James “SplitSuit” Sweeney and Doug Hull are back this week, co-hosting an episode that answers all your questions about buying in and cashing out of cash games.

How much should we buy in for? When should we cash out? You’ll find this boils down to two main concepts: Your edge in the game, and your ability to play A game through long sessions.

These questions came up a few times from our members, and we strive to produce content around the topics our members are asking for. If you have a question, we welcome you to ask it here.

Featuring: Hull, Sweeney

What to Buy in For at Live Poker?

One member asks: “What do you thing about starting live full ring sessions with 40 big blinds? I usually use 100 big blind stacks, but noticed I feel much better in terms of lower nerves when playing 40 big blinds. Is this strategy really useful, or am I giving up profit? And if I lose on one table and rebuy for 40 big blinds, is that OK?”

Hull and Sweeney answer this question by first focusing on the fact that in cash games, you can’t take money off the table, you can only add on chips up to the max buyin.

Hull says one viable consideration is that, especially in live cash, you don’t always know exactly what you’re getting into. He relates a story about sitting down at a $2/$5 game at Mohegan Sun, buying in full into a somewhat shorthanded game, and then realizing one of the players was tilted out of his gourd and shoving pre-flop for $1,000 each hand. This was a table he would have much rather started with a min-buy, because he’d rather gamble on the titled player’s dime.

Another thing Hull points out is that if you ever feel as if you’ve bought in too short, this is easy to remedy by adding on more chips. Removing chips is, as we pointed out, against the rules.

Short Stack Edges

Sweeney and Hull concur that if you play a short stack using a good strategy better than the other players play their stacks (regardless of size), you are always going to have an edge.

Sure, a good short stack strategy can be basic and boring to play sometimes because it is so mathematical and straightforward. But it does take skill and discipline to learn and execute this strategy, and is perhaps the fastest path to building an edge around being an expert in playing any given stack size.

One must always take into consideration one’s ability to play other stack sizes. If you’re better at playing 100BB and up, you’re leaving money on the table with a smaller stack size. And if you’re about as good with a small as with a large stack, you want the larger stack because it gives you the opportunity to make you more. But especially for starting players, short stacks can be a great way to get a mathematical edge as you get your feet wet with strategy.

Want a Specific Short Stack Strategy? Listen to our Short-Stacked Poker podcast.

Sweeney reminds listeners that getting good at playing stacks of varying depths is important. After all, if you short stack, your goal is to double up into a larger stack, and you won’t be taking money off the table after you’ve done so.

He also points out that while short stacks can be edge-producing, the “stem the bleeding” approach of buying in for $100 three times versus buying in once for $300 has no intrinsic value outside of being better playing the short stack vs. the big.

Ultimately, you want to be good at 100BB and 200BB because that’s where you make the big bucks. A short-stacked strategy is a fantastic onramp.

When to Cash Out?

“I wanted to ask you a question that I have every time I play cash games: When am I supposed to leave? Should I play a fixed number of hands? Should I play until I double up?”

Hull says “It really doesn’t matter when you leave. Life is one long poker game.”

That said, there are good and bad reasons for leaving a poker game. Standing up the second you double-up with no rationale for walking away is not so great, whereas if you’re uncomfortable with deeper stacks, you might have a strategic reason to stop.

Another good reason would be if you feel fatigue creeping in. Oftentimes, players will say, “Just a few more orbits”, when really they should have left 20 minutes ago. Just how many stacks were lost during these “just a few more orbits” we’ll never know, but we bet the number is higher than usual.

Use the fact that you can stand up whenever you want to your advantage. Be very aware of your mental game state, and understand that every grade below A game shaves some edge off your game. Be very careful when setting goals around the number of hands or hours you’re going to play, as it can easily lead to suboptimal play.

Table edge and table selection is super-important, you need to also consider your edge in any given game, versus any given player. Don’t hang around a game you feel your edge shrinking in.

Once you develop into a well-rounded strategic player, you will quit most often because you’re tired. But even the best players know to stand up and walk away from super-tough games.

Comfort at the Table

It all comes down to how comfortable you are at the table given the variety of variables we’ve discussed: Your edge playing any given stack size, your mental game and fatigue level, and the edge you have relative to the whole table and the individual players.

Hull relates a story about sitting to the left of a player who was playing incredibly poorly: a dream scenario for any poker grinder. This player doubled-up, getting really lucky, and Hull was rooting for him (“I always root for the bad player when I’m not in the hand”, he says). But just as soon as Hull was ready to mix it up, he started feeling fatigue. And as the disciplined player he is, he quit the session before making a mistake.

Sweeney says he often hears of people quitting in this spot because they don’t like the game dynamic changing from something passive and comfortable, to something splashy and more high-variance. Sweeney encourages players to work off the table to become more comfortable in these scenarios because your edge is likely to be very high here. Will it be a little boring having to tighten up to exploit this maniac play? Yes, but your edge is solid.

Hull says a benchmark in any player’s poker career development is how they view splashy maniac players. The less experienced, beginner-level player will hate this dynamic being introduced in their game, because it disrupts their passive lines and more laid-back play style. But there’s a point during every player’s development where they start to look at these maniac players as doubling or tripling their edge. They might even, as Hull says, tell the floor to call them any time that player shows up!

