A Comprehensive Guide to Poker Bankroll Management

How To Grow Your Poker Bankroll With Minimum Risk

Of all the different tactics, strategies and ideas in online poker, one of the most vital is bankroll management – a subject which actually has little to do with how you play the game.

So what is a bankroll, and how exactly do you 'manage' one? Put simply, your bankroll is the sum of funds you have available for poker. How you manage those funds, ensuring that you're able to keep playing even during a downswing or period of bad luck, can be crucial.

So, if you're new to the game of poker, or if you're topping up your account more frequently than you'd like, now's the time to understand the meaning of poker bankroll management. Once you do, you should find you're able to play with more confidence and enjoy a better win-rate as a result!

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In regards to moving up in stakes, the CardsChat Bankroll Management strategy article is a good resource. Bankroll management is individual - people in different circumstances and with different goals will have different bankrolls - but this article provides really good rules of thumb that can be followed by beginner and intermediate players alike. The rules are simple, which makes following them easier.

Matt Vaughan (Scourrge)

CardsChat forum member since 2008, over $250k in live tournament winnings

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Work and save some $ and put it aside to gamble with. Don't gamble with what you can't afford to lose. Always stings.

Carl DiVeglia (**Carl Trooper)

CardsChat forum member since 2012, over $350k in live tournament winnings


Poker Bankroll Management Explained

In the simplest terms, your poker bankroll is the amount of money you have set aside solely for playing poker. This should be thought of as separate from your other money. When you look to build a bankroll, you should start by deciding how much you are prepared to risk. For some, it might be $10, while for others it could be $1,000. Regardless of how much it is, it's important to set a starting point for building your poker funds.

One way to build your bankroll without risk is to play freeroll tournaments, which award real prizes without charging a buy-in. Click here to learn how CardsChat members can play freerolls every day of the week.

Bonuses and Your Bankroll

If you are savvy when choosing poker sites to play at, it's possible to increase your bankroll drastically when you make your first deposit. This is because the majority of online poker sites offer juicy welcome bonuses, which can double - or sometimes even triple - the amount of cash you deposit. You'll be able to find the very best online poker bonuses on this site.

Remember that bonuses nearly always have a playthrough requirement. This means that you can play with the money, but you won't be able to withdraw it - or any winnings made using it - until you have gambled it a certain number of times.

  1. Remember to use bonuses wisely, in order to give yourself a larger bankroll to play with.

  2. Don't forget that there's nothing wrong with splitting your bankroll over two or more online poker sites, so you can take advantage of multiple welcome bonus offers!

The Ideal Starting Bankroll

So what is the ideal starting bankroll? It depends: everyone has their own limits, and some will be able to devote more money to poker than others. Ideally, the stakes you play for should be meaningful but not so much that losses will negatively impact your life. That's different for everyone, and the stakes you choose to play for will impact the size of bankroll you need.

It's important to remember that while poker is a game of skill, there are no guarantees that the best player will win every time, so never deposit more money at a site than you can afford to lose. By playing well and following the basics of poker bankroll management, your bankroll will be able to see out spells of bad luck without affecting how you play.

How Much to Risk

Once you have determined how big a bankroll you can afford to start with, you'll need to consider what stakes you will play.

Cash game

Game

Blinds

Standard Buy-in

Recommended Bankroll

NL2

$0.01/$0.02

$2

$40-$100

NL5

$0.02/$0.05

$5

$100-$250

NL10

$0.05/$0.10

$10

$200-$500

NL25

$0.10/$0.25

$25

$500-$1,250

NL50

$0.25/$0.50

$50

$1,000-$2,500

NL100

$0.50/$1

$100

$2,000-$5,000

NL200

$1/$2

$200

$4,000-$10,000

NL500

$2/$5

$500

$10,000-$25,000

NL1000

$5/$10

$1,000

$20,000-$50,000

NL2000

$10/$20

$2,000

$40,000-$100,000

NL5000

$25/$50

$5,000

$100,000-$250,000

A good rule of thumb for cash players is a bankroll of at least 20 buy-ins (some players prefer as many as 40-50). That means if you are going to play NL10 (blind of $0.05/0.10) and the maximum buy-in for the table is $10, then you would ideally have at least $200 in your account. By that same logic, if you have $100 to play with you should not consider playing higher than NL5, where you will have 20 buy-ins available to start, or even NL2 where you will have 50 buy-ins in your bankroll.

