How long is a piece of string?
That’s the only real answer that can be given to the question of how much money is required to play poker. The reasons for this are fundamentally two-fold.
First, it depends entirely on what you can actually afford. Second, it depends on what it is that you actually want from poker. Let’s begin with the second point first.
Two Types of Games
All gambling games – of which poker is one, albeit only minimally as it is based so much on skill – usually come in two flavors. Two separate poles with all games existing closer to one pole or the other.
On the one hand, there are the games marketed to the public that aren’t necessarily equally affordable to every demographic, but can easily be enjoyed by your average casino goer, sometimes even for quite a few rounds. Slots always exist on this side of the spectrum, as do lower-stakes tables of roulette, blackjack and baccarat.
On the other hand, there are much more exclusive games, sometimes in cordoned off parts of the casino that are exclusively for people willing to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars, sometimes even on a single game. High-stakes blackjack, baccarat and sometimes even craps or roulette are examples of this, where placing a single bet is closer to $50 than $5. But the most famous or perhaps most infamous high-roller game there is, is undoubtedly poker.
Think of something like Molly’s Game, which is based overwhelmingly on a true story, and its depiction of highly selective, VIP-ready poker games, where untold thousands are lost and won in a single night and the credit line to players is much, much, much higher than anything you would find at a casino.
But these select games are selective for a reason: the majority of poker is played on a very different scale and often in very different formats to the house-losing variety of the high rollers.
Poker in All Its Varieties
Poker is actually one of the most versatile casino games of them all. In fact, it almost definitely is the most versatile. It’s a game that can be played by yourself through a video poker machine (virtual or otherwise), in friendly games with friends where the largest wagers are a couple of dollars, at tables on the casino floor or in tournaments that can be either professional or done for charity.
Because of this, there’s simply no minimum amount of money that you really need in order to play poker. You can play friendly matches for a few cents, high-roller games for hundreds of thousands or dollars or you can play in tournaments where all you really need to pay is fee to enter – or in the case of charity games: a set donation to enter and extra donations to keep playing.
It really does depend on what you want from the game. It is, however, crucial that what you want from the game is realistic, responsible and affordable.
What You Should Pay
All of this brings us back to the first point: the biggest question is not the specifics of how much a certain game of poker costs, as that can vary greatly, but what kind of poker can you actually afford.
This isn’t a small question and it varies greatly from person to person, but here are a few tips to ensure that you’re not overspending on any poker game and are using your money wisely and as responsibly as possible.
- Ask yourself if you’re playing for money or for the fun of the game. If you’re in the latter group then there’s really no reason to play any form of poker that costs more than a couple of dollars a bet, but if you’re in it for the money, you probably want to go for high-rolling cash games but then you need to be extra careful with your budget.
- Never play with more money than you can afford to lose and if something like Molly’s Game isn’t clear, do not, under any circumstances, play with credit. There is no hard and fast rule here because billionaires can obviously afford to lose an awful lot more money than someone living paycheck to paycheck, but the key is to understand – even if you’re playing primarily to make money – that you may lose every cent you play, so it needs to come from genuinely disposable income.
- Be realistic about your financial situation and your skill. Obviously, do not play in high-roller poker games if you can’t afford it. This goes without saying. But almost as importantly, if you can afford a more expensive game of poker, make damn sure that your actual skills are up to snuff. Even if you’re a billionaire who can afford to part with a couple of million, it still smarts to lose every single hand you play.
- Poker is a great social device, so if you’re not in it to win millions and you aren’t playing professionally, first prize should always be to play with friends or even a recurring group of colleagues rather than at casinos and certainly rather than against a machine. It’s much more affordable, obviously, and it’s simply much more rewarding on every level other than on the purely financial.
- Tournaments are your friend. Regardless of the type of poker player you are, playing in tournaments is the way to go if you want to make sure that you keep within your budget, while also potentially winning big. You certainly need a certain amount of serious skill if you’re to play in a professional tournament, but charity games or even more casual, low-stakes tournaments are both a great way to hone your skills and can be very enjoyable in and of themselves. And in the case of charity games, there’s also the added benefit that you’re giving money to a worthy cause.
In short, there simply is no set amount of money that you need to start playing poker. The bare minimum that actually matters, on multiple levels, is self-knowledge. Knowledge of your abilities, your finances, your preferences, and the wide variety of options available to you should be firmly in place before you spend so much as a single cent on any game of poker.