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Bankroll management and the poker lifestyle

Editor's note: Send your poker questions to Steve Rosenbloom. He will answer as many as he can each week.

From hd_wanna_be: I find it extremely rude when a player involved in a hand gets up and walks away (you see this way too often in WPT events). Are there any rules in tournament play about players staying at the table during a hand? If not, I think there ought to be one.

Rosenbloom: I don't know of such a rule, but just to make sure, I checked with John Bastarache, assistant tournament director/floor person for the 2005 World Series of Poker. "There is no rule once you are all-in,'' he says. "Of course, if the player is not all-in, the hand would be dead if you walk away from the table. Remember when Scotty Nguyen won the World Series? The player was so nervous, Kevin McBride, that he left the table and went to the bathroom while Scotty was making a decision to call or not.''

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From Tom in Texas: (About) backing other players: Seems pretty simple to police -- just make a stiff enough penalty, say, barring a player for a year from all tournaments, to deter the activity. Who would risk backing a player that would then have the ability and power to turn in the backer if something went sour? I don't think any player in a position to back other players would risk being barred for a year (or two years, or life, or whatever). Even if the deals were all cash, backroom, secret bank account transfers, etc., these things can be exposed, and backed players can wear wires for proof of the agreement. I think it would end right there, because the risk would outweigh the reward, and these people understand that tradeoff better than anyone on the planet.

Rosenbloom: I understand the widespread concerns about the ethics of players staking other players when both are in the same tournament and maybe even at the same table, but wearing wires? Talk about coming back over the top. Let me ask you something, partner: On whose behalf would the backed player be wearing a wire? Certainly not his own. I mean, the guy whom you would want to wear a wire probably would rather have someone pick up his buy-in for a tournament where he could earn a living than serve as a stoolie and get some merit badge.

For something this unenforceable to become enforceable, poker would need an absolute governing body that would set down rules that everybody would follow, for starters. Good luck there, what with players, broadcast outlets, production companies, casino corporations and others jockeying for territorial rule in a poker modern-day wild west. One thing about poker: There's a weird code of honor that doesn't conform to politically correct times -- you can't slow-roll an opponent, which only messes with his mind, but you can back another player, which might mess with an opponent's money by costing him equity when a good but broke player gets entered into an event.

But let's say you got past that. Next, that governing body would have to determine that staking players should be deemed illegal. Immediate problem: Backed players and their stakers would be part of the membership of this governing body, and they wouldn't vote for such a thing. Other players who aren't broke now but who might one day need some financial help also might vote against it because they wouldn't want to cut off a potential avenue that would keep them playing. What's more, the big financial dog in this equation -- TV money, from broadcast outlets to production companies to corporations that own major poker franchises -- recognize how player-centric the ratings can be and likely wouldn't want to eliminate recognizable players who are staked in tournaments. Mike "The Mouth'' Matusow, for one.

But let's say you got past that, too. Then the governing body would need an investigative team. That costs money. Players already don't like the idea that not all of their buy-ins go into the prize pool, and now they would have to pony up more money in some kind of membership fee to cover an enforcement group akin to a police department's internal affairs unit? Pay for a rat squad? Don't think so.

I'm not saying this would be the only way to do it. The closest parallel to the steps I laid out is the NCAA, and one of the NCAA's problems is that it doesn't have subpoena power. Same goes here.

But I will also say this: Players who are vehemently against staking others will continue working to combat the situation. One of the more passionate opponents of staking players is respected pro Casey Kastle, who believes that staking players turns poker into a team game when it was meant to be an individual pursuit. Kastle is listed as chairman of the ethics committee of the newly announced World Poker Association, and I expect him to work long and hard to set down stringent rules against backing players the way he lobbied successfully to ban smoking from poker tournaments several years ago.

One of the most material arguments for staking players is that to ban it would be telling players what they could or couldn't do with their money. In the self-funded world of tournament poker prize pools, this doesn't fly. But if Corporate America were to ramp up the prize pools with added cash, the opponents to staking players would gain a ton of momentum.

The response to that, say opponents of staking players, is for poker to police itself ahead of time to become more attractive to Corporate America and its many dollars.

And so it goes.

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From Jake in Baltimore: I have been playing online poker for about a year now, mostly limit, and I am up about $10,000. I am currently playing at the five-player $10-$20 limit tables, and that is where I feel comfortable. I have played a few online tournaments, but unless you get lucky and win one, they seem like a waste of time. I am wondering where you think the best money is -- limit, no-limit, pot-limit or tournaments?


Rosenbloom
: The best money is wherever you can make the most, period. End of story. No two ways about it. Call it poker's version of Occam's Razor: Table choices should not be multiplied unnecessarily. If you're in it for the money, play the games and limits (or no-limits) that bring you the most money.

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From Dave in New Jersey: My biggest problem seems to be my bankroll management. It's been an up-and-down roller coaster since taking this game up seriously about two years ago. What are some good bankroll management ideas that I can use and is there any literature I can pick up with good methods?

Rosenbloom: Without you telling me why your bankroll fluctuates, I can't be much help here. I don't even know if you're talking about tournaments or cash games. You might think that success in $20 sit-and-gos prepares you for $10-$20 limit games. You might be stepping up to bigger games that you aren't prepared for, either financially or strategically or both. You might be playing at an affordable level, but you might be wildly undisciplined. You might be taking your poker winnings to the craps pit.

I'm presuming you know which games your bankroll allows you to play comfortably, but even that might not be the case. Read Barry Greenstein's "Ace on the River.'' He does a terrific job of delving into many areas of the poker lifestyle and does a good job in discussing bankrolls.

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From Vic in Manila: I am new to Texas hold'em and recently started playing with friends (also newbies). Last weekend, I was part of a three-way hand involving a big pot. Prior to the flop, (Player 2) went all-in, to which I and (Player 3) called. After the flop, (Player 3) made a huge bet to which I called. At the turn, (Player 3) made another huge bet, to which I folded after deciding my Qs-Jc will not win. (Player 2) then won the main pot vs. (Player 3). Question: I know (Player 3) wins the side pot between me and him. But am I still a player for the main pot after I folded? I asked because my Qs-Jc was actually the "winner" between the three of us. But the two other players insist that when I folded, I actually folded to the main pot. Are they right? Or do I have the right to correct them the next time it happens?

Rosenbloom: Here's the rule: You fold, you lose. Main pot, side pot, whatever pot -- doesn't matter. Once you fold, you lose all rights to compete for any pot.

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From Jeremy in California: I'm a very patient player. I'd say that's my biggest strength. I do well at online multi-table (events) where I can wait while the field gets whittled down, and then make my moves. My problem is that I end up finishing second a lot. I know that heads-up play is a huge leak in my game. I win sometimes, but that's usually when I have a good streak of cards. I know that a lot of heads-up is getting lucky -- you catch a big hand when your opponent catches a big hand, and yours holds up -- but I can't attribute this all to luck. What's the best way to get better at heads-up play against weaker (i.e. smaller stakes) opponents?

Rosenbloom: Go online and play them. Almost every Web site I've seen offers many heads-up games at all stakes. Many pros say that sit-and-gos are a great way to apply techniques you'll need at a final table. Similarly, they'll tell you that the best way to get better at heads-up play is to actually play heads-up.

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Steve Rosenbloom's book "The Best Hand I Ever Played" is available at bookstores everywhere. A regular contributor to ESPN.com, he is also author of a syndicated column for the Chicago Tribune. To leave Steve some feedback or ask him a question for his column, check out his mailbag.