5 Rules to Help Save Your Online Poker Bankroll

Chips 2206
Even the best can burn through their rolls.

Lots of poker players - even winning players - are prone to burning through their online bankrolls quickly.

And even the best players can ruin weeks or months of successful grinding in one or two bad sessions.

Not surprisingly, players who lose money playing live poker (about 90% of the live-poker world) also claim they're simply unable to keep a balance online. Strange.

What is surprising though is the number of truly winning players who have the exact same problem.

How to Save Your Online Bankroll

If a player is a consistent winner in live poker, it stands to reason that his or her game is profitable and should be similarly profitable in online poker.

Unfortunately, being successful in online poker requires significantly more discipline and control than live poker. Players are stronger, play is quicker and you don't have anyone to see when you go off the deep end.

If you're a good poker player and you know you're capable of making money online yet can't seem to keep a roll, this article might be just what you're looking for.

1. Play Within Your Roll

Start with the most important concept first: you absolutely must play within your bankroll if you want to make money online. The simplest way to explain it is to look at the mathematical theorem Gambler's Ruin.

online poker bankroll
Know your roll.

One of the concepts of Gambler's Ruin is this: take two players and pit them against each other in a zero-sum game (such as flipping a coin, where each player has an expected win/loss rate of exactly 0%).

One player has a finite bankroll. The other has an infinite bankroll. Given infinite repetitions of the game, the player with the finite roll will eventually go broke.

In the online poker world it's you against everyone else. This means it's your roll against the infinite roll of the rest of the world.

If poker was a zero-sum game, you'd go broke.

Luckily, if you're a winning player, you can expect a positive return on your investment. But you need to have enough money in your roll to make the swings and variance irrelevant.

Your bankroll, although finite, needs to be large enough to seem infinite. Stick to the standard rule of having less than 5% of your roll in play on one table at a time. If you really want to be robust, drop that number as low as 1% or 2%.

Some of the most profitable and serious online grinders play with rolls 10x that. If you never have to worry about going broke from losing at a specific game, chances are you won't.

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2. Don't Monitor Your Poker Balance

If you're following the first rule and playing with a legit bankroll, then (outside of a serious and lengthy downswing defying all odds) you're in little-to-no risk of going broke.

You play poker with chips, not money. You can't think about the money you're playing the game with as it's completely irrelevant.

online poker bankroll management

With checking the amount of your online poker bankroll as easy as clicking a button, it's very easy to fall into the trap of micro-managing your poker account.

When you're on an upswing, every time you check your balance you feel good. The number goes up, so does your spirits.

But it only takes one beat to make that number go down. A lot. And if you're still checking your balance, seeing that smaller number will make you feel bad.

You want it back to where it was and you want it back immediately. As soon as you have that thought, you've started "chasing your losses." You're going to start forcing your play to get back to where you think you should be.

This can be the first step towards total self destruction. Typically in poker, making money is a slow grind and losing money is a quick drop. If you're watching your balance you'll fall into the depression of "a week's work lost" or "It will take me a week to get back what I just lost in an hour."

The only way to get it back fast is to jump limits and take a shot at a big score. This breaks rule #1, and is the first step to going broke.

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3. Treat Poker Seriously

When you're playing online poker for real money, every session, pot and decision matters. Even the smallest of mistakes costs you money. 

poker bankroll tips
Keep your focus.

The more money you lose from mistakes, the harder it becomes to generate profit and keep from going broke.

Limit distractions: By the very definition of the word, a distraction is something that takes your focus away from the game and puts it on something else. As soon as you start playing online poker without paying attention, you're almost certain to make multiple mistakes. 

Every person is different. Some players can play just as well, if not better, while watching a movie. Other players need to shut everything else down to keep their mind on the game.

You need to honestly assess your capability for multi-tasking and set yourself up to play in an optimal poker environment.

Don't play out of boredom: You play poker because you want to play or because it's what you do to make money. Playing because you're bored will force you to make poker your personal entertainment.

Sometimes, poker is not entertaining at all. If you're only playing because you're bored, and you're having a boring session, chances are you're going to make dumb moves to push the action. If you're bored and you don't legitimately feel like grinding, find something else to do.

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bankroll tips poker
Get a good chair.

4. Pay Attention to Your Human Needs

You are human. Humans require constant maintenance and upkeep to stay healthy. If you're not healthy and feeling good, you're not going to be playing your best poker.

The most important of these factors for poker:

Hunger: If you're not eating well or just plain hungry, you're not going to be thinking as quickly or proficiently as possible. Also, if you're hungry, that's just one more distraction to keep you from thinking about poker.

Comfort: If you're uncomfortable, you're distracted. Get a good chair, a good monitor, and set yourself up as ergonomically as possible.

If you want some good tips, Google is your answer. Use every tip you can find to keep yourself healthy, comfortable and carpal-tunnel free.

Exhaustion: If you're exhausted, you're not playing your best game. If you're not playing your best game, you're losing money. Regardless of how good the game is, when you feel extremely tired, go to bed.

