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Businesses need financial resources; that’s capital – money.

Start-ups often fail for lack of capital. They need money to open the business, pay the rent, procure the merchandize, hire staff, etc. It takes time before the business is profitable. Meanwhile expenses continue…

Likewise, the business of poker requires sufficient capital (chips) to sustain you until you start winning. With nine players at the table, all things being equal, you have one chance out of nine to have the best hand – assuming you don’t win by bluffing.

That’s especially the case in low-limit games.

Even with a strong starting hand, there is no guarantee that it will be the winner. Pocket aces do get cracked. Most playable hole cards are drawing hands; two out of three times, on average. It won’t improve much on the flop. More chips lost.

It may take a while before you get a winner. There have been times when I played over an hour before earning a pot – and often it is not big enough to make up for the previous losses. Eventually skills will provide the edge over opponents, assuming you have the requisite patience and chips to play.

You need to have sufficient chips – poker capital – to sustain until that happens. Indeed, you’d like to have enough chips to build a huge pot when holding the winning hand. It’s a shame to make aces-full, and have no more chips to bet (or raise) for value. What a waste!

How Much Capital Do You Need?

In a $3-$6 limit hold’em game, the house requires a minimum buy-in of $30 – 10 times the lower limit. Call the blind $3 and a bet (no raises) on the flop $3. With the turn $6 and the river $6, your total cost minus raises is $18. There isn’t enough to sustain you through a second playable hand.

What if you never entered a pot and put up your blinds at $4 per orbit? With 35 hands dealt each hour and nine players at your table, your entire $30 buy-in has “gone south” within two hours. And, you didn’t even play a hand!

You wait patently for a decent starting hand, but, after a few blinds and some calls preflop, there’s only $9 left in your stack. Finally you have a monster hand – bound to be a winner. Alas, you run out of chips on the flop.

Now, you’re all-in and watching as the side pot keeps growing with betting and raises. At the showdown, you win the main pot – but the side pot had most of the money. In fact, with enough chips, you could have raised on the river and built “your pot” even bigger.

So it’s apparent that the minimum buy-in is not enough “capital” to start a game of limit hold’em. At least 20 times the lower limit is advisable for your original buy-in. Anything less is too restrictive. Still, that’s not enough capital to play with.

If the cards don’t go your way, you may soon find yourself out most of the initial buy-in. You’re not tired and have decided this is a good game. With a little good luck, you can become a winner at this table. You may need additional capital for at least several more buy-ins before the poker gods start listening to your silent prayers.

Rule of Thumb: In a limit game, have sufficient capital to “invest” up to 80 times the lower limit. Quit if you are losing consistently – or change tables.

Comments? George “The Engineer” can be reached at [email protected].

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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