While it may be tempting to buy-in for the minimum, we would usually recommend buying in for the maximum whenever you can; if the maximum buy-in feels too high, consider playing lower stakes.

You must also set limits for individual sessions. Knowing when to quit is a tough decision for cash game players, and can be equally difficult whether you are having a winning or losing session. Try not to confuse your results with how you're playing; a hot streak may not mean you're playing well, just as a downswing doesn't necessarily mean you're playing badly.

Try to stay objective by setting goals and loss limits. Examples:

1. GOAL: TO WIN TWICE THE BUY-IN

Once you achieve that goal, cash out, turn the computer off and think honestly about how you played in that winning session.

2. LIMIT: NO MORE THAN TWO BUY-INS PER SESSION

Once you've lost that second buy-in, call it a night and spend some time reviewing how you played. Was it bad luck or bad play?

Tournaments

Standard Tournament Buy-in

Recommended Bankroll

Freeroll

N/A

$0.10

$5

$1

$50

$3

$150

$5

$250

$10

$500

$15

$750

$20

$1,000

$30

$1,500

$50

$2,500

$100

$5,000

$200

$10,000

$500

$25,000

For tournaments, it's wise to restrict yourself to two percent of your bankroll for any one buy-in. For example, if you have $500 in your account, look for tournaments that are $10 or less.

Make sure your total buy-in includes any rebuys or add-ons you may require. If you play a tourney that offers rebuys and add-ons, it's reasonable to assume you may end up spending more than the initial buy-in, even if it's just for an add-on. Rebuys can swell a prize pool to very attractive levels, but it's possible to spend more than you had originally planned as a result.

Building a Bankroll

So, now you have your initial bankroll ready to go, and you're itching to watch it grow. Poker bankroll management isn't just a case of starting with the right amount of money though - it's about making sure you're always playing within your limits, even as your skills and available bankroll grow to new levels. So, what should you consider when trying to increase your bankroll in the safest and most sensible way?

1. The Stakes

Obviously, playing higher stakes cash games 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 NL50 to NL200, for example, may be such that the player requires a much larger bankroll to take a shot at higher stakes.

2. The Game Type

In general, playing tournaments as opposed to cash games will be higher variance and require a larger bankroll even at comparable stakes. Lower variance game types will require smaller bankrolls when compared to their high variance counterparts. Extremely high variance formats, such as super-turbo tournaments, will require you to have a larger bankroll with more buy-ins.

3. The Rate of Winning

For tournament players, this figure refers to the return on investment (ROI) they can expect from the tournaments they currently play. For cash game players, this figure is the player's win rate in big blinds per 100 hands played. In each case, a large sample size of hands is necessary to accurately assess the rate of winning, so don't be tempted to read too much into short term results.

4. The Comfort Level

This key aspect is primarily influenced by two key components: life roll (a player's general wealth level) and mental composure. Some players may feel that having a bankroll larger than the suggested standard enables them to play better poker, while for others it may contribute to them playing more sloppily. If having a larger than normal bankroll helps a player improve their mental composure in this way, then this factor can't be ignored when determining an ideal bankroll figure.

Examples of Bankroll Building

Everyone is different, and everyone will go about building their bankroll in a slightly different way. To give you an idea about how to build a bankroll in different situations, we've come up with three examples:

Player A

Player A plays live NL200 (No Limit Hold'em with blinds of $1/$2), with an hourly rate of $12 after playing for 60 hours a week for the last year. If the player saw 25 hands an hour, this would mean a sample size of a little under 80,000 hands.

They started online at lower stakes. During the transition to live, they felt uncomfortable and under-rolled with just 10 buy-ins, and worried about playing too tightly during any downswings. Now that they have built a bankroll of $5,000, they are wondering if it is time to make the jump to $2/$5 (NL500).

