and start fresh the following week.

4. Raise your weekly number once your bankroll is large enough.


Suppose you’ve become a poker superstar.

You have taken that $100 every week and turned it to $500, $700, even $1,500 again and again. You should now have a hefty sum of money in the bank.

If you’re feeling a lot richer, now you can raise the number to $150, $200, or more, depending on how much money you have.

I would suggest you create a separate bank account for your poker winnings, which will help you manage this. Mint.com is one website that lets you create budgets for separate areas of your life. You can create a category for gambling and poker.

Remember that, no matter what, your weekly maximum should still be calculated based on how much you can afford to lose every week. If your poker stash has extended to $50,000, don’t start hitting the high roller games with $10,000 buy-ins. If you’d be wiped out of your savings in five games, then you have no business entering the tournament in the first place.

Part of the fun of poker is the drama of the whole thing. Setting a budget admittedly feels boring and restrictive. If you find it’s taking all the fun out of it for you, you might be better off just sticking to low stakes games at your buddy’s house. However, if you want to make serious money in poker, then you have to treat it like a real business and be the best CEO you can.

2 thoughts on “How to Set a Budget for Your Poker Playing”

  1. Thanks for the article Mike. You have great timing as i have just been surfing the web for articles on bankroll management. Even for low stakes and/or micro stakes cash games people should still have at least enough bankroll for 20-30 buyins to counter bad beats, losing streaks and variance.

    1. People are always looking for a “get rich quick” opportunity and it doesn’t exist (unless you rob a bank). When I started understanding bankroll management I wouldn’t gamble with more than 5% of my funds at a time.

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