There are many things that are important in Poker; your position during a hand, your starting hand (cards), your opponent tendencies, the odds for a certain draw to hit, how that draw fares versus your holding, bluffing opportunities, recognition and exploitation of fear etc.
But none of these are more important than bankroll management. None.
Poker is and will forever remain a high variance game. All you have when you go all-in with the best hand that isn’t a lock is a chance to win. Sure, it may be a big chance to win, but it’s still only a chance. There is nothing that impedes the wrong end of the chance, as in the opponent hitting, to happen. It can also happen consecutively and there is always the risk of going broke. Sometimes, it will feel as if Lady Luck has completely turned her back on you, and introduced you to her cousin Mr. Misfortune.
The only thing that can protect you in this high variance game is good Bankroll Management skills. That is right: even the best player (Phil Ivey-esque) is going to go broke if he practices bad bankroll management.
How is this possible, you ask? Allow me to enlighten you. First of all you have to understand that poker is a long term thing, not a sprint, instead, more like a marathon. During your poker play, you will inevitably run into periods in which you will sustain heavy losses. It’s called “run bad”. But these periods of run bad will be countered by periods you will run abnormally well, which is (quite obviously imo) called “run good”. But, if during your run bad you go broke, you will not be able to reach and take advantage of the period you will run good! This is a key concept: reread this paragraph until it sinks in well.
Good bankroll management will make this very unlikely to happen. It can still happen obviously, since it is possible to get on the particularly bad side of Lady Luck and simply lose while favorite for a million times in a row, but these are extreme cases out of the scope of this article. Luck knows no periods or bounds or any variable whatsoever, it just is and does its thing.
Good bankroll management, aside from protecting you from going broke, will also help you play your best game. As we know, poker is all about the best decisions at the right times. If you cannot, for any reason, take the best decision for the particular spot you are in, you will fail. Playing underrolled will essentially rob you of the confidence needed to take the correct decision and live with the consequences. The fear of losing your bankroll will get in the way of your decisions, and actually make you play worse.
To properly illustrate this, I think I would need to introduce some numbers. How does losing $2,000 in a single session sound to you? If your bankroll was $3,000, it would essentially have been decimated by such a loss. Your confidence in your own player ability would have been shot down, and it would be very likely that you would continue to bleed the rest of it in that same session or one not very far away from it. But if you were grinding $5/$10 NLHE while adequately rolled, say $80,000 to your name, such a loss would have been perfectly normal and acceptable. That $3,000 loss would have been comparable to taking a single marble out of a whole sack of marbles. You’d still have a whole sack of marbles left to play with for your next session feeling confident and relaxed. Good roll management directly affects your confidence, which directly affects you’re a-game. Remember that!
A player who is playing underrolled will naturally play a defensive game, which in the broad side of things, is not the most optimal way of playing poker. Your decisions will be affected by how much you will have left if you are wrong or get lucked out on. In the worst case scenario, you might also start to play in a looser manner, subconsciously trying to win back what you lost in a previous session.
Good bankroll management will help you avoid the many faces of tilt, while also minimizing its effect when it does get to you anyway. It’s your last line of defense, so be sure to employ it!
All in all, the best player in the world will not be maximizing his profits if he plays without good bankroll management. Archie Karas, a legendary Vegas gambler, was rumored to have ran up his roll from a meager $50 all the way to $40,000,000, only to run it back into the ground. One can make the right decisions and still lose over and over, and a healthy bankroll is the only way to protect against it. A healthy bankroll will also help you to get to the long term, as poker is a marathon and not a sprint. Good roll management will also help you fend off tilt, and defend you if and when it finally gets to you.
An ok player with great bankroll management will be a great player, and a great player with great bankroll management will be a legendary player. Do you have what it takes be legendary? Start working on it today!