Showing 8 comments
  • Gary Brister

    Could you do a video on a 40 bb strategy? Most of the low limit games in LA are capped around 40 bb and I have trouble knowing what strategies to use.

  • Gary

    Never mind! Found Doug’s short staking video and am ready to crush!

  • Michael

    I have just listened to episodes 50 and 49 and want to express my discomfort with the nature of some of Doug’s comments. In the show notes, it is expressed as “Hull says a benchmark in any player’s poker career development is how they view splashy maniac players. The less experienced, beginner-level player will hate this dynamic being introduced in their game, because it disrupts their passive lines and more laid-back play style. But there’s a point during every player’s development where they start to look at these maniac players as doubling or tripling their edge. They might even, as Hull says, tell the floor to call them any time that player shows up!”

    This is clearly true and beyond dispute. HOWEVER, in the podcast the flavour was quite different. The fairly clear impression from Doug’s comments in the podcast was that the Nirvana of poker is taking money from the drunk guy. There was a somewhat similar tone in Doug’s comments in Episode 50. Well not for me it isn’t. In the same way that if I was selling life insurance or expensive electronics, my strategy would not be to go into the bar and try and make sales to drunk guys who couldn’t afford or didn’t need the product. And, if this was my profession and I was counselling a new salesperson I certainly would not advocate the drunk guy strategy to the person I was mentoring. Hence the reason I bring this up. You guys are mentoring people. This means (to me at least) that you need to be very careful that you are referring to all poker players with respect. Some of them don’t deserve it, of course, but that doesn’t enter into it.

    I personally have struggled a bit with where my money comes from. A reality of being a winning poker player is that a fair share of your income is going to come from people who spend their money in foolish ways and, sometimes at least, pay a fairly big personal price for the foolishness.

    It is correct to say:

    1) This is not my problem and/or

    2) He (usually it’s a he) was going to lose his money whether I was there or not.

    Nevertheless, there are some subtle points that we need to think about when we choose poker as our profession. I believe the best way to get this right is to treat all of our opponents with respect and to “give the something back”. As Doug correctly said “We are part of the entertainment”. In the situation, discussed there are several realities and not all of them are comfortable:

    1) splashy maniac players are often losing players and thus good to play with

    2) splashy, maniac players often loosen up the table and thus have a bonus effect on the game

    3) splashy maniac players often turn a boring table (and there are enough boring tables) into a lively, fun table

    BUT, sometimes

    4) the splashy maniac player may simply be a drunk; and,

    5) the drunk may be making very poor personal choices

    I don’t think we can simply ignore this and I certainly don’t think we should create the impression that being a professional poker player is about chasing the drunk guys. We are going to have too deal with them more than in most professions and they are going to contribute to our earnings. However, we go over to the dark side in my opinion if we start acting as vultures.

    • nicholas

      Comparing insurance sales and playing poker? Really? Anyone entering a poker game makes their own choice. No one force feeds them booze. No one forces them to make bad life choices and no one makes them play lousy poker. That’s their own decision. If you feel so strongly about it you should just leave the table. But to criticize someone else for taking advantage their edge is really self centered.

  • Butch


    we are making money from a game. No matter how good are edge we also have times when we loose money back to the game. There are people with gambling issues in our games. Though usually these folks find other casino offerings more gratifying for their needs. I have feelings of pity for the occasional wretches that enter the games I play but, you cannot help them in the game. The best you can do is ask the floor to remove a drunk.

    But drunks, gambling addicts, and other wretches are not the only splashy bad players. Sometimes we encounter new players that are just crazy bad. Or moneyed players in a game way below meaningful stakes for them that enjoy splashing around.

    It’s very hard to figure what’s up with someone who keeps dumping $300 dollar buy ins into 1/2 table for hours on end. We can not assume that they have problem because we would not behave the way that do. In fact if we have a player that does this on a regular basis I think their financial situation must be better then most 1/2 players. Or maybe they do have a problem and this spectacle is actually how they manage; perhaps 1/2 nlh is methadone for the heroin of a high dollar sports betting addiction.

    Whatever the reasons that we play are. They are not charitable reasons. The game is a pain machine. We willingly participate. We enjoy it. We all have issues.

  • Michael

    Thanks Butch. I agree with most of what you say. I don’t feel bad for these guys (at least not much) and I don’t act charitably towards them. But I don’t aggressively pursue them either. They are in the game and I profit from them. All good. However, I do think there is an important distinction in saying that I am not playing the game to take advantage of these guys. In any occupation I might choose, it would be possible to achieve a degree of success by targeting and take advantage of weak people. In my view, it is much more important to try and be the best poker player I can be and achieve success because of that. Of course, a share of my winnings will always come from these guys and I am fine with that. The distinctions I am making are subtle but important in my view and I was expressing my personal concern about the tone of podcast 49.

  • Tom

    One thing I wish had been covered in the podcast was whether it makes sense to cash-out if your money at the table exceeds a certain percentage of your bankroll.

    I know some bankroll challenges advocate this strategy in order to lock-in winning sessions as you try to move up.

    • James "SplitSuit" Sweeney

      Bankroll challenges have a high risk of ruin in the beginning – so it seems odd to adhere to a rule like that given the way your bankroll on a specific table would get to be a large % of the bankroll would likely be because your edge on that particular table is sizable. I say press it in that situation =)