Managing Your Poker Bankroll Successfully

Posted by Elliot Nield . Last updated:

How to Manage Your Poker Bankroll for Long Term Profits

Poker pros know that bankroll management is up there with the most important skills a player can learn. This view comes from understanding that even a big winner in the games will hit a bad run on a regular basis. Having the cash reserves to play through these swings of fortune is a pre-requisite for long-term success.

This page covers both the how and the why of poker bankroll management.

Here is what you will find below:

  • Why You Need Bankroll Management: Until a downswing strikes, bankroll management seems unnecessary. This section covers variance, and why you need to think about your bankroll long before you hit a bad run.
  • Poker Bankroll Basics: Suggested bankrolls for the main types of poker – along with an explanation of how to move up and down levels based on your current total.
  • Factors Affecting Bankroll Levels: Everything from your playing style to other sources of income can make a difference.
  • Other Poker Games: Here I cover fixed limit games, Omaha and some niche poker variants.
  • Staking: Why tournament players sell a percentage of their action to backers.
  • Skills Which Go with Bankroll Management: No bankroll will sustain players without table selection, tilt management and poker strategy knowledge.

Why Poker Players Need Bankroll Management?

For many new players, bankroll management can seem dry and dull – especially compared to the finer points of 4-betting strategy. Many of the players who think this way will not be around to enjoy their strategy knowledge for long. The reason is that poker can seem super-easy when you are on the good side of variance. Even the very best players (yep, even Phil Ivey) would go broke without acknowledging that chance plays a significant role.

Without the ability to suck out with a bad hand, poker would not be attractive to recreational players. It is the shot at winning which keeps many losing players returning to the tables.

That same element of luck can make a big difference to a winning player. Missing a few draws, getting set-over-set, being dealt kings and flopping an ace are all frequent. When they occur in clusters, your profits can plummet.

Even a winning player can expect downswings of 10+ buy-ins to be a regular occurrence – and for bigger swings to happen every year or two.

If you have not yet experienced this, then you probably have not played enough hands for your ‘luck’ to even out.

Bankroll management is a strategy that allows you to ride out the natural swings of the game. It also allows you to play your best without needing to worry about money. No player makes optimal long-term decision with their last buy-in on the line!

Poker Bankroll Management Basics

Once you have acknowledged the need for bankroll management, the next question is ‘how many buy-ins?’.

There are a lot of factors which go into an exact number. I have explored those below. For now, here are the generally accepted guidelines for the three most popular poker formats:

  • Cash Games: 20 Buy-Ins
  • Sit N Goes: 50 Buy-Ins
  • Tournaments: 100 Buy-Ins

Note that these are considered minimums by pros. For example, if you are playing NL Hold’em cash games with a $50 buy-in online, you will need a bankroll of $1000 to withstand the natural variance in the games. This number assumes you are a winning player – after all, if you are a losing player your bankroll will disappear anyway!

Using Bankroll Management to Determine Buy-In Levels

Strict money management allows you to move up and down buy-in levels strategically. Continuing the example of the player with $1000. This is plenty for 20 buy-ins at NL50, though only 10 buy-ins for the $100 games.

I recommend moving down to the $25 games if that bankroll shrinks to $500. Those should be easier to beat, giving a boost back to $1000 a solid shot.

While $2000 would seem the right amount to hit the NL100 games, it is also possible to take shots. For example, after some grinding, our example player has $1350. She could use the $350 to give the $100 buy-in games a try. With some positive variance (and great play), the bankroll might hit $2,000 and the move can be sustained. If that extra gets lost, then returning to regroup at the $50 buy-in games is an easy option.

Factors That Affect Optimal Buy-In Levels

Bankroll management in poker is not ‘one size fits all’. In fact, there are many factors which directly influence how many buy-ins you need.

  • Pro / Amateur Players: If you are completely reliant on poker income, you should be more conservative with your bankroll, increasing the number of buy-ins. Amateurs, particularly those with other income sources (who can reload easily) can be more flexible.
  • Your Playing Style: If you are a loose and aggressive player, your wins might be bigger over time – though the variance in results will also be bigger. Compared to tighter, more conservative players, you should increase the number of buy-ins in your bankroll.
  • Risk of Tilt: If you ever have the ‘red mist’ after a bad beat, or become despondent after a series of losses, then you should certainly work on your mental game. At the same time, you should ensure that your bankroll is big enough to withstand the occasional bout of tilt.

Live and online poker are very different when it comes to the buy-ins you are used to. If all your experience is in the live games, matching your buy-in online is very dangerous. For example, an average winning live player in the $2 / $5 games would get slaughtered in an online game of the same level. If you are making this move, you need to start in games at 10% of your live buy-in – and move up from there once you comfortably beat the games.

Bankroll Management for Different Poker Games and Formats

So far, I have looked at money management for generic types of Texas Hold’em. Within each of the 3 categories covered, there are plenty more variations. Add to this different poker games, betting styles and even extras like jackpots – and things get complex quickly.

Some poker games are naturally swingier than others. Pot Limit Omaha is a great example. Here is it common for two hands close in value to go to showdown in big pots. The variance in this game can be huge. I’d recommend adding 50% to the number of buy-ins, depending on what format you play in.

Fast-fold poker games are popular, and also require more cash on hand. This time it is to make up for the lack of in-game reads on individual opponents. For fixed limit games, you can be more relaxed. Since you can’t lose an entire buy-in with a single hand, 50 big bets should be plenty (as long as you can beat the games).

Tournaments come in many formats these days. Turbo and fast-fold games have a lot of variance, while slower ‘deep stacked’ events have less (though still a lot more than the other poker formats). Tournament players rely on deep runs and final tables to keep the regular losses in check. Not only will you need a large number of buy-ins to withstand the swings, you’ll need to be mentally tough to keep on grinding when those final tables are elusive!

Staking: Bankroll Management with Backup

Many poker players choose to sell some of their action to backers. The idea is to spread the short-term risk by taking cash and splitting winnings with a 3rdparty. You’ll need to prove you are a winning player in order to get staked.

There are positives in terms of bankroll management. A good tournament player can go many weeks without a major score. That occasional big win makes up for this. Staking takes the pressure off and allows players to take shots at bigger buy-in events.

These agreements usually involve ‘make up’. This means players have to pay back their backers for losses before taking winnings themselves.

Poker Bankroll Management and Other Skills

Of the non-play skills for winning poker players, bankroll management is probably the most important. If you really want to get to the next buy-in levels, it should be combined with some other important factors:

  • Site Selection: If you are playing online, then there is a huge choice of poker sites. Some are filled with fellow winners (‘grinders’) while others are more recreational. If you are not actively checking the sites to find the easiest poker games, then right now is a great time to start.
  • Game Selection: Even easy sites have tough, dull tables. If you find yourself sitting with a bunch of nits (or fellow pros), it is down to you to look for a better game. This can make a huge difference to your hourly rate.
  • Bonuses / Rewards: Online poker is competitive between the sites. Make sure you are getting your fair share of loyalty rewards, taking advantage of reload bonuses and enjoying regular promotions. Live players should consider both the rake (including any jackpot drops) and comps along with the quality of the opposition.

Wrapping Up: The Sooner You Start Managing Your Bankroll, the Better!

Even the world’s best poker players suffer swings of fortune. Without some basic bankroll management, many of the stars of the game today might not be around at all. I strongly recommend you take money management seriously before a downswing hits!

How many buy-ins you hold will depend on many factors. You might notice that very few of these factors suggest reducing the 20 / 50 / 100 guidelines!

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