$5,000 is just 10 buy-ins at NL500, and seeing as the player experienced stress when playing with a shorter roll before (plus the fact that their win rate may well decrease given the tougher opposition), it would not be advisable to move up in stakes just yet. Grinding NL200 until they have more than 10 buy-ins for NL500 would be advisable. Alternating sessions at both stakes, to lower their average buy-in and increase their comfort level at the higher stakes, will help them adjust and eventually make the step up.

  • LIVE NL200

(No Limit Hold'em, $1/$2 blinds)

  • HOURLY RATE OF $12

after playing for 60 hours a week for a year

  • BANKROLL UP TO $5,000

  • KEEP PLAYING NL200 BUT ADD SOME NL500 TO THE MIX

Player B

Player B plays mid-stakes multi-table tournaments online, with a 25% average return on investment (ROI) over 25,000 tournaments. They've taken a few isolated shots in high-stakes tournaments, without any notable results, but the player coped well with the higher stakes and came away happy with how they played.

They maintain a bankroll of 300 times the average buy-in, which for this player may be a little too conservative. A 25% ROI is very good in these tournaments, so they may want to consider a more aggressive poker bankroll management strategy such as lowering their bankroll requirement to 250 buy-ins, and putting those extra 50 buy-ins towards a smaller number of carefully planned shots. If those shots don't work out, and the bankroll dips below 250 mid-stakes buy-ins, the player should be prepared to play a little lower to build back the bankroll.

  • OVER 25,000 TOURNAMENTS

  • 25% AVERAGE RETURN ON INVESTMENT

  • LOWERING BANKROLL REQUIREMENT TO 250 BUY-INS

  • USE THE EXTRA 50 BUY-INS TO PLAN SHOTS CAREFULLY

Player C

Player C plays low stakes super turbo sit and goes, but after 30,000 super turbos with a 5% return on investment, is growing bored and seeking a new game type. Super turbos are fairly high variance tournaments, so a lower ROI is not unexpected, and as a result Player C maintains a conservative 400 buy-ins. They're hoping to enjoy a higher ROI in a lower variance format, which will enable them to be less conservative with their bankroll and 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 Player C does not know what their expectation should be for the new game type they wish to play. Grinding the game they're successful at in order to pay for a coach for the new game type could be a good option. Alternatively, they could dedicate a portion of their bankroll specifically for the new game, ideally starting out at the micro-stakes in order to minimize risk.

The important thing is that Player C recognizes their performance in the new game type will likely be independent of how they did in the super turbos.

  • 30,000 SUPER TURBOS

  • 5% RETURN ON INVESTMENT

  • READY TO PLAY A NEW GAME TYPE, BUT EXERCISE CAUTION

Managing Your Expectations

Some people join a poker site and expect to turn their $10 bankroll into $10,000 overnight, simply by entering a $10 multi-table tournament and beating the rest of the field. While it would be wrong to say that this has never happened, putting 100% of your bankroll on the line is never a wise move!

This is where expectation management is important. Instead of setting unrealistic goals, you need to move forward with small steps – and exercise some better bankroll management. If you manage to turn that $10 into just $11 on your first day, that's a 10% boost to your bankroll! Moving ahead to higher stakes, you should be glad if you manage to turn your $1,000 bankroll in $1,050 after a session. You should never be playing with your whole bankroll, so these kinds of advances are more positive than they might appear if your expectations are too high.

  1. People expect to turn their $10 into $10,000 overnight.

  2. Be happy if you manage to turn that $10 into $11 on your first day

  3. Be happy if you manage to turn that $1,000 into $1,050 on your first day

Also, every player experiences losing - it happens to everyone from beginners through to players like Daniel Negreanu and Phil Ivey. Losing isn't a disaster and, as mentioned earlier, you should stop playing when you have lost a certain amount. By doing so, you'll prevent yourself from going on tilt (getting so angry that you start risking more and more money while playing poorly) and will also ensure that you've got money to play another day.

