A Comprehensive Guide to Bankroll Management

How To Grow Your Bankroll With Minimum Risk
Bankroll Management

When you first think about online poker, you probably instantly have thoughts about audacious bluffs, big bets, and scooping huge piles of chips towards you after a successful hand. What most players don't realise is this though: of all the different tactics, strategies and ideas in online poker, the most vital is bankroll management.

But what exactly is bankroll management? Well, for starters, it has absolutely nothing to do with how you play the actual game. Instead, it's how you manage the money in your account, to ensure that you always have funds available to play with, even if you do happen to go through a lean spell on the tables.

So, if you're new to the game of poker, or if you're finding that you keep having to top up your account with more and more money on a regular basis, this is undoubtedly the page for you. Once you understand bankroll management, you should then see your long-term success at the poker table rise!

matt photo

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, has over $200k in live tournament winnings

carl photo

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, has $300k in live tournament winnings


Bankroll Management Explained

In the simplest terms, your poker bankroll is the amount of money you have set aside for poker. This doesn't include money you have in your bank account for bills and your mortgage, nor does it include any money you're expecting to get in the future. It is purely the money you are prepared to devote solely to poker playing. This is why, 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 $1000. Regardless of how much it is, it can still be used as a starting point for building your poker funds.

Bankroll Limit

Some people make the mistake of thinking that their bankroll is simply the money in their online poker account, but this is not the case. You might, for example, decide that you have a $100 limit on your bankroll, but then only decide to deposit $50, leaving the other $50 safely stashed away in case you need to reload. Where your money actually is, is irrelevant - knowing how much you're prepared to spend in total is vital.

Bonuses and Your Bankroll


If you are savvy when choosing poker sites to play at, it is 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 around here on this site, simply by reading through the reviews of different poker sites.

There's one thing about bonuses that is really important to remember though: always ensure that you input the code if required. If you don't you will miss out on all that extra cash, and won't be able to claim it at a later date. Also, remember this: while bonuses can be a great way to build your bankroll at the start, they will nearly always have a rollover requirement attached to them. 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. The first thing to really remember about building a bankroll is this: use bonuses wisely.
  2. Don't forget that there's nothing wrong with splitting your bankroll over two or more different online poker sites, which will mean that you'll be able to take advantage of more welcome bonus offers, and therefore earn more money in the process!
Ideal Start

The Ideal Starting Bankroll

Many people wonder what the ideal starting bankroll should be, however there is no real answer to this question. The reason for this is simple: everyone has their own limits, and therefore some will be able to devote more money to poker than others. The important thing to remember is this though: while poker is a game of skill, there is a chance that you will lose. Therefore, you should never deposit more money at a site than you can afford to lose. Hopefully though, if you play well and follow the basics of bankroll management, your bankroll will only grow and you'll never have to deposit any more money at your chosen online poker site again.

How Much to Risk

After you have determined how much you can afford to deposit each month, the first order is to set limits on what stakes you will play.

Cash game
Cash game

at least 20 buy-ins

(some players prefer as many as 40-50)


    Money in Account
  • MIN
    $ 4
    $ 80
  • MAX
    $ 10
    $ 200

A good rule of thumb for cash players is to have at least 20 buy-ins (some players prefer as many as 40-50). That means if you are going to play .05/.10NL and the minimum buy-in for the table is $4, then you would ideally have at least $80 in your account. If you're the kind of player who wants to buy in for the maximum, say $10, then you would want to have $200 in your account.

You must also set limits for individual sessions. Knowing when to quit is a tough decision for cash game players. The decision can be equally difficult when you are having a winning session or a losing session. Many players confuse a "hot streak" with great play. They'll get up 4-5 times their buy-in, convince themselves that their run of monster hands and suckouts is actual skill and keep playing. Three orbits later, they've frittered away some, if not all, of their potential profit simply because they didn't know when to quit.

Set a goal for yourself. It's also a good idea to set a loss limit, too. Examples:

twice the buy-in

to win twice the buy-in

Once you achieve that goal, cash out and turn the computer off. Hot streaks are going to end some time.
no more than two

limit of no more than two buy-ins per session

Once you've lost that second buy-in, call it a night and come back the next day.

restrict yourself to 2% of your bankroll for any buy-in

  • money on account
    tournaments buy-in
  • $500
    $10 or less


For multi-table tournaments, try to restrict yourself to 2 percent of your bankroll for any one buy-in. If you have $500 in your account, look for tournaments that are $10 or less. The same principle can be used for sit-n-goes.

You need to make sure your buy-in total includes rebuys or add-ons. If you play a tourney that offers re-buys and add-ons, add up the cost of the initial buy-in, one rebuy and one add-on and then make sure you're still under the 5 percent mark. As you'll see later though, it is generally a good idea to avoid rebuys and add-ons when playing in tournaments.

Building bankroll

Building a Bankroll

So, now you have your initial bankroll ready to go, and you're itching to start making some money at the poker tables. Bankroll management isn't just a case of starting with the right amount of money though - it's also the case of making sure you never exceed your limits while playing, even if you've suddenly managed to turn $100 into $1000. So, what rules should you follow when trying to increase your bankroll in the safest and most sensible way? Well, it depends on a few factors, and they are illustrated below.

