Cash game buy-in – Max, min, or in between?

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How much should your cash game buy-in be?

When playing holdem cash games, you usually have the option of buying in for the table minimum, maximum, or somewhere in between. Online players are often capped at a maximum buy-in of 100bb, regardless of other players’ stacks. Live players, will find rules vary from cardroom to cardroom – however, it is common to find at least 200bb maximum buy-ins. Some cardrooms even allow you to buy-in for the greater of a predetermined maximum (e.g. 200bb) or a percentage of the biggest stack on table (e.g. 50% or even 100%). Lets us start by looking at the advantages and disadvantages, of a maximum & minimum cash game buy-in…

Advantages of buying in for the maximum

  • In most cardrooms (whether live or online) rake is capped. This means after the pot has reached a certain size, no further rake is paid. The further the pot size increases from the cap, the less percentage of the total pot that has been paid as rake. As an example imagine you are playing $1/$2 live poker, with 5% rake capped at $10. If you won a $200 pot, you would pay $10 in rake (i.e. 5%). If you win a $400 pot, you would still pay $10 in rake (i.e. 2.5%). If you won a $1,000 pot, you would still pay $10 in rake (i.e. 1%).
  • The biggest mistakes are usually made by players in deep stacked situations, as opposed to short stacked situations. As a studied player, it is in your interest to put unstudied or less studied players, in situations outside their comfort zone.

Disadvantages of buying in for the maximum

  • If your opponents are more skilled than you, this is likely to hurt you significantly more when playing deep than short stacked.
  • You will need a much larger amount of money in your bankroll, to have an acceptably low risk of ruin, if you intend to regularly buy in for the maximum. However, a backing agreement could help if you don’t have the bankroll to buy in for the maximum at a game you know you have the skill levels to beat.

Advantages of buying in for the minimum

  • Short stacking will allow you to shot take at higher stakes than you currently play, with significantly less money required in your bankroll than if you intended to buy in for a bigger amount. This may allow you to actively observe larger games, making notes and plans. You may be able to build your bankroll up to the amount required to buy-in for the maximum, through good short stack play. By this time, you will also have acquired significant field knowledge.
  • Short stacked play is easier to learn than the complexities of deep stacked play. You will find it easier to get into situations versus skilled deep stacked opponents, where they cannot use their skill advantage on you. Your opponents will find it more difficult to stop you realizing your equity, as the SPR will be less at all times, and instead of a three street game the hand may be over preflop or on the flop.

Disadvantages of buying in for the minimum

  • It will likely be impossible for you to win a pot, without paying the maximum percentage of the pot as rake. This is because you are unlikely to ever reach the rake cap.
  • Whilst observing others is better than nothing, a better way to learn is to actively participate in new or unfamiliar situations. Playing short stacked is unlikely to get you into too many of these, whereas playing deep stacked there are infinite new situations you could find yourself in.
  • You might have to pass up some extremely profitable situations. Imagine you are playing live poker, and a weak player bought in for the maximum, then has doubled up – if you only have a fraction of this player’s stack, and you are a studied player you are losing a great opportunity.

What about buying in for an intermediate amount?

Buying in for an amount in between the minimum and maximum is not usually recommended unless you have good reasons – as you will lose the advantages of short stacking, whilst not maximizing the advantages of playing deep stacked.

However, a good reason would be covering all your weak opponents, without covering a player you know is significantly better than you (especially if they are likely to have direct position on you most of the time, and you won’t be changing seats).

Conclusion: What’s the ideal cash game buy-in?

With an adequate relative skill advantage versus your opponents, and enough in your overall bankroll to minimize you risk of ruin, at we recommend your cash game buy-in is for an amount that will cover all your opponents.

If you are buying in for the maximum, we recommend you top up anytime you are allowed (e.g. you have fallen below the allowed maximum, either because you have lost some chips, or in live poker because the maximum has changed on a table where it is relative to the largest stack). Online players can auto top up easily through their settings. We recommend live players purchase extra chips in the most useful denominations for topping up at the stakes they are playing, and then just add these to your stack at the appropriate time (this is quick and easy, rather than having to involve the floor every time you want to top up).

If you are unable to do this, you can consider short stacking – but we recommend you try and build your bankroll through short stacking, and then consider buying in for the maximum.

You can also consider an intermediate buy-in, that is neither the minimum or maximum, but you would need an good reason for this as you giving up the advantages of the maximum buy-in and those of the minimum buy-in – a good reason would be wanting to cover all the weak players without unnecessarily covering a player who has position on you and is significantly stronger than you.