Many people have asked me how I am able to play in some pretty high stakes games when I am so young. Most assume that my parents gave me a large sum of money to play with, and I turned that into an even larger amount of money. The opposite is actually true. Today I'd like to talk about how I built up my money playing online poker, and some advice I have to anyone trying to do the same.
I started with 35 dollars on UB in Summer '03. I had been playing poker for about 5 years at this point, all througout high school and my freshman year of college. I didn't really know what games to play, I just knew i liked NLHE. I decided to play the 1 on 1 $5 dollar sit n goes. I played these for about 2 months and built up my 35 dollars to a whopping 150 or so. I was making about 5 dollars an hour! After this I moved up to playing 10 dollar 1 on 1 games, as well as some 6 seated and 10 seated sit n goes. I really recommend playing sit n goes to start out, because you have a limited amount of risk and you can get a lot of experience. About two months later I had made almost 1000 dollars, and I started to cash out about 50 bucks a week to pay for my living expenses at school. I was now playing 20 and 30 dollar sit n goes. Eventually I started playing the 50 and 100 dollar heads up sit n goes, with a bankroll of around 1500. It was at this time I really decided I wanted to play in the cash games. I saw that there were some huge pots at the 1-2nl and 2-4nl, and I wanted in on the action. The problem was, I wasn't at all ready for the cash games. I would build up my account to 1500 or so. Then immediately lose 2 or 3 buy ins at the cash games over the course of the day, and be down to 800. I was very frustrated so I stuck to the sit n goes to build back up. Eventually, I improved as a player and was able to hang at the 1-2nl game, making a small amount of money over the course of a month. I finally broke through and had a huge day, and moved up to 2-4nl. With a lot of practice and moving up and down, I eventually had a bankroll to play 5-10...10-25...25-50, and so on.
The reoccuring theme in my efforts to build up money was that I would work hard to make a few hundred bucks a week in the sit n goes, and then lose it very quickly in the cash games. This happens to so many people. I'm not exactly sure why, other than it takes more skill to win at the NL cash games because you can play for all of your chips (chips=money) on any given hand. One bad decision (or suckout) and you can lose a hefty amount of money. Things brings me to my first tip:
Always have an adequate bankroll for whatever you are playing. People complain that they can't handle the bad beats of the cash games, because you can lose a ton on a 2 outer or something. This is inevitable, but if you have a big enough BR you can make up for this with good play. I recommend a bankroll that is bigger than you might even think. For sit n goes, i think you should have 30-40 buy ins. This is probably a bit extreme, but it's not unheard of to have a stretch where you might lose 10-15 in a row. Now you probably would still have a bankroll left, but what I found happening to me is that when I went through a bad streak I started playing timidly. If you have an excessive bankroll, you will realize that you have more than enough money left to play through it. For no limit cash games, I recommend having at least 15 buy ins for whatever game you are playing, more if you are playing short handed. If you want to play 5-10nl, you should have 15k, at the minimum. I know very many people that don't stick to this, and most of them lose in the long run.
Next, you must be able to control going on tilt. Tilt to me is the single biggest BR ruiner. In the last 4 days, I've lost 17k in 'bad beat' pots at 25-50nl. These were all in pots after the flop or turn where my opponent had at most 3 outs. I could have tilted and lost a heck of a lot more, but everytime i just decided to leave the game. I was pretty upset and I thought, there are better things I could be doing right now than playing poker, if I cant play my A game. I recommend having a backup plan if you decide you can't play your best anymore and must quit. I signed up for a gym that's one block from my apartment, so I usually head there to work out. Otherwise I bought a few video games that I can play if I feel like doing something like that. People ask me, how do you not tilt? The truth is, I do tilt. I just know when I am on tilt and I leave the game. I cannot stress how important that is.
Finally, I recommend having some sort of cashout plan. Use something like pokertracker to figure out how much you make/hr. Then figure out how much you plan on playing a week, and calculate your average weekly profit. Make a cashout once or twice a week and take out about 25% of this average profit. I withdraw almost every day because frankly it feels good to take money out of my account and put it into the bank. If I have a bad week, I still take out money. If I have a great week, sometimes I will take out a little more. This is a great way to keep your BR growing, but also put some $ in your pocket. Nothing helps me feel better about playing poker than having money to spend as a result of playing.