Build Your Online Poker Bankroll

Introduction to Building Your Poker Bankroll

In the long run, the fact is that most poker players lose money. Some players acknowledge this truth and play poker primarily for recreational purposes. Some would stand to make money were it not for the rake that the house takes as payment for running the games.

With the exception of certain home games and promotions, beating the rake is a necessary part of winning in poker. It is also a very important aspect of how to build a bankroll in online poker as well as live. In the purest sense of the term, a poker bankroll is the amount that a winning player has to devote solely to poker. A recreational player that may not be winning could have a set amount of money that is colloquially referred to as a bankroll, but is actually a kind of gambling/entertainment allowance, as there would be a negative expectation for that fund (monetarily speaking). This article references an online poker bankroll from the perspective of a player who is already winning at the stakes he currently plays.

Online Poker Bankroll Building

Many players want to know, "How many big blinds should I have in my bankroll?" Unfortunately the answer is simply not the same for every person and every scenario. The bankroll requirements for players depend primarily on four key components. We'll look at these with a short introduction to each crucial aspect one must consider in arriving at their ideal bankroll.

1. The Stakes

The StakesObviously, playing higher-stakes will require a larger bankroll than grinding lower stakes of the same game type. However, this effect is not always linear, as the possible variance in moving from 50NL to 200NL may be such that the player required more than four times the bankroll from his days of grinding 50NL.


2. The Game Type

The Game TypeIn general, playing tournaments as opposed to cash will be higher variance and require a larger bankroll even at similar stakes. Lower variance game types will require lower bankrolls as compared to their faster-paced counter parts. Extremely high variance formats, such a super-turbo tournaments will require you to have a higher bankroll (in terms of number of buy-ins).


3. The Rate of Winning

The Rate of WinningFor tournament players, this figure refers to the player's return on investment (ROI) that he can expect from the tournaments he currently plays. For cash games, this figure is the player's win rate in big blinds per 100 hands played. Regardless of whether one is a tournament or cash game player, a large sample size of hands is necessary to accurately assess the rate of winning. Many people overestimate this number based on running unsustainably well over too small of a sample of hands. For those that are unsure as to the accuracy of their win rate, it is suggested that they proceed with caution and research.

4. The Comfort Level

The Comfort LevelThis key aspect is primarily influenced by two key components: life roll (or the person's other available cash and income streams) and the mental composure of the player. Mental composure refers to the individual tendencies of the player that will often converge with optimal bankroll management decisions unique to each individual. Some players may feel that having a bankroll that is three times the suggested standard bankroll for their situation enables them to play better poker. Others may conclude that having an overly-large bankroll contributes to them playing sloppy poker. If having a larger than normal bankroll helps a player to perform with better clarity, then this can be a component that almost supersedes the other guidelines in terms of arriving at an ideal bankroll figure.

Bankroll Examples

Now that we've determined the four most important components of determining a poker bankroll, let's look at a few examples of different decisions that poker players make, and how some choose to address the issue of building a poker bankroll for higher-stakes games.

  • Live Poker PlayerPlayer A plays live 200 NL ($1/$2 no limit hold'em), and has maintained an hourly rate of $12 an hour after playing for 60 hours a week for the last year. If the player saw 25 hands an hour, this would mean that his sample size was a bit under 80,000 hands.

    When he began playing, he started online at lower stakes. During his transition to live, he felt that he was uncomfortable and under-rolled when he started with 10 buy-ins, and became worried that he was playing too tightly when he experienced a downswing. Now that he has built his bankroll up to $5,000, he is wondering if it is time to make the jump to $2/$5.

    Being as the player experienced stress when playing with a shorter roll before, and the fact that he can likely expect for his win rate to decrease, it would not be advisable to move up in stakes yet. In this player's case, grinding $1/$2 until he has well over two and a half times the bankroll for 200NL would be advisable. Additionally, he could alternate sessions at both stakes to lower his average buy-in and increase his comfort level at the higher-stakes.

  • Player B plays mid-stakes multi-table tournaments online. He has played over 25,000 tournaments and has maintained a 25% average return on investment. Multi Table Tournament PlayerIn the past he has taken a few isolated shots in high-stakes tournaments. Although none have them have enabled him to move to high-stakes tournaments for any length of time, the player was not put under any undue stress and he came away from the experience happy with how he played.

    He maintains a bankroll of 300 times his average buy-in, which at times he feels is too conservative, and may be holding him back from reaching the high-stakes tournaments he wishes to play as quickly as possible. This player may be a better candidate for taking a more aggressive strategy with building his bankroll, so long as he is comfortable with having to play lower if increased shot-taking doesn't pan out. Additionally, he is likely in an easier position than Player A to find a stake should things go poorly. This player could consider lowering his average buy-in bankroll requirement to 250, and using the extra 50 buy-ins towards a fewer number of carefully planned shots.

  • Player C plays low stakes super turbo sit and goes, and is hoping to transition to normal speed sit and goes. Turbo Tournament Lobby He has played very few normal speed sit and goes, but over 30,000 super turbos with a 5% return on investment. In general, a lower expected ROI for a player is likely to be higher variance, and for that reason he maintains a very conservative 400 buy-ins for grinding the super turbos. He feels that sometimes he gets bored playing the super turbos, and is ready to play a new game type. He also feels that he'll have a higher ROI in the lower variance format of normal speed sit and goes, and that will enable him to be less conservative with his bankroll, and thus progress in stakes more rapidly.

    One of the benefits of maintaining a conservative bankroll is that it enables a player to potentially take shots, but the problem with Player C's analysis is that he does not know what his expectation is in the new game type he wishes to play. Grinding the game at which he is a proven winner such that he could afford to get a coach for the new game type could be a good option.

    Alternatively, if he has studied extensively about the nuances of the new game type, he could devote a separate amount towards those games, ideally starting out at the micro-stakes in order to minimize risk. The important thing is that Player C recognizes that how he can expect to perform in the new games type is mostly independent to how he did in the super turbos. While of course there will be some cross over in skills, to assume that a proven winner in a game type can switch to a different game and be more winning is to disregard an accurate assessment of one's own win rate.

The first step to building a poker bankroll is understanding the fundamental aspects that contribute to having a solid initial number of buy-ins. Once all factors are considered in arriving at a healthy amount for the stakes one currently plays, then the person can address the many factors that contribute to building a bankroll for higher-stakes games in the future.

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