Poker Bankroll Management

Poker money management is an important skill which you will have to learn on your own, as poker books don’t deal too much with that particular topic. A topic that I feel is often overlooked in poker strategy literature is money management. After all, where are you in poker without a dependable bankroll? Poker has a lot to do with skill and one of the crucial steps to becoming a great poker player is proper poker bankroll management principles. You ask any professional player for a tip and they will tell you to practice bankroll management. However, before you start practising the same, you need to know what exactly it is. What is a Poker. There’s really no risk if you utilize proper bankroll management. Bankroll management might sound like a rather simple strategy but it can help accomplish amazing things. Back in the mid-2000s, Full Tilt Poker pro Chris “Jesus” Ferguson was able to turn $0 into $10,000 using strict bankroll management. Throughout the Poker Bankroll Challenge you will never have more than 10% of your bankroll at risk in any single session. Of course if you decide to start with more than $25 then you can adjust the stake levels accordingly, now that you know the golden rules of bankroll management. What is bankroll management? 'Bankroll management' (sometimes abbreviated to BRM) is where you play at certain limits to avoid losing all of your bankroll due to bad runs of cards, which any poker player must expect from time to time. This is called 'playing within your bankroll'.

Bankroll management is one of the most valuable tools that a
player can have away from the game itself. Without proper
management of the money that you are playing with, you’ll be
leaving yourself vulnerable to going broke at almost any moment.
Unless you have a virtually infinite supply of money, bankroll
management is going to be something that you need to practice
with regularity. If you are just a casual player, it’s not going
to matter all that much. However, as a general rule, the less that you bother with
bankroll management, the more likely you are to lose.

The exact definition and utility of bankroll management is
going to vary from game to game. For a cash game player, an
ideal bankroll is going to be different than that of a
tournament player. You’ll be using different metrics to gauge
how much money is needed; the variance is going to be different,
and so on and so forth. Lumping all bankroll management
strategies into one group is never going to be a logical plan.
You need to not only understand bankroll management, but you
also need to be able to cater to your own needs. What works for
one player might not work for another, so you need to be willing
to adapt to the safest plan possible.

One of the big things about bankroll management that many
disregard is the need for winning play. A lot of people think
that they would be winning players if only they had more money
in their bankroll. The simple fact is that a losing
player is going to lose whether they have one buy in or 100 buy

Beyond this, your actual requirements and outlines for
reasonable bankroll size are going to be largely determined by
your ability to win. Small winners will need more money in the
bank than players who are consistently winning big, month after
month. The reason for this is that small winners are more
susceptible to losses than big winners. While it would not hurt
to understand and implement proper bankroll management if you
aren’t a winning player, it’s only going to get you so far. If
there’s one benefit to managing money for a losing player, it’s that they will lose their money at a slower pace.

Bankroll Management for Cash Game Players

Cash game players need to have a lot of money on hand not
only for their long term bankrolls, but also for day to day
play. It’s not at all uncommon for a cash game player to lose a
handful of buy ins in a day. So if you don’t have enough cash
on hand at all times, there’s a good chance that you’ll need
to call it an early day. This is one of the big differences from
tournament players, because you’ll only need whatever the fixed buy
in is (unless you are in a re-buy or add on event).

The lower the limit cash game you are playing, the less buy
ins that you will need to have available. The general rule of
thumb is that lower level games tend to have less variance,
because they are of a lesser skill level. In fact, if you are
continually going broke when playing in small and
mid limit cash games, you are only proving that you aren’t
actually a winning player at all. It’s much more important to
first ensure that you are winning than it is to save money for
an inevitable loss.

Cash games, for all intents and purposes, will generally
refer to
6-max or full ring tables. For the purpose of this
article, assume that cash games are in a brick and mortar
casino. For the most part, the basic guidelines are going to
remain similar for online play as well.

In cash games at the micro stakes, 25 buy ins is a good
foundation. This is a number that provides you with decent
backing while not going overboard. If you are going broke with
this type of start at micro or small limit games, you need to
rethink your strategy. For mid limit games, adding 5 or so more
buy ins is going to work for the majority of players. As you
trend upwards into high limit games, 35-50 buy ins becomes the
norm. For deep stacked play, make adjustments accordingly. You
are going to need more buy ins when you are playing in more
competitive games, and this is the reason why each progressive
limit is harder and harder to reach in cash game poker.

Bankroll Management for Tournament Players

Tournament players tend to pay less attention to bankroll
management than anyone else. Typically sit and go players are
lumped in with tourney players, but they will normally adhere to
stricter bankroll management ideals than tournament players.
The reason for this lack of management is found in the nature of
tournaments. One of the big reasons why tournaments are so
profitable is found in the average player pool. Unlike cash
games, amateurs are spotted left and right and usually make up a
bulk of the field. These types of players just want to
poker for one fixed cost with the chance at a huge win. You
can’t blame them, and they are going to be the source of most of
your earnings.

