Part of becoming a great player is establishing proper poker bankroll management principles. Not only do you need to be skilled to be a great player, you also need discipline and money management abilities.
Top players go broke sometimes. Even Upswing’s own Doug Polk once felt he’d reached the end of his rope. But what makes stories like his different from those about players who never reached the highest stakes?
Many potentially great players never move up in stakes because they never build a poker bankroll—and despite knowing how to manage a bankroll, they lack the discipline to follow through.
The bottom line is, improper bankroll management can prevent even the most talented player from moving up in stakes.The bottom line is, improper bankroll management can prevent even the most talented player from moving up in stakes. https://bit.ly/br-2018 Click To Tweet
Today we’ll discuss the following to help you build a bankroll and ensure a long and prosperous poker career:
- 3 tips for poker bankroll management
- Recommended poker bankroll sizes for different game types
- Lessons from Doug Polk’s $10,000 Bankroll Challenge
- Poker bankroll management tools & apps
Let’s dive in.
Jose Aguilar contributed to this article.
Tip #1: Treat your poker bankroll like an investment—because it is.
Before you can grow a bankroll, you need a bankroll to start with. Choosing an amount to start your bankroll with is similar to choosing how much to invest in the stock market, or in any other financial venture, except you are investing in your own ability.
You should be strict in the amount you choose to invest. If your initial attitude is, “I’ll start with $2,000, but I can just reload whenever if I need to,” then you’re setting yourself up for failure.
The assumption that you can continually reload your bankroll is a sign that you lack the discipline to actually build a bankroll. No financial advisor would tell you to invest 100% of your net worth in the stock market, and it would be reckless to assume that you could afford to. Why treat poker any different?
Another reason to treat your bankroll as an investment is that you play your best poker when you value every decision. Finding the proper amount to risk and sticking to it will help you do that—it’ll help you maintain the attitude that every decision matters.
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Tip #2: Game select carefully, especially when you’re first getting started.
Look for games with the lowest rake, and do not hop around between different game types. It is very difficult to beat a specialist in any given format—you want to be that specialist.
Taking risks by playing games without knowing your edge is a luxury most bankrolls can’t withstand. And in the event your bankroll is getting low, it’s nice to know that you have an advantage in the format you’re playing.
Also, remember to factor in more than just the players/softness of the games. Find a game that also has a beatable rake and/or rakeback perks. Of course, this can be difficult in today’s online landscape, but it’s not impossible. Low-to-mid stakes MTTs, for example, are usually soft wherever you play, and you can find plenty with reasonable rake.
Editor’s note: If you are a mixed game player, this tip does not apply to you.
Tip #3: Always play within your bankroll.
This is where it can become increasingly difficult to remain disciplined. It can be tempting stab at higher stakes when things are going well or when things are going poorly. After all, why not take a shot when you’ve been winning in your usual game? Or, when things haven’t been going so well, a quick win in a bigger game would turn things right around, right?
Before you know it, your bankroll will diminish unless you follow a disciplined strategy. Never play outside your bankroll. No player envisions themselves at the micros, but if that’s where your journey begins, then so be it.
The tricky question to answer is, “how will I know when my bankroll is ready for higher stakes?” An answer to this question depends on your chosen game. For example, multi-table tournaments (MTTs) are a format with much higher variance than cash games. A large win in an MTT doesn’t mean you should automatically move up in stakes. If you’re specializing in MTTs, you’ll need to adjust your bankroll to account for MTT variance.
As a general rule, the higher the variance of your game type, the more buy-ins you should have in your bankroll. Accounting for variance includes determining the skill level of the player pool. With more skilled players comes more variance. The higher the stakes, the higher the variance (usually). The more players in an MTT, the higher the variance.
Accounting for variance when making bankroll decisions is very important, as it will guarantee you have room to breath after inevitable downswings.
Let’s look at some examples of different types of poker and the bankrolls required to play them.
No-Limit Online Cash Games: 100+ buy-ins
Note that live cash games have less variance and thus do not require as many buy-ins as online cash games. I recommend 20–40 buy-ins for live games, but be prepared to move down in stakes if even a small downswing occurs.
Limit Cash Games: 300–400 big bets
$12 to $16
$30 to $40
$60 to $80
$150 to $200
$300 to $400
$600 to $800
$1200 to $1600
Single Table Sit & Gos: 60+ buy-ins
Note: The following recommendations are for regular SNGs, not turbo or hyper-turbo formats.
