Poker bankroll management – Considerations

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What is poker bankroll management?

Your poker bankroll is all the funds you have allocated to play poker. You can think of your bankroll in terms of the number of buy-ins you have for your current game. Even if you do everything right on any given poker table, you can lose your buy-in – infact, you can lose multiple buy-ins in a row. Thus, a well though out poker bankroll management strategy will mean you have multiple buyins for the games you regularly play to minimize your risk of ruin. The amount of buyins you need will depends on factors such as variance/skill gaps/rake. If you are unable to replenish your bankroll, if you lose your entire bankroll, you will have not be able to buy-in to a poker game.

How big should a bankroll be? How many buyins do I need?

This will depend on factors such as:

  • the variance in your game type: the higher the variance the more buy-ins you need
  • your skill levels vs your opponent’s skill levels: the more the skill gap in your favor, the less buy-ins you need
  • the rake in your game: the higher the rake, the less your average winnings will be, and this the more buy-ins you need
  • the higher the value of promotions such as rakeback, the more your average winnings will be (if you count the rakeback as your winnings), so the less buy-ins you need.
  • Can you replenish your bankroll if you went broke? If you cannot you will want a much higher number of buy-ins to start off with, to lessen the risk of ruin.

For tournaments (we recommend ~100 buy-ins), you need more buy-ins than cash games (we recommend ~30 buy-ins).

Don’t be tempted to play too high

If you don’t have enough buy-ins, your risk of ruin (if you cannot reload) becomes much greater. Even the best players, can go on massive downswings.

Where does an initial poker bankroll come from?

You will need to allocate the seed money from somewhere – this could be from your income from a job or investments, your savings, or even a loan (warning: we would strongly recommend against the latter, unless you know exactly what you are doing).

Live poker is usually not played for anything less than $1/$2, £1/£2, €1/€2 so you are going to need a bigger absolute bankroll for the lowest live stakes than the lowest online stakes. The games typically have higher rake than online games (and no opportunity for rakeback – although some cardrooms might have other promotions). However the skill gap between studied and unstudied players is likely to be higher. You may be happy with a ~20 buy-in bankroll. However, that’s $4,000 / £4,000 / €4,000 if you are buying in for 100bb. If you buy-in for 200bb those numbers double. Of course, if you are happy to short-stack the game, these numbers become less. If you do not have this, your option is to play online, where the lower stakes games, mean your absolute bankroll requirements will be less.

What if you don’t have access to a decent starting bankroll?

If you don’t have a lot of seed money to start your bankroll (and you have no way of getting seed money, e.g. you don’t have a job, have no savings, no one will give you the starting seed money), your only option is to play online. This is because online players can play games as small as $0.01/$0.02. It would not be economical for a live establishment to offer games this low. This means a 100bb buy-in will cost you $2. So, 30 buy-ins would be $60. Note, if you are going to multitable, this will be the bankroll you need per table. If you are planning on short stacking and buying in for the minimum, your bankroll requirements will be even less.

You can also consider a backing agreement.

Growing bankroll, without replenishing it

  • You should always know what the stakes directly above yours are. At $0.01/$0.02 this is likely to be $0.02/$0.04 – so, 30 buy-ins here would be $120.
  • When you have increased your bankroll to $120 by playing $0.01/$0.02, you can start playing $0.02/$0.04. This process can be repeated again and again.
  • This way you can get from micro stakes (with modest absolute bankroll requirements) to playing  low stakes, then possibly medium stakes, and then even the highest stakes – all this from only putting in a small amount of seed money at the beginning (and never reloading).
  • Of course you can consider having less than 30 buy-ins, or more than 30 buy-ins, depending on assessments of variance, skill gaps, etc.

Keep track of your poker bankroll

There online tools and apps for tracking your bankroll. If you are playing live, you just enter you starting bankroll, and all subsequent poker results, and the tool or app does the rest. If you are playing online, your bankroll can be automatically tracked using appropriate software linked to your poker client.

Consider shot taking

Let’s say you are playing live poker, and have been playing $1/$2. Your usual buy-in is 100bb. You started off with a modest $4,000 bankroll (20 buy-ins). You have been considering the $2/$5 game, where 20 buy-ins at 100bb would need a $10,000 bankroll. Let’s say you have been playing $1/$2 for a while an increased your bankroll to $8,000 – the $2/$5 game looks juicy – do you have to keep playing $1/$2 until you have $10,000 in your bankroll. Not necessarily. You might consider buying in to the $2/$5 game, but if your total bankroll ever drops below $4,000 you will go straight back to $1/$2. At, we are not saying you should always do this, but it is something to think about as part of your poker bankroll management strategy.