The reason that you need a lot of buy ins for tournament play
is found in the fact that there are so many amateurs. The high
volatility of tournaments allows for the less skilled to win
from time to time. Since your edge is going to be diminished in
the short run, you’ll need to have an ample amount of buy ins
on hand to help compensate for the inevitable streaks of non-cashes. Even when you cash, though, you are frequently going to
make pretty small amounts. While cash games are a long term
proposition, tournaments are going to take even longer to
balance out, and they may never balance out at all.

It’s difficult to set a number for the amount of buy ins
tournament players should have because there are just so
many different types of events. You could be playing online,
offline, turbos, re-buys, deep stacked, etc. etc. As a bare
minimum, most experienced, winning tournament players will
advise a bankroll of at least 100 buy ins.

While this is
widespread as a good basis for where to start, you know that
most players in the World Series of Poker Main Event don’t have
1 million dollars to their name for the $10,000 buy in. It all
goes back to how seriously you take poker. If you are in it
mainly for the money and want to increase your chances of
success, you’ll play events that are only within your
bankroll. If you are just playing recreationally or for fun,
having a significant amount of buy ins available won’t be nearly
as relevant.

The most common question poker newbies ask is about bankroll management:

  • How big should my bankroll be?
  • How much money should I win before I move up?
  • I can hock my mom’s wedding ring – is that enough to go pro?

So, we thought it was time to write up a bankroll management guide.

In all honesty, it should’ve been the first thing we published. Because managing a bankroll is one of the most important skills a poker player can learn – sort of like the life-skill of knowing how to balance a checkbook.

If you don’t learn how to do it, you could end up like one of those deadbeats you hear about on Like T.J. Cloutier, who reportedly sold one of his WSOP bracelets on eBay because “he lost more money playing craps that he ever made from playing poker.”

You don’t want to end up like that, do you?

Now, you might say he has a ‘gambling problem.’ And, you’d be right. But part of managing your bankroll is not blowing it after you leave the poker table.

“Hard as it is for some people to accept, most of our poker career takes place away from the poker table. If you spend a year building a bankroll, and then blow it one night on the crap table, you are a lousy poker player.”

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s learn to crawl before we learn how to walk, yeah?

The question we’re going to answer in this guide is, how large should my poker bankroll be? And the best way to answer that is to figure out what variables and expenses your bankroll will need to cover.

Before we get into this, we want to point something out. It’s not going to matter how much money you have or what your bankroll management is like if you’re a losing player.

Losing players are always going to lose money (even if it’s a slow bleed). The only way to fix this problem is to become a breakeven (or better) player.

Your Bankroll Will Depend on These Variables

We’re going to give you a few examples of hard and fast rules for what your bankroll should be. But before we do that, we want to go over all the variables and expenses your bankroll will need to cover.

The games you play have a big role in determining what your bankroll should be. That’s because every game will have variance.

Variance is simply the ups and downs you experience in poker. It’s perfectly normal – everyone goes through it. But some games will have more variance than others.

For example, if you play fixed limit holdem you’re going to experience far less variance than someone playing no limit holdem. Why? Because when you play fixed limit poker, you can only bet (lose/win) so much per round, whereas with no limit poker, the amount you can win/lose at once varies wildly.

Another example – single table tournaments (STTs) will have less variance than multi-table tournaments (MTTs). You can go weeks, even months without a cash in a MTT, much less a win. But you should be able to cash 40+ percent of the time in a single table tourney (and even the smaller

The point – the more variance you expect to have, the more money you can expect to lose during a downswing – and the larger your bankroll needs to be to cover those downswings.

Consider Your Opponents

You need to think about this from a couple angles.

  • The better the player you’re up against, the more losing or breakeven sessions you’re going to have. That’s because it’s harder to beat good players. This can lead to large swings – both good and bad. You’ll want to pad your bankroll to handle the bad ones.
  • You need to think about your opponent’s playing styles. If you’re constantly up against loose players who like to play big pots, you’re going to have more variance. However, if you play against tighter players you’re going to have less variance.

You also need to consider your own playing style. If you’re a loose player – you like to play lots of hands – then chances are you will win and lose lots of (large) pots. The looser you are, the larger your bankroll should be. The tighter you are, the smaller your bankroll can be.

Consider Your Living Situation

Here’s where things can get tricky.