Heads-Up Sit & Gos: 20–40 buy-ins
Note: The following recommendations are for regular Heads-up SNGs, not turbo or hyper-turbo formats.
$22 to $44
$44 to $88
$66 to $132
$110 to $220
$220 to $440
$300 to $600
$600 to $1200
$1200 to $2400
Multi-Table Online Tournaments: 150–300 buy-ins
Note: The following recommendations are for regular tournaments, not turbo or hyper-turbo formats.
$165 to $330
$825 to $1650
$1650 to $3300
$3300 to $6600
$4950 to $9900
$8250 to $16500
$15,000 to $ $30,000
Again, it is important to consider variance for your chosen format. The higher the variance, the larger contingency plan needed and therefore the larger bankroll needed. And you may need to increase the above numbers as you move up in stakes.
It is very important to know when to move down in stakes during a downswing. This is where discipline matters, but also humility. Nobody wants to admit they need to move down in stakes, but sometimes the right thing to do is bite the bullet and rebuild the bankroll.
(By the way, we cover proper bankroll management—and much more—in the Upswing Lab!)
Let’s see how these tips apply in the real world by checking out Doug Polk’s Bankroll Challenge.
Lessons from Doug Polk’s $10,000 Poker Bankroll Challenge
In August of 2016, Doug Polk launched a poker bankroll challenge, with the goal of turning $100 into $10,000. Doug grinded this challenge often during the first few months, but progress has slowed to a crawl since then. Now, Doug sporadically streams bankroll challenge sessions, and probably won’t complete the challenge anytime in the near future.
That said, Doug has managed to grow his $100 to $1,364 in 40 total sessions. Throughout these challenge sessions, Doug explained and demonstrated the principles discussed above.
Figure out your bankroll, and treat it like an investment: Doug decided to start with just $100, giving him 50 buy-ins for NL2 and 100 buy-ins for $1 Tournaments and Sit & Go’s.
Figure out what games you want to play: After a couple of days of hopping around different formats, Doug decided his best course of action was tournaments and Sit & Go’s, even though he is a heads-up cash game player at heart. Why not exploit this edge?
After playing micro-stakes cash games for the beginning of the challenge, he came to the conclusion that the rake was too high to maintain a satisfactory win rate. Moreover, Twitch regulars were hunting him down for the chance to play against him at a discount. That made it clear that tournaments were his best bet to survive the challenge.
Play within your limits. Doug started the challenge with every intention to stay within his self-imposed limits, but he soon realized, again, why the limits were there in the first place. Doug became understandably bored of the micro limits and took some shots. A few paid off big, but one threatened his hopes of completing the challenge.
He started the challenge playing NL2 cash games and moved slowly but consistently up in stakes. After finding the rake in cash games too brutal to continue, he moved on to tournaments.
That strategy worked until session 13, when Doug decided to jump from NL4 all the way up to NL20 heads-up cash.
His reasoning was sound, since he or course had a big edge over every average heads-up player, but variance had his number. After a bad run in a series of matches, he ended the session with a $269 loss, losing almost 75% of his bankroll at the time.
Doug demonstrated a valuable lesson for his Twitch viewers: Playing under-rolled nearly cost him the entire bankroll. Of course, for Doug this was just short-term experiment. A shot like that with your permanent bankroll could cost you everything.
Poker Bankroll Management Tools & Apps
Luckily, nowadays there are tools to help with proper bankroll management. We no longer have to bring out the pen and paper!
Poker Charts (picture above), for instance, is a online service that allows players to manage their bankroll and analyze results through their website. Keep in mind this is a paid service with a free trial option.
Some other options include:
These tools are mainly for live players. For online players, I recommend PokerTracker 4 or HoldEm Manager.
Poker Bankroll Spreadsheets
If you prefer a simple approach to bankroll tracking, you may want to try a bankroll spreadsheet. Anyone with the know-how can make one of this spreadsheets, allowing users to freely record and share their progress online.
If you want to make one yourself, check out this step-by-step guide: https://www.thoughtco.com/creating-a-simple-results-tracking-spreadsheet-2728429
Keep the tips we’ve discussed today in mind, and remember: your success depends on more than your poker ability. With the necessary knowledge on how to properly manage a bankroll, you have to stay disciplined and execute.
Good luck out there!
Note: Want to save time (and money) on your path to poker greatness? Learn expert strategies for crushing your competition when you join the Upswing Lab. Learn more now >>
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Your everyday MTT grinder from Toronto, Canada. Also happens to play professional lacrosse.