On taking a shot

I was recently sitting on a balcony in Croatia looking out over the Mediterranean Sea thinkig abut the time I spent in Velden, Austria playing a lot of poker.

While looking into the distance, I thought I'd write something about bankroll management and shot-taking in poker. I'm inspired to do so partly because of the cash games that were happening in Velden, which included some of the highest-stakes games in Europe.


For instance, there was a €100/€200 PLO game there, and I saw a guy who regularly plays €5/€5 jump into that game. This was a player I happen to know quite well. I think he can probably win at €5/€5, but I know he can't regularly beat €10/€10. But he had a nice run and made about €8,000 in the €10/€10 game and decided he would add another €2,000 to that and sit down with a minimum buy-in in this €100/€200 game.

Only very good professionals were in this game, people like Benny Spindler and other very tough, well known Europeans. So I asked the player why he decided to do this, and he replied, "Well, I am taking a shot."

I considered what he was doing, and it didn't seem to me like a very good decision in terms of bankroll management. I'm not generally against taking shots, but when doing so it is important to have some expectation of being able to do well at the higher stakes game. Best of all is to know of a weak spot or two in the game where you know you might have an edge when sitting down.

Otherwise, you have to think about how taking a shot can negatively affect your bankroll. Especially in a game like PLO which has a lot of variance, you should always set aside some of your bankroll and not risk it all taking a shot.

The truth is, even if you take a shot at higher stakes and do well, it will not change your life. This player could have won €10,000 in the game, but he wouldn't then suddenly become a €100/€200 player. But losing €10,000 in the game would almost certainly affect him psychologically in a very negative way.

My usual game is €10/€20 or sometimes €20/€40, and I've never even thought about jumping in a €100/€200 game. But occasionally I'll do "shot-taking" when the circumstances are right. In fact, sometimes I'll take a shot but in the reverse way -- that is, by dropping down to play €5/€5, say, when I see there are players in the game that might make it profitable for me to do so.

For instance, the last day we were there I saw a €5/€5 game in which there were three people who didn't even know the rules of PLO. They weren't even clear on the fact that you needed to use two of your hole cards to make a hand! So I sat down in the game and found it quite easy to profit.

The truth is, if you take a shot there always has to be a longer range goal in mind. While making money is always a goal, staying happy as a player also should always be part of your thought process when deciding to join a game -- whether at your usual stakes, higher, or lower.

Most of those who recklessly "take a shot" by playing in a much bigger game and then lose suddenly are no longer happy as players. Now they have what I call a "negative circuit" running in their minds that tells them they have to recover their losses -- to believe that they have to win, which is never a good way to approach poker. In fact, having that sort of mentality is often a sure way to lose even more!

Once I was playing my usual PLO game and a hand came up in which I had two aces in my hand and I flopped a full house, aces full of eights. There were two other guys in the hand, and after the flop both starting betting. I thought this is great! Each of them has an eight and I'm going to win a big pot.

But I'd misread the situation. As it turned out one guy was stone-cold bluffing and the other had quads, and I lost a big pot of around €2,500 or so. But it didn't bother me that much. Now if I had been playing higher stakes than I usually do and lost, say, €20,000 in a similar hand, I would have probably lost my mind!

As I say, I'm not against shot-taking. But when you do take a shot, understand both that you are risking money and you are potentially risking opening yourself up to a kind of psychological challenge that you never face when you stick to stakes at which you are comfortable. Also, always keep in mind that you always can "take a shot" at lower stakes, too, should there be a good, profitable game at those limits for you.

Michael Keiner is a member of Team PokerStars Pro

Michael Keiner
@PokerStars in PokerStars news