Poker Bankroll Management Software & Tools

A number of apps, tools and services are available to help poker players manage their bankrolls. The advice on this page should be enough for most new players to maintain control over their poker finances, but if you'd like some more help check out these options:

Poker Stack – downloadable for iOS and Android, this app tracks your buy-ins and cash-outs to keep track of your bankroll and help you identify your most and least profitable games. A host of graphs, charts and graphical options enable you to visualize your most useful data, from profits to losing streaks to hourly winrates.

Fergulator – this free downloadable software takes its name from Chris Ferguson, the former WSOP Champion who undertook a $0 to $10,000 poker bankroll challenge. The software provides advice per the 'rules' Ferguson used in his challenge: 1) Don't spend more than 2% of your bankroll on a MTT, 2) Never buy in to a Sit & Go with more than 5% of your bankroll, 3) Don't sit down with more than 5% of your bankroll at a cash game, and 4) Leave a cash game if your winnings mean your stack reaches more than 10% of your bankroll.

Poker Dominator - this web-based app requires no download and is free to use, helping both online and live players keep track of details like results and hourly rates. Poker Dominator is also compatible with Poker Tracker, allowing hand histories to be imported.

Tips for Managing Your Poker Bankroll

Use these brief tips to keep control of your bankroll and stay in action.

  1. Always keep your poker bankroll separate from your other funds.

  2. Use your poker winnings to build your bankroll.

  3. Take shots at higher limits, or try adding additional tables, if your bankroll can support it.

  4. Move down in stakes if losses push your bankroll below the necessary levels for your preferred stakes.

  5. Set win/loss limits to help lock up winning sessions and avoid emotional tilt.

  6. Maintain realistic expectations.

In addition to these six tips, here are a few more pieces of advice for new players looking to successfully manage an online poker bankroll.

Be wary of rebuy tournaments

Rebuy tournaments are attractive due to their small buy-ins and disproportionately large payouts (e.g. a $2 buy-in for a $1,500 prize pool). This initial buy-in can be misleading though, as these tourneys often feature smaller starting stacks and hyper-aggressive play, which can lead to players spending more on rebuys than they had planned. If an add-on is available it's usually wise to take it, but all this means a cheap $2 tourney can easily turn into what is effectively a $10-16 buy-in tourney, almost without you noticing. With that higher spend, you'll need to do more than make a min-cash to recoup your investment. For this reason, new players should avoid rebuy tournaments.

Watch out for late registration

Depending on the time you have available to play, you may want to avoid tournaments with long registration windows (anything more than one hour). Some sites offer late registration for as long as five hours on some of their bigger tournaments, which means either a) starting late with a smaller stack, or b) playing for a very long time just to get a min-cash. If you're a relatively inexperienced player, you may not have the skills to survive for hours on end in a big tournament. This is one way that higher variance structures, like turbos, can actually work in favor of less experienced players.

Get there early

Register at the beginning of the tournament so you get the maximum value for your buy-in. A tournament with an initial starting stack of 3,000 and big blind of 20 gives you 150 big blinds to start with. If you wait and register when the big blind is up to 60, you're starting out with 50 big blinds. Give yourself the best possible chance to play your normal game.

Forget the auto top-up option for now

For cash game players, one way to possibly lose more than you intended during a session is to take advantage of the auto top-up feature. The auto top-up always keeps your stack at the level you bought in for, as a minimum. So, if you are on a $.05/$.10 table and buy-in for $10, any time your balance dips below $10, the site will top you up to $10 again.

Expert players will tell you to enable this feature, so you always have your maximum buy-in at your disposal when you get the opportunity for a double-up. This is true, but for new players with smaller bankrolls this feature makes it harder to track your spend in any cash game session, often leading to poor bankroll management.


Conclusion

Poker bankroll management, while not one of the most glamorous parts of the game, is certainly one of the most important things for new players to understand. It will help you to play within your means, stay in action, and form an honest view of your progress.

However much you intend to deposit or play for, the hints, tips and explanations found in this article should give you everything you need to not only make sense of bankroll management, but to use it in a way that benefits your entire online poker experience. So, whether you're a cash game or a tournament player, devising a strategy that suits your current bankroll is something you should think about before you buy in for your next game.