Building Your Poker Bankroll Pt 1: How Big Is Big Enough?

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In this first installment of a two-part article, I hope to give you a little more insight into how to choose the size of your roll.

The advice out there on bankroll size is sparse and doesn't delve deep enough to be of concrete help to the average player.

To come to a conclusion on how large your bankroll needs to be, you first need to answer a few questions about the game, and how you intend to play it.

What Is Poker to You?

The first question you have to answer is the most important: What is poker to you? Is it a game, a hobby, an obsession or a profession?

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First: What is poker to you?

How Do You Play Poker?

If you answered anything other than "obsession" or "profession", then this question is moot to you.

Are you TAG, LAG or something else entirely? Do you like to gamble, or do you wait for the nuts? Are you willing to push your stack on the come with a semi-bluff, or are you only playing made hands?

Are you only playing live, or are you playing online? If you're playing online, are you multi-tabling?

What Is Your Quality of Life?

This question is only applicable to players who are choosing to play poker professionally.

Do you live at home, pay rent, mortgage? Do you own a car, a boat? How many loans do you have? Do you like to eat KD or filet mignon? What is your minimum monthly needed income to sustain your current standard of living? Are you happy with your current standard, or do you want to make an improvement?

Base Buy-Ins

(BIs = buy-ins)

If poker is nothing more than a diversion to you - you play a couple times a year and would be just as happy to play for matchsticks as for pennies - then you don't really need a bankroll at all. In this scenario: Effective bankroll = 0BIs

If poker is a hobby, something you play a few times a month to once a week, you're going to need the beginnings of a bankroll, but it doesn't have to be large enough to carry you through bad swings. You'll need enough to cover a month's worth of play, while only ever spending a single buy-in per session. Effective bankroll = 2BIs - 5BIs

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Poker as an obsession is where you need to have a legitimate roll. As soon as you're playing once a week or more, you're going to need to be able to cover the downswings you'll take.

At this point you presumably still have a job to help bail yourself out if any problems arise. You can afford to take breaks in bad swings, and come back to the game fresh. If you're only playing live, you can survive with an effective bankroll of 10BIs. Once you start playing online, you're going to want a slightly larger bankroll for playing the same limit.

Online poker will have you seeing more hands, usually against worse players. This will make for slightly larger swings than an exclusive live game. Your single-table online roll should be in the neighborhood of 15BIs.

If you're multi-tabling online, you're putting more money in play, which helps to decrease variance, but you're also increasing risk. Even though it's unlikely, it is very possible to get stacked on eight tables all within a few hands of each other. That means you have the slight risk of losing upward of 8BIs in just a few minutes.

At the same time, you have the ability to double up and make 8BIs in the exact same time period. The risk of increased variance requires an increased roll. The more tables you play, the larger the roll should be. For playing two to eight tables I wouldn't recommend playing on less than a 25BIs roll.

The accepted bankroll management rule used by Chris "Jesus" Ferguson is to never have more than 5% of your total roll in play on a single table. Having your roll at 25Bis puts you at 4% per table, keeping you inside your roll, abiding by the rule of Jesus, which we all know is gospel.

Poker as a profession requires its own classification of a bankroll; I'll talk about this later.

Let's Make Some Calculations

The more aggressive you are, the larger a roll you have to hold. If you're willing to go four buy-ins deep in a single session, your roll needs to reflect that. For the poker-obsessed, we started with a 10BIs live poker roll; this covers a maximum of two buy-ins per session.

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For every buy-in you're going to add per session, your roll needs an additional five buy-ins added to it. So a player who will frequently go four buy-ins deep should be holding a roll of 20BIs.

The more buy-ins you're consistently dropping in a session, the more of an aggressive or gambling type of game you're playing.

This style can be just as profitable, if not more so, as a very conservative tight approach, but it can only remain so in the long term with a roll of the right size.

It's really hard to say how aggressive you are as a player, whereas it's really easy to see how many buy-ins you feel are required for a single session. This is why I like to use the buy-in rule to clarify the correct size for a bankroll.

This same concept applies to online: if you're going 1-4 buy-ins deep on the majority of your tables, your roll has to reflect that.

This could realistically force your proper roll amount from 25Bis to 50Bis for your online eight-tabling.

Some people understand the concept better with dollar amounts in place of buy-ins. To give you an idea of how much money this actually equates to, I've made a little chart:

BIs BIs in Dollars for a $200 Max Buy Game
2 $400
5 $1,000
8 $1,600
10 $2,000
15 $3,000
20 $4,000
25 $5,000
50 $10,000

If you're a good poker player who consistently makes money in the long term you can only make that money by having enough or excess money in your roll.

It's better to have too much than too little as one of those things results in you going broke.

Next Time

Part two of this article will go over the numbers and considerations you must take in choosing and managing a proper roll as a poker professional.

More strategy articles from Sean Lind:

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Kevin 2009-11-10 12:33:00

That actually was part of his bankroll challenge. He said that as soon has he has 10% of his total bankroll on the table he needs to leave when the BB reaches him.

I.E.

Bankroll at 100 total. (90 available and 10 in play)

That 10 in play means that he needs to quit the game when the BB reaches him.

In a real life scenario though, if you're playing on a legitimate bankroll, you should never leave a table just because you doubled up. The only reason to leave is if:

- uncomfortable effective stacks
- fish are busted from the double up
- playing scared because of the large amt. in play

Marikina 2009-11-07 15:33:00

What I meant was the part where you have to leave when the blinds reach you anytime the amount in the table represents 10% of your total bankroll.

Sean Lind 2009-11-05 05:41:00

Marikina,

Jesus actually said to never exceed 5% of your bankroll, meaning you should never have more than 5% of your roll in play at one table at at a time.

marikina 2009-11-04 16:22:00

Can somebody please explain to me what the "exceed 10% of your bankroll" part of the Jesus rule means?

danny 2009-05-02 17:26:00

well explained, for the hundrends of different types of poker players this artical helped me way more than any other site

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