If you play poker to pay your bills, not only will you need to buy your way into games, but you’ll need to pay your bills on a monthly basis, too. Your bankroll needs to be large enough to weather variance so you can continue to play despite constant losses, but also large enough to pay your bills regardless of what happens at the tables.

This isn’t something we can figure out for you. Everyone’s situation will be different. Some people won’t have a permanent home, but instead will have to pay travel expenses. Other people may have a mortgage, car payment, kids – the whole works – to cover.

So, here’s the best advice we can give –

A common piece of advice given to new entrepreneurs or freelances is to have 6 months or more of savings. That way, if something goes wrong – and something always does – you can still pay your bills even if you have no money coming in.

This is great advice for poker players, not only so you don’t lose your home, but so that you can concentrate on playing your ‘A’ game instead of scared money poker.

You also need to think about your poker-related expenses. For example, you need to think about your computer, internet access, coaching fees, forum subscriptions, tracking software, and so on. Basically, you need to include anything that’s poker related, but not what you’d bring to the table.

Our Bankroll Suggestions

Okay, we went through all the variables you need to think about when figuring out how large your bankroll should be. So, how much money you keep on hand?

Here’s a good starting point courtesy of

Game (Online)MinimumMediumCautious
No-Limit Hold’em (6-max.), cash game30 buy-ins50 buy-ins100 buy-ins
No-Limit Hold’em (full ring), cash game254075
Pot-Limit Omaha (6-max.), cash game50100150
Pot-Limit Omaha (full ring), cash game3050100
No-Limit Hold’em, 9-player sit-n-gos3050100
No-Limit Hold’em, 45-player sit-n-gos50100150
No-Limit Hold’em, 180-player sit-n-gos100200500
No-Limit Hold’em, multi-table tournaments100200500
No-Limit Hold’em, multi-table tournaments (large field)200400600

They don’t cover every game or variation, obviously. But this gives you a good starting point, and it already accounts for the variance you’ll have playing the larger tournaments.

I suggest choosing the game closest to what you’ll be playing, then use the 50 or 100 buy-in recommendation. The more responsibility you have, and the more variance you expect to have, the more inclined you should be to use the 100 buy-in recommendation. And remember, this is only a starting point. You should definitely increase this depending on your answers to our variables above, as well as your own risk tolerance.

Here are some additional bankroll management tips. These will not only help you build a bankroll, but also help you to avoid busting your bankroll at some point in the future.

Have a backup plan

Think about what you’ll do IF you bust your bankroll. Do you know? If you don’t have a plan, you need to create one. It can include borrowing money from a friend, getting a job, or coaching other players. Many pros go broke once or twice while they figure things out. Having a plan will reduce how much time you spend on the rail.

The guidelines above are just that – guidelines. There’s nothing wrong with having a larger bankroll than you think you need. It’ll give you the peace of mind you need to always play your ‘A’ game. It also serves as ‘insurance’ in case something goes wrong, poker-related or not.


Drop the ego and drop down if necessary

Whatever guidelines you establish, those should be the minimum guidelines for the games and stakes you play. This means that, if your bankroll drops below that level, you too should drop down a level (or two) in stakes.


Lots of people have an ego about this. But you shouldn’t. It’s the smart thing to do. Dropping down a level gives you a chance to rebuild. Lower stakes is also great for your confidence.

And besides, you can move back up again once you rebuild your bankroll. Dropping down a level or two doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck there forever.

Getting staked is like getting a loan. You get money to play, and in return, you pay the person a percentage of your winnings. This may help if you tend to play ‘scared money.’ It may also allow you to play higher stakes than your personal bankroll can handle.

Consider splitting levels

The idea is to split your time between your current level and the level above (or below) it. The reason why you’d do this is to reduce your risk while taking a shot at higher stakes or to rebuild your bankroll without fulling dropping down a level.

This should be obvious. But you’re likely to chase losses, tilt, play too high and other dumb stuff that can lead to destroying your bankroll.

Keep records

Poker Bankroll Management Chart

Keeping records will help you figure out which games you are most and least profitable playing. You can also figure out your win-rate so you can further tweak your bankroll guidelines. If you’re more profitable than expected, you can keep less money on-hand, and vice versa.

You can your records using pen and paper, Excel or even an app like Poker Journal.

Knowing how to manage your bankroll is just as important, if not more important than knowing what hands to play, how to 3-bet or when to shove all-in against a maniac opponent. Because if you don’t know how to manage your money, and you bust your bankroll, all the strategy in the world won’t help you.

The bottom line – make sure that managing your bankroll is one of the first things you learn how to do.

Poker Bankroll Management Calculator

“Poker is a lifelong game where self-control, bankroll management, game and table selection, and other skills are all more important than the actual card-playing.”