The Vegas Spin Up

Alex Rousso

Bankroll management? Bankroll Schmanagement! That’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned from running the seminars at the Bluff Europe Poker Academy. The title of our first series was “what the pros know”, yet the strongest interest from my bankroll management lecture came from the pros themselves.

I thought none of it would be controversial. For example: don’t buy in to an MTT or cash game for more than 2% of your bankroll. Chris Ferguson’s bankroll rules in his $10k challenge were basically the same, and if you read Bill Chen’s The Mathematics of Poker, you’ll find that in terms of avoiding going broke, this level of conservatism is basically spot on.

Paul Jackson and Ian Frazer were the first to question me in Manchester. “I can see how it makes sense,” said Ian, “but I don’t know of any pro who follows those rules.” Phil Laak in particular took me to task. This is a guy playing with $100k stacks on High Stakes Poker, right? How does that square with my recommendation of having a bankroll that is no more than 10% of your net wealth? By my rules, Phil should be worth at least fifty mill! I know the guy lives in California, but...

Over a few rounds of heads up short stack Hold Em for a tenner a shot – what Phil calls “small-time pimpin’” – he convinced of what’s wrong: my recommendation that your bankroll should be no more than 10% of net wealth. For many poker players, even some pros, their net wealth is their bankroll. While I don’t recommend going that far, perhaps my view is too conservative.

So, instead of being prescriptive on percentages, I’ll tell you what I think your risk is. Even if you are buying into a cash game or MTT for no more than 2% of your bankroll, you can be a great player and lose half your bankroll playing solid poker and just being plain unlucky. That’s an observation I can back up with dozens of graphs and database statistics. I guess it’s down to the individual how much of their total wealth they are prepared to risk.

Even then, where does the 2% criterion leave us mere mortals when it comes to something like the WSOP? What should those of us do who aren’t going to get sponsorship for big events? Let’s put it another way, you want to go to Vegas for the World Series, right? But this bozo Pickleman is scaring you with his talk of going broke. Who the hell could go to Vegas and enter three $1500 buy in tournaments under those conditions, let alone the main event? You’d need to have a bankroll of $500k to enter the damn thing! Ladies and Gentleman, I give you the Vegas spin up...

The spin up is an idea which is not just confined to gambling. Often business plans have exactly the same general principle attached to them. You build up an initial amount of capital, and then take it in one of two directions – either hit the jackpot, or bust. You might do this is if you knew you had a certain window in which a commercial idea might take off – reselling a new technology, or being the first to the market with a new food idea, for example.

The principle is just the same for the Vegas spin up. You target the amount of money you’ll need for a trip to Vegas and a couple of WSOP entries, get the money together, and then go for the win or bust.

OK, so that’s the plan, now the execution. First, how much does it cost other than the buy ins? Well, the plane ticket is usually in the region of £500. As for daily cost, the beacon atop the Luxor is the limit. I reckon the cheapest you could do Vegas is something like $50-60 per day, but that’s roughing it a bit (e.g. staying at the Gold Coast and sticking to the cheap all you can eats and the free buses.) Just one level up from that, a decent value hotel such as Bally’s or the Luxor, a couple of shows or big nights out, and you’re talking easily over $100 per day. So I’d say $1000 for a week for a fun holiday.

Remember that if you want to go “Vegas, baby!” style, you could add a nought on to the end of that figure and still not make it home with change. However much money you have, Vegas will be happy to take it. It’s just a question of how much you want to blow. My advice is don’t fly 5,000 miles for a WSOP holiday just to scrimp when you get there, but don’t go mad either – Vegas is designed to make you accidentally lose control of your wallet.

Then you have your tournament buy ins. This could be anything from just $1500 to six figures. Note there are cheaper tournaments in other hotels during the Series (more of which in a forthcoming article), so maybe if you’re budgeting you could take $2-3k and hope that stretches to a few tournaments – enough to get you on a roll.

All of which means we’re talking a bare minimum of $3k for the “slumming it and doing one buy in” package, and probably $5-10k for any trip with multiple buy ins and some big nights out.

Aside from being staked by others, there are two ways to raise this money outside of normal bankroll. First, treat it as a holiday and don’t take the money out of your poker bankroll. Second, start working on a separate bankroll just for Vegas in advance. In both cases, you have to be pretty severe in your stop loss control – once that money is dead, it’s dead, end of story.

How long to spin it up? Well, if you’re earning $40 per hour, for example, that’s 250 hours of play to buy your WSOP dream holiday. Not too bad – but either way, it’s a very expensive holiday. On the plus side, it solves the problem of how to justify such huge buy ins bankroll-wise. You never know, you might just spin it into a profit.