I have received several emails asking about what stakes a home game should be played at. It is a good question, but certainly not an easily answered question. The stakes I play at could be nowhere near enough for you, or far too much, depending on your current financial situation. The best advice I can give anyone is to play at a level just a little bit over what you are comfortable with.
If you make $100,000 a year, and you're playing 5/10 cent blinds in a cash game, you will not play your best poker. On that same line of reasoning, if you are a 20 hour a week, $7 an hour college student, that same game could win or lose a week's pay for you. So the best I can tell you is to play at a level that is enough to challenge you and keep you on your toes, but not so much that winning or losing in any given evening means the difference between eating or not eating that week.
For myself, in a cash game, I am perfectly comfortable sitting down at any local table playing $1/$2 no limit hold em. I recommend that you never buy in for less than 100 times the big blind, so that means when I sit down I have $200 in front of me in chips. But, and this is an important but, I also have AT LEAST another $200 in my pocket. And if I'm serious, I have a THIRD $200 in my pocket.
I have that 2nd and 3rd buy in to cover things in case there is a bad beat where I lose the original buy in. If you don't have that backup, you will play entirely too tight and never risk anything. That is a great strategy for a tournament, but it is terrible for a cash game. The blinds and house/dealer rake will kill you if you don't take some risk.
I have one friend that simply cannot afford $1/$2 cash games because of the buy in. But he regularly buys in for $40 or $60, and empties his wallet. And I buy in for $200 with $400 backup. I am sure you can see the problem. He CANNOT win. Even if he doubles up off of me, he only has $80 or $120, and I've still got another $400 - $500. So I have no fear of his all in. He is better of NOT buying in at all.
Here is my proof: When I first started playing, I'd buy in for $100, and if I lost that I would go home. I regularly went home broke. When I started bringing $400 to the same $1/$2 cash game, I started winning on a regular basis. The guys I play with even talked about how much better my cash game had gotten. In reality, my game was the same, but now I could afford to play confidently instead of with fear.
Now, when I go to Vegas, $1/$2 is not nearly a high enough stake. The reason is that in Vegas (or any casino) the dealer tip and house rake will destroy you in a $1/$2 game. It is nearly impossible to make a decent enough hourly rate of profit at a full $1/$2 table to overcome the dealer tip and house rake.
So what to play then? Personally, I love the $3/$6 game. It is well within my bankroll. For example, I can sit at a $3/$6 table with $2000 in my pocket, and buy in for $600 minimum, knowing I have another $1400 to back that up with. When I can start like that, I have full confidence that I can play my best game and not worry about the money. I MAY even buy in for $1000, and have the other $1000 backup, depending on what I see happening at the table. If there is a lot of lose play, and those lose players appear to have big stacks, then I'll go straight for the $1000 knowing I have more available to double up if I hit a monster.
Now, if you'd like to limit your losses, I recommend playing the limit games. There is a world of difference between $3/$6 no limit and $3/$6 limit. If I only had $1000, instead of the $2000, I might sit at the $3/$6 limit game. That would make MUCH more sense than playing a $1/$2 no limit game, in my opinion.
So, after all that, what will you do? Let's review the suggestions:
1. Play at a level just a little above your comfort zone.
2. Never gamble with money you can't afford to lose.
3. In a cash game, have a backup for your bankroll.
4. Don't buy in for less than the others are playing for. You are losing before you sit down. Think of it this way: There's no difference between starting with $200 and losing $150 to me....giving me $350 to your $50....than there is just buying in for $50 in the first place.
5. Always have at least 100 times the big blind, with another 100 times the big blind as a backup.
6. A higher stakes limit game is a far better choice than a lower stakes no limit game, if your bankroll has limitations.
That's it for today. See you on the tables.