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Poker Bankroll Management

Posted by matthew dougal on

 Poker Bankroll Management

 What is poker bankroll management?

Poker bankroll management is minimising your risk of ruin by only putting a certain percentage of your poker bankroll at risk at once.

 This article will give you general guidelines for how many buy ins to use as a bankroll for each level but you are encouraged to alter these figures if you feel that it suites you. You must be honest with yourself here. Don’t use one of the factors to justify a tiny bankroll at higher stakes than you can’t afford. That’s bad poker bankroll management!


Why is poker bankroll management important?

A long term winning player’s lack of knowledge and discipline in this one seemingly unrelated section of poker will cause his risk of ruin to greatly increase.

 It is something that the player can have total control over (there’s no luck or ‘bad beats’ in bankroll management) and it can mean the difference between going bust and making a fortune.


Can poker bankroll management help anyone win at poker?

No. Bankroll management can only help players who are winning poker players in the long run. This does include players who lose a little at the tables but make money overall because of bonuses, rakeback and VIP programs.

But if you have a negative win rate even after you factor in rakeback etc then no amount of bankroll management can stop the inevitable from happening (although it can slow it down). Improving your game is the only way to stop it.


[Watching instructional poker videos is a fantastic way to improve your poker game.]


What affects poker bankroll requirements?

The following factors will affect your variance or win rate and in turn your bankroll requirements:

  • Stakes (and win rate)
  • Type of poker (Omaha, Hold Em, NL,PL,L)
  • Type of game (Cash)
  • Type of game (SnG/MTT)
  • Income status (Pro/Semi Pro/Amateur)
  • Style of play. LAG, TAG
  • Buy ins. short or deep.
  • Emotional ability to cope with losses


Stakes (and win rate)

The lower stakes you play, the lower the standard of play you should expect to see. This will mean that you should expect to win at a better rate and therefore need slightly less of a bankroll to absorb losses. Conversely at much higher stakes your edge will be smaller so you will need a larger bankroll.

Don’t go mad with this idea though and start playing with 4 buy-ins because you think you have a very high win rate.

This point is really just meant to hint that if you are starting off at micro stakes and are already a winning player, you can start with a lower bankroll than is sometimes advised without too much risk of ruin.


Type of poker

Do you play Omaha, Hold ‘Em, Stud etc ? Do you play no limit (NL), pot limit (PL) or limit? Each type of poker has a different level of variance. For example Omaha has a lot more variance than Hold ‘Em, and no limit has a lot more variance than limit.

 The more variance your chosen game has, the larger the bankroll you need to absorb any bad runs/swings i.e. variance.

 Also note that bankroll requirements for limit games will not be quoted in buy ins as NL and PL games are, they will be quoted big bets, due to the structure of the game.


Type of game (HU/6Max/FR)

Heads up games for example have much more variance than full ring games. As a result you will need a larger bankroll playing heads up to minimise your risk of ruin.


Type of game (SnG/MTT)

In SnG’s you can go several games without winning anything, but you can win say 5 times the entry fee. In MTT’s you can go many more games without winning anything but you can win a hundred or a thousand times what you pay to get in, or even more. It is obvious then that the variance in MTT’s is much greater. It should also be clear then that you would need a much smaller bankroll to play $50 SnG’s than you would to play $50 MTT’s.

Following on from this it is also important to take into account the structure of the tournaments you play. Super turbo tournaments are much faster and will have much higher variance than regular speed tournaments so you will need to adjust your bankroll management strategy accordingly.


Income Status

Or to put it another way, how badly will going bust affect your life?

 Poker Pro - If poker is your only source of income then going bust would affect your life very negatively so you should take bankroll management very seriously. You should generally have a larger bankroll than the following two types of people.

 Semi Pro – If you gain some of your income from poker but have a regular job as well then going bust would still affect your life negatively but you could recover much more easily. Bankroll management should still be something you take seriously but you could operate with a slightly lower bankroll than a full time pro.

 Amateur/part-time – If you play poker as a hobby but have a full time job then losing your bankroll is not the end of the world. You can afford a slightly higher risk of ruin because you can simply carry on working in your other job and redeposit when you have enough money.


Style of play

Are you a tight player or a loose player? Do you play aggressively or are you a calling station who thinks raising is rude?

The two most popular playing styles (amongst winners) are tight-aggressive (TAG) and loose-aggressive (LAG). It is not important for this article which is ‘best’, but it should be noted that if you like to raise a lot and get involved in a lot of very large pots then your variance may rise as a result. If this is the case then you should raise your bankroll requirements accordingly.


Buy ins

This is another factor that I feel is often overlooked. Possibly because most poker players do not like shortstackers, but we are not discussing shortstackers, we are discussing bankroll management.

 If you buy into a cash game for 40BB your variance will be different than if you were to buy in for 100BB. Your variance when measured in buy-ins will normally be higher, as you will most likely be getting all in more often. However, when measured in big blinds (or $) your variance could actually be slightly lower because you are rarely involved in any huge pots.

 So assuming you still have the same positive win rate when shortstacking, you will need a lower bankroll in $ terms (although higher in terms of shortstack buy-ins).


Emotional ability to cope with losses

Coping with losses is part of poker, and if you are planning on being a pro or semi pro it is something you will have to get pretty good at. For some people this comes naturally, but for most this skill comes with time.

 If you are prone to getting emotional or caring about the money then you should probably operate with a larger bankroll. When the inevitable downswing comes, your bankroll and your mental well being can more comfortably take the hit.


[If you are lucky enough to have not experienced a horrible downswing yet; IT’S COMING!]


How large should my poker bankroll be?

Ok, so we now know the factors that might affect our bankroll management decisions. Some of these factors will be more important to you than others, but all should be considered at least briefly when you decide what bankroll management strategy to employ.


The following are guideline amounts. You can just stick to these figures if you like but I advise you to think about it in more detail. Go through each point mentioned and see if you think that you should increase or decrease your bankroll requirements. You may then decide that these figures are a good enough estimate, but at least you have thought about it and come to that conclusion logically.

Limit Cash

NL/PL Cash




40 Buy ins

50 Buy ins

150 Buy ins

(Figures are based on Texas Hold em)


Poker bankroll management and moving levels

Bankroll management can be a useful tool when deciding when you need to step down a limit (due to considerable losses) and when you can afford to ‘take a shot’ at the next level.

 It is very important to step down a level if you need to. This is essentially what good bankroll management is. There is no shame in stepping down after a bad run that has dented your bankroll significantly.

 [It can feel like a step backwards but it really isn’t, it is simply adjusting your strategy to minimise your risk of ruin. Once you have rebuilt your bankroll you can move back up.]

 Taking shots at higher levels is a good way to test if you are ready to move up. Taking a shot is when you spend some time playing at the level above yours. You don’t switch all of your play to this level, maybe just a few sessions, or maybe a couple of sessions a week. If this goes well AND you have the required bankroll then you can make the move up to the next level and switch all your play to the new higher level.

 Remember you should be profitable at your current level before you step up. You should also be confident that you are profitable at the new level (or will be very soon), as no amount of good bankroll management will make up for a negative win rate.


DO move down if your bankroll management strategy dictates that you should.

DON’T move up solely because your bankroll says you can.

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