Poker bankroll management.  Dirty words for some, and the foundation of winning poker for others.  If you’ve ever been busto and were foolish enough to complain about it, chances are you’ll have had at least one person provide an unsympathetic response and helpfully point out that if you had just exercised some proper bankroll management you wouldn’t be feeling like a broke degen.

These are usually the same people with the discipline to ascribe to the Ferguson bankroll management school of thought, and the ones I most want to beat with an empty trash can after monkey tilting off my entire roll to some inbred who rivered two outters three hands running and plonked ‘ty’ in the chat box.

Unfortunately…they are right (our bankroll nit friends that is, not the douchebag who just fleaced us for our stack).

Like it or not, unless your name has ‘zigmund’ in it somewhere, proper bankroll managementis going to be a key principle in being a consistently winning player.  More importantly, it will probably prove to be a fundamental element in moving up limits from micro, to medium, and ultimately high stakes.

Why We Need Poker Bankroll Management

At its fundamental level bankroll management simply amounts to playing within certain limits to avoid losing a significant portion (or all) of your bankroll due to variance.

Even if we don’t fully appreciate what is it, chances are we’ve all experienced variance.  The official version of variance as described by Mike Caro is that:

Variance is the distribution of your results over a set of hands or sessions, or the swings in a positive or negative direction of cash flow.

Or, in other words, the difference between your short term results versus your long term expectations.  Sometimes we can make the correct (or incorrect) play, but luck (thinly veiled as probabiliy) will rear its head to intervene in our expected outcome.

In laymans terms, it means that occasionally the mongrel sitting opposite you plays like a dog but still makes his runner runner backdoor flush on the river…and sometimes he doesn’t.

The reason bankroll management is important is because sometimes you can experience variance which results in a downswing in your bankroll.  There will be times in your playing career when you experience an unexpected or seemingly improbable run of good or bad cards.  In the former instance, if our bankroll is insufficient to absorb a downswing because we are playing at limits beyond our bankroll…we go bust.

Variance is also more discernable over a small sample size.  To use an example, we might be 12 tabling sit n go’s online, and shove with a four to the flush draw on five seperate tables.  We might miss our flush on every single table, even though probability suggests we should get there about one third of the time in each hand.  In our small sample size, we experience high variance, however we can reasonably expect that if we got our money in against a non flush drawing hand over the space of our career, we’ll probably have results which accord with the rules of probabiliy (whether pushing with a flush draw is the right play is of course, irrelevant to this example).

There are however, guidelines which can help to ensure we are playing at correct limits to protect our bankroll from being decimated in the face of typical variance.
Cash games.

For no limit and pot limit full ring games, it is recommended that your bankroll be the equivelent of 20 full buy ins.  For example, if you play at $25NL, bankroll management would dictate that you need a roll of $500

An alternative method is to only commit a maximum of 5% of your bankroll on the table at any time, although this effectively equates to 20 buy ins.

The generally accepted measure for limit games is the equivelent of 300 big bets, so to play $0.5/$1 holdem, you would need $600.

Tournament & Sit n Go Bankroll

It is generally advised that when playing tournaments, a 40 buy in buffer is preferable.  That is to say, 40 buy ins (including rake) at whatever level you wish to play at.  So if you like to play $6.60 Sit n Go’s you’ll want a bankroll around $264.

If you play exclusively multi table tournaments, you may want to consider a larger bankroll again given that the payout structure of large field tournaments results in the likelihood that you may utilise a large number of buy ins before making a major cash.
6 Max Shorthanded Tables

If you prefer shorthanded tables to full ring, you may come to experienced greater short term variance and ought to consider adjusting your bankroll requirements to increase the number of buy ins you have at any give stake.  The increased variance at shorthanded tables relates to two main factors.  The first is the fact that you will be required to pay blinds more frequently per hands played than in a full ring game.  The second is that the general strategy playing shorthanded games (higher cards given more value, playing more pots, learning your opponents style) lend itself towards higher aggression.
Playing Style – LAG TAG Or In Between

The premise is a simple one but many players forget to factor it into their bankroll management.  Your style of play can also effect your bankroll management.  If you have a loose aggressive style you may be prone to larger natural swings in your bankroll.  When this style of play meets variance of the negative kind, it can quickly devastate a small bankroll.  On the other hand, if you are tight passive or aggressive, you may be subject to smaller variance and can afford to take shots with as few as 15 buy ins.  It is generally accepted that playing with anything less than 12 buy ins is prone to a variance induced felting.
Taking A Hit

There may be times when despite our best efforts, variance or bad play results in our bankroll falling below the preferred level for the limit we are playing.  Exercising good bankroll management can in fact help reduce the psychological effect those losses might otherwise induce, and can help minimise the collateral damage brought on by tilt or failing to play optimum poker.

In addition, playing at stakes we know our bankroll can’t properly sustain can effect our decision making process in game.  For example, if we lost 8 of our 20 buy ins plaining 50NL but fail to move down with our remaining bankroll to $25NL, this can result in our playing ‘scared’.  That is, we fail to play optimum poker for fear of further losses, which at our present stakes, will impact significantly on our bankroll.

Now this is possibly one of the most difficult parts of bankroll management to actually maintain.  It takes discipline to acknowledge the fact that your bankroll has taken a big enough hit to justify moving down levels.  It takes even more discipline to do this if those losses have arisen due to bad play or bad beats.  Most winning players will either ensure they are playing with sufficient rolls to sustain a large number of buy in losses, or alternatively will set a ‘stop loss’ for themselves, being a certain number of buy ins they are prepared to lose before either moving down or simply stopping play.  The temptation of course is to get even, and chase losses, both of which can rapidly cripple your bankroll.
Moving Up or Taking Shots

We’ve already looked at times when its appropriate to move down levels, but there will also be times when you are crushing the level you are at.  Sometimes natural variance will have us on a ‘heater’ where we run good for a period, but it helps to recognise when good play is the determining factor with your success.  If our bankroll comes to exceed the reasonable requirements for the level we are playing at, it might be time to consider moving up.

Some players like to move up as soon as they meet the normal buy in requirements for the next level (20 for cash, 40 for tournament, 300 BB for limit) but there are others who prefer to have a slightly larger buffer to sustain some losses which may arise from adjusting to the higher level.

Other players are happy to take a shot at a higher level if they are confident in their play, even if they are effectively under-rolled for that level.  Again, as long as realistic bankroll management is applied, taking a shot can be extremely rewarding and result in faster gains. For example, you may move up to 100NL with only 15 buy ins, but set a limit so that if you fall below 12 buy ins you immediately move back down to 50NL (where you’ll still be well rolled).


Ensuring you have the best Rakeback can be a huge factor in sustaining a winrate that enables you to build a bankroll, particularly at micro limits.  What’s rakeback?  Its a portion of the rake paid by the player which is then returned to the player, usually through a third party affiliate.  Sign up for some of the best rakeback deals and ensure you recieve rakeback and minimise the quantum of your winnings which are taken by the online poker site. If you were wondering how to build a bankroll that’s sustainable, this is an integral part of the solution.

In Summary

The above provide a general guideline for bankroll management which if followed, should provide you with the foundation to build a bankroll, but most importantly will help avoid the emotional and financial detriments associated with going bust.  Most of us have been there, we all hope to avoid it.  Best of luck on the felt.

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