At what level should I play?
It very much depends on the game you play, the type of player you are, and the number of tables you play at once. A tight player playing one table of limit Holdem can get away with committing a higher percentage (of bankroll) than a loose player playing 2 tables of NL Holdem. Generally, most people should fall in the range 1% to 7%. Put simply, this means if your bankroll is $500 and you are a NL Holdem player, then something like 3% of $500 is the correct buy-in level (i.e. $15). You obviously can get away with a higher % in limit because putting your buy-in on the line in just one hand is unlikely to happen.
A quick rough guide:
1% Loose, NL, Multi-table
2-3% Loose, PL or NL, Multi-table
4% Tight, NL or PL, Multi-table
5% Tight, NL or PL, Single table, or Loose Limit player
5%-6% Tight, Limit, Multi-table
6-7% Tight, Limit, Single table
Why is this percentage so low?
1) The psychology of the bad beat. A bad beat for 3% of your bankroll is less painful than a bad beat for 30% of your bankroll. The bad beats will occur with equal likelihood at whatever level you play, so do not subject yourself to the torment. A bad beat for much more than 10% of your bankroll will inevitably and understandably put you on tilt, so do not put yourself in this situation in the first place. Tilting is virtually never to do solely with how strong or weak- minded someone is after a beat. It is all to do with the situations you put yourself in long before the beat occurs. Sometimes, lessons take a long time to learn and playing at the wrong level is very alluring. However, if you want to make a success of poker, this simply must be avoided. For some, this means not touching a drop of alcohol whilst playing, while for others it may mean restricting access to high limit tables. The temptation will be there always. Avoid it.
2) Many situations will arise where you have positive equity for the call but are not the favorite to win. For example, calling at a cost of 33%, your probability of winning draws comes in at more like 40%, but you are still a 60% chance to lose the pot. You should obviously be calling pretty much any circumstance where you feel you have positive equity. This also comes down to degrees of looseness/tightness. Joining a table for 25% of your bankroll and then, as a consequence, turning down a positive equity call are not good poker.
3) Exploiting others poor bankroll management. Many players will play above their bankroll (they have a bankroll of $300 and they seem to think playing at a table with a $100 buy (a $0.5/$1 NL table) is a good idea. This obviously tends to make players a little too tight. This edge can only be exploited only if you yourself are not playing above your level.
4) The swings. No matter how good you are, you will have swings. Good runs and Bad Runs will come and go. Some will last an eternity; some will be over in a flash. If someone sucks out some negative equity on you once, do not let it affect you. If they do it again, keep a clear mind. How about five times in a row? Man, you’re not a happy bunny, but what has happened? Nothing that defies the laws of gravity; It is simply a small cold streak.
What is important to consider is how much this bad luck has cost you. At 2%, it has cost you 10%; well, that is OK. At 3%, it has cost you 15% and that is OK too. Playing the $100 buy-ins with a $300 bankroll? Well, you didn’t even get past 3 hands and you are wiped out completely. Anyone who thinks cold streaks are 3 or so bad beats in close succession has not really been born yet. 1000 hands of poker data? Nothing! 5000 hands? Nothing! 3 million hands? Well, now you have seen some natural swings; the good and the bad. If you have made a good profit over a few hours of poker in your life, this does not constitute thinking a pro-poker playing lifestyle awaits. You need volumes of data/hands. After this, you will see the importance of the low %.
Record your data. All of it. Yes, all of it. No cheating. Do not record 3 winning sessions, then when you lose your forth, suddenly decide not to do it. Record it all. Use software, use pens and notebooks, use whatever method. But do not cheat yourself by not recording. Hide the notebooks if you wish, but do not hide the reality from yourself. Are you winning enough? Do you need to change levels because of a cold streak?
Waiting for hands, good boards, good draws, or whatever can be very tiresome. It is boring. (Try playing a few million hands of strategic poker and tell me otherwise). The reason why players come and go in a few months so often is not because they are bad (OK, sometimes it is), it is because of the boredom. They don’t even think about it like this, but it is true. The reason we play above our level is boredom. We seek thrills and we seek quick money. We do not want to play for 3 hours to make a few bucks; we want to win the lottery. To honestly avoid this, despite difficulty doing so, you may want to have a MTT ticking over in the background. Or, more to the point, multi-table. Do not do too many. Between 2 and 4 is fine.
Reassessing Your Level
How often should you reassess your level? Some might say after every hand, some after every session, and some after every day. For me, I think once a week is appropriate. Moving up and down too quickly does not really allow for much bedding in or natural swings. If you want a safety net then ‘Reassess once a week, except if 25% of the bankroll has been wiped out within the current week, in which case reassess your level there and then’. It is important to do this. Therefore, if a long cold swing is in its infancy, you will keep it at bay.
If you are not on a determined upward cycle of levels increasing, then cashing out the entire amount above your starting bankroll for the week is not wrong. Start week = $1000, end week = $1100. How determined am I to get to the next level? If not bothered, then cash out $100 and play at same level by same rules. If you really want to move up quickly, then do not cash out at all. Often, the reality comes to finding a percentage somewhere in-between (cash out x% of any amount I am up for the week).