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Guide to Poker Bankroll Management

Poker Bankroll Management

The most common question poker newbies ask is about bankroll management:

  • How big should my bankroll be?
  • How much money should I win before I move up?
  • I can hock my mom’s wedding ring – is that enough to go pro?

So, we thought it was time to write up a bankroll management guide.

In all honesty, it should’ve been the first thing we published. Because managing a bankroll is one of the most important skills a poker player can learn – sort of like the life-skill of knowing how to balance a checkbook.

If you don’t learn how to do it, you could end up like one of those deadbeats you hear about on PokerNews.com. Like T.J. Cloutier, who reportedly sold one of his WSOP bracelets on eBay because “he lost more money playing craps that he ever made from playing poker.”

You don’t want to end up like that, do you?

Now, you might say he has a ‘gambling problem.’ And, you’d be right. But part of managing your bankroll is not blowing it after you leave the poker table.

Confucius
“Hard as it is for some people to accept, most of our poker career takes place away from the poker table. If you spend a year building a bankroll, and then blow it one night on the crap table, you are a lousy poker player.”

– Steve Badger

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s learn to crawl before we learn how to walk, yeah?

The question we’re going to answer in this guide is, how large should my poker bankroll be? And the best way to answer that is to figure out what variables and expenses your bankroll will need to cover.

IMPORTANT:

Before we get into this, we want to point something out. It’s not going to matter how much money you have or what your bankroll management is like if you’re a losing player.

Losing players are always going to lose money (even if it’s a slow bleed). The only way to fix this problem is to become a breakeven (or better) player.

Your Bankroll Will Depend on These Variables

We’re going to give you a few examples of hard and fast rules for what your bankroll should be. But before we do that, we want to go over all the variables and expenses your bankroll will need to cover.

Consider the Games You Play

The games you play have a big role in determining what your bankroll should be. That’s because every game will have variance.

Variance is simply the ups and downs you experience in poker. It’s perfectly normal – everyone goes through it. But some games will have more variance than others.

For example, if you play fixed limit holdem you’re going to experience far less variance than someone playing no limit holdem. Why? Because when you play fixed limit poker, you can only bet (lose/win) so much per round, whereas with no limit poker, the amount you can win/lose at once varies wildly.

Another example – single table tournaments (STTs) will have less variance than multi-table tournaments (MTTs). You can go weeks, even months without a cash in a MTT, much less a win. But you should be able to cash 40+ percent of the time in a single table tourney (and even the smaller < 180-man MTTs).

The point – the more variance you expect to have, the more money you can expect to lose during a downswing – and the larger your bankroll needs to be to cover those downswings.

Consider Your Opponents

You need to think about this from a couple angles.

  • The better the player you’re up against, the more losing or breakeven sessions you’re going to have. That’s because it’s harder to beat good players. This can lead to large swings – both good and bad. You’ll want to pad your bankroll to handle the bad ones.
  • You need to think about your opponent’s playing styles. If you’re constantly up against loose players who like to play big pots, you’re going to have more variance. However, if you play against tighter players you’re going to have less variance.

Consider Your Playing Style

You also need to consider your own playing style. If you’re a loose player – you like to play lots of hands – then chances are you will win and lose lots of (large) pots. The looser you are, the larger your bankroll should be. The tighter you are, the smaller your bankroll can be.

Consider Your Living Situation

Here’s where things can get tricky.

If you play poker to pay your bills, not only will you need to buy your way into games, but you’ll need to pay your bills on a monthly basis, too. Your bankroll needs to be large enough to weather variance so you can continue to play despite constant losses, but also large enough to pay your bills regardless of what happens at the tables.

This isn’t something we can figure out for you. Everyone’s situation will be different. Some people won’t have a permanent home, but instead will have to pay travel expenses. Other people may have a mortgage, car payment, kids – the whole works – to cover.

So, here’s the best advice we can give –
A common piece of advice given to new entrepreneurs or freelances is to have 6 months or more of savings. That way, if something goes wrong – and something always does – you can still pay your bills even if you have no money coming in.

This is great advice for poker players, not only so you don’t lose your home, but so that you can concentrate on playing your ‘A’ game instead of scared money poker.