  • Stakes

    1. The Stakes

    Obviously, 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 requires more than four times the bankroll from his days of grinding 50NL.

  • Game Type

    2. The Game Type

    In general, playing tournaments as opposed to cash games 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 counterparts. Extremely high variance formats, such as super-turbo tournaments, will require you to have a higher bankroll (in terms of number of buy-ins).

  • Rate of Winning

    3. The Rate of Winning

    For tournament players, this figure refers to the player's return on investment (ROI) that they can expect from the tournaments they currently play. 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.

  • Comfort Level

    4. The Comfort Level

    This 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.

Examples of Bankroll Building

Everyone is different, and everyone will go about building their bankroll in a slightly different way - as mentioned above, there are various factors that can influence the exact path you choose to take. To give you an idea about how to build a bankroll in different situations, we've come up with three examples, which you can read below:

Player A

Player A

Player 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.

live 200 NL

($1/$2 no limit hold'em)

hourly rate of $12

after playing for 60 hours a week

bankroll up to $5,000

jump to $2/$5

Player B

Player B

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. In the past, he has taken a few isolated shots in high-stakes tournaments. Although none of 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.

over 25,000 tournaments

25% average return on investment

lowering average buy-in to 250

extra 50 buy-ins to plan shots carefully

Player C

Player C

Player C plays low stakes super turbo sit and goes, and is hoping to transition to normal speed sit and goes. 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 the nuances of the new game extensively, he could devote a separate amount towards that game, 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 game 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 win more is to disregard an accurate assessment of one's own win rate.

30,000 super turbos

5% return on investment

ready to play a new game type

Managing Your Expectations


Perhaps the biggest issue people have with bankroll management is their own expectations. Many people join a poker site and expect to turn their $10 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, 99.99% of the time it ends with the bankroll being lost and the player having to reload their account again.

This is where expectation management is important. Instead of setting unrealistic goals, you need to move forward with small steps. So, you should be happy if you manage to turn that $10 into $11 on your first day. Moving ahead to higher stakes, you should be glad if you manage to turn your $1000 bankroll in $1050 after a session. Of course, there will be days when you surpass your goals, but these should be taken as the exception, rather than the rule.

  • People expect to turn their $10 into $10,000 overnight.
  • Be happy if you manage to turn that $10 into $11 on your first day
  • Be happy if you manage to turn that $1000 into $1050 on your first day

Also, you will lose money at some point. Losing is part of poker, and it happens to everyone from beginners through to players like Daniel Negreanu and Phil Ivey. You have to learn that losing some of your money 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 on risky plays) and will also ensure that you've got money for tomorrow - and tomorrow could be the day that you win back your losses, plus more!

So, the golden rule here is this: don't expect too much of your yourself, and don't get downhearted if you have a bad day. Even the best players in the world don't double their bankroll every time they sit down at a poker table!

How to Avoid Losing Your Bankroll

You will occasionally lose - as already mentioned, that's simply part of the game. But there are a few things to remember if you want to limit your losses as much as possible. You'll find them listed below.

  • re-buy tournaments

    Avoid re-buy tournaments

    Re-buy tournaments are generally best avoided. They lure you in with a small buy-in and a disproportionately large prize pool ($2 buy-in for a $1,500 tournament). This initial buy-in is misleading though. These tourneys generally feature smaller starting stacks (say 1,000 or 1,500 chips). Throw in hyper-aggressive play from players who are trying to get double-ups as quickly as possible and a massive add-on (10,000 chips for $2) that entices you to keep re-buying, and you've got a recipe for disaster. The next thing you know, you're on your fifth re-buy and you then decide to stump up another $2 on the add-on. The cheap, $2 tourney has turned into a $14 buy-in. Even if you make the money, you'll have to get pretty close to the final table just to recoup your investment. Beginning players should avoid rebuys like the plague.

  • late registration

    Watch out for late registration

    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 you're going to have to play at least six or seven hours just to get a min-cash. If you're a relatively inexperienced player, chances are your game is not to the level needed to be able to last as long as seven hours in a large multi-table tournament.

  • early

    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 an initial 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.

  • auto-top up

    Forget the auto-top up option

    For cash players, one sure way to 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. 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. They believe that you should always have your max buy-in at your disposal so when you get the opportunity for the double-up, you are maximizing your profits.

That might work for experts, but for new and recreational players, the auto top-up can have disastrous effects. It keeps you from knowing how much you have lost in a session. For a player with a small bankroll, this is critical information. You need to know if you've already lost $6 of your original $10 buy-in. Ignoring how much you've lost in a session will ensure your bankroll disappears quickly.



There's no other game in the world quite like poker. Luck certainly plays its part in the game, but there are so many other nuances that can be used to gain the advantage and help you to win money when you play. Bankroll management, while not one of the most glamorous parts of the game, is certainly one of the most important things to understand though. Keep an eye on your bankroll management and you should find yourself having to deposit less, but allow your focus to drop for a while, and you could end up reloading your account over and over again.

Regardless of whether you're planning to deposit $10, $100 or $10,000, bankroll management is something you should certainly think about, and the hints, tips and explanations found in the article above 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, why not take a look at your current bankroll, and devise a bankroll strategy before you next sit down for a quick game?