Mental Distractions: If you have anything pressing on your mind, you're going to have a hard time playing your best game.

It's best to not play at all when you're in a mental state that's anything other than "normal."

Drugs and booze are another mental distraction from poker. It's one thing to have a beer or two while you play; it's another to try and play while hammered. Regardless of what you may think, you can't play your best poker when you're drunk.

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poker bankroll online
Tilt: #1 bankroll killer.

5. Integrate a Tilt-Induced Kill Switch

Tilt is the #1 bankroll killer in the world.

Usually brought on by breaking any combination of the previous rules, or something as simple as a bad beat, tilt can drive even the most measured player into a frenzy of ridiculous bets, raises and calls.

The cause of tilt is personal and can come from anywhere. Although it will vary in degree from one person to the next, it's impossible to avoid all tilt entirely.

Some players, such as Phil Ivey, are rarely tilted. And when they are, it's rarely enough to affect their game all that much.

For the rest of the world, when you feel any signs of tilt, no matter how slight or seemingly harmless, it's time to log off, get up, and go do something else. 

Poker will always be there when you get back.

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Poker Will Always Be Around

If you follow all of these rules, and you're capable of playing winning poker, chances are you will never go broke online. But be warned: Once you break just one of these rules, the others can come crashing through the door right behind it.

Be diligent, and at the first sign of any rule being broken, abandon ship. Remember, poker will always be around tomorrow. But once your roll is gone, it's not coming back.

More Poker Bankroll Tips:

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vince 2009-07-26 03:50:00

Another way to look at the sit-n-go example: the total buy-ins for 9 players in a $10+$1 sit-n-go is $99. That is, everyone "antes" up $11 that goes into the "pot" which is divided among the top three finishers. But, only $90 is actually distributed to the winners; therefore, 10% of the winnings were taken by the rake.

vince 2009-07-26 03:42:00

Hi Sean,

In a sit-n-go, 10% of your buy-in is exactly the same as 10% of your winnings. For example, suppose I play in $10+1$ sit-n-go's on PStars that pay $45/$27/$18. If I play in 9 tourneys and finish 1st through 9th once each, I'd expect to win back exactly my buy-ins, right? Well, what I actually win is $90, but my total buy-ins--plus rake--were $99. That's 10% of my winnings that went to the rake.

But, yes, you're right that it's less that 10% in cash games due to the cap.

But my point remains: due to the rake, poker is a worse than zero sum game. Therefore, it's very hard--almost impossible unless you're willing to put in extremely long hours--to be profitable in the long term.

I've come to the conclusion that the best a casual player can do is play in the big MTTs and hope to get lucky one time. Anything short of grinding 8-12 tables for 8-12 hours per day in cash games or sit-n-go's is almost guaranteed to lose money in the long run.

Other than a very few, most of the money in online poker is being made by the sites via their rake. Wouldn't you love to be guarateed a 10% return?

Sean Lind 2009-07-26 01:30:00


Your percentage is off by a lot. Although the rake is a significant factor in a poker players lifetime, it's not nearly as high as 10%.

In a cash game, the rake is typically 10%, up to a cap of $3-$6. As soon as your pot becomes larger than the cap ($70), the rake % drops.

Also, in a sit and go the rake is typically 10% of your buy-in, not your winnings.

vince 2009-07-25 19:37:00

RE: "If poker was a zero-sum game, you'd go broke."

But poker's not a zero-sum game, it's worse than that because of the rake, which can take away up to 10% of your winnings (as in the case of sit-n-go's). So making money playing poker online is that much harder. I suspect that due to the generally high quality of players and the rake there are very few online players who show a long-term profit.

jacob 2009-07-24 08:31:00

this is vvery true i dump money for years into this wonder how any body was winning but as soon i took my bank roll mangment to the top level my depoists became less amd less i dont even play that good but staying at a correct level is key of not going broke i wish i would of seen this years ago i would of saved im scared to say thank you

Sean Lind 2009-07-23 17:31:00

Smith, everyone tilts, but the game Ivey plays while he's on tilt is still light years ahead of almost every other player, while they're playing at the top of their game.

weeeeee 2009-07-23 04:02:00


Smith 2009-07-23 02:50:00

I must disagree with the Phil Ivey rarely tilting. Phil Ivey is generally very quiet at the poker table, that doesn't mean he doesn't tilt. I've seen him tilt several times on TV, but there are many other famous poker players I've never seen tilt for example; Allen Cunningham, Howard Lederer, Doyle Brunson and Chris Ferguson.
Daniel Negreanu is very vulnerable to tilt recently.

VMayor 2009-07-22 15:43:00

Thanks for a timely article. Great advice.

Last week - Night 1) Four stiff drinks, started playing late and played to exhaustion = Bankroll down 13.5%.
Night 2) No drinks, felt good recovered 60% of Night 1 losses. Night 3) No drinks felt good, short session recovered remaining 40% of losses, plus. Results; plus 4% to bankroll. Where would I have been without Night 1?

Printed your article. Will read it before every session.

Dennis Hands 2009-07-21 21:52:00

Brilliant article, thank you.


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