Consider Your Poker Expenses

You also need to think about your poker-related expenses. For example, you need to think about your computer, internet access, coaching fees, forum subscriptions, tracking software, and so on. Basically, you need to include anything that’s poker related, but not what you’d bring to the table.

Our Bankroll Suggestions

Okay, we went through all the variables you need to think about when figuring out how large your bankroll should be. So, how much money you keep on hand?

Here’s a good starting point courtesy of PokerNews.com.

Game (Online) Minimum Medium Cautious
No-Limit Hold’em (6-max.), cash game 30 buy-ins 50 buy-ins 100 buy-ins
No-Limit Hold’em (full ring), cash game 25 40 75
Pot-Limit Omaha (6-max.), cash game 50 100 150
Pot-Limit Omaha (full ring), cash game 30 50 100
No-Limit Hold’em, 9-player sit-n-gos 30 50 100
No-Limit Hold’em, 45-player sit-n-gos 50 100 150
No-Limit Hold’em, 180-player sit-n-gos 100 200 500
No-Limit Hold’em, multi-table tournaments 100 200 500
No-Limit Hold’em, multi-table tournaments (large field) 200 400 600

They don’t cover every game or variation, obviously. But this gives you a good starting point, and it already accounts for the variance you’ll have playing the larger tournaments.

I suggest choosing the game closest to what you’ll be playing, then use the 50 or 100 buy-in recommendation. The more responsibility you have, and the more variance you expect to have, the more inclined you should be to use the 100 buy-in recommendation. And remember, this is only a starting point. You should definitely increase this depending on your answers to our variables above, as well as your own risk tolerance.

Bankroll Management Tips

Here are some additional bankroll management tips. These will not only help you build a bankroll, but also help you to avoid busting your bankroll at some point in the future.

Have a backup plan.

Think about what you’ll do IF you bust your bankroll. Do you know? If you don’t have a plan, you need to create one. It can include borrowing money from a friend, getting a job, or coaching other players. Many pros go broke once or twice while they figure things out. Having a plan will reduce how much time you spend on the rail.

Have more than you need.

The guidelines above are just that – guidelines. There’s nothing wrong with having a larger bankroll than you think you need. It’ll give you the peace of mind you need to always play your ‘A’ game. It also serves as ‘insurance’ in case something goes wrong, poker-related or not.

Drop the ego and drop down if necessary.

Whatever guidelines you establish, those should be the minimum guidelines for the games and stakes you play. This means that, if your bankroll drops below that level, you too should drop down a level (or two) in stakes.

Lots of people have an ego about this. But you shouldn’t. It’s the smart thing to do. Dropping down a level gives you a chance to rebuild. Lower stakes is also great for your confidence.

And besides, you can move back up again once you rebuild your bankroll. Dropping down a level or two doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck there forever.

Consider getting staked.

Getting staked is like getting a loan. You get money to play, and in return, you pay the person a percentage of your winnings. This may help if you tend to play ‘scared money.’ It may also allow you to play higher stakes than your personal bankroll can handle.

Consider splitting levels.

The idea is to split your time between your current level and the level above (or below) it. The reason why you’d do this is to reduce your risk while taking a shot at higher stakes or to rebuild your bankroll without fulling dropping down a level.

Don’t play drunk.

This should be obvious. But you’re likely to chase losses, tilt, play too high and other dumb stuff that can lead to destroying your bankroll.

Keep records.

Keeping records will help you figure out which games you are most and least profitable playing. You can also figure out your win-rate so you can further tweak your bankroll guidelines. If you’re more profitable than expected, you can keep less money on-hand, and vice versa.

You can your records using pen and paper, Excel or even an app like Poker Journal.

Conclusion

Knowing how to manage your bankroll is just as important, if not more important than knowing what hands to play, how to 3-bet or when to shove all-in against a maniac opponent. Because if you don’t know how to manage your money, and you bust your bankroll, all the strategy in the world won’t help you.

The bottom line – make sure that managing your bankroll is one of the first things you learn how to do.

Confucius
“Poker is a lifelong game where self-control, bankroll management, game and table selection, and other skills are all more important than the actual card-playing.”

– Steve Badger