How to Manage a Poker Bankroll

The first question you should ask when thinking about the proper size of your poker bankroll is the most important:

What is poker to you?

Is it a game? A hobby? An obsession? A profession?

If you answered "game" or "hobby" then it's not likely you need to worry too much about your bankroll. If you're dabbling around for fun at stakes you can afford, a properly managed poker bankroll is not the most important factor in your poker lifestyle.

If you answered "obsession" or "profession," though, then proper bankroll management is (or should be) of the utmost priority to you. And it opens up the door to a whole series of questions that can help you find the proper bankroll amount to carry your game through the rough patches.

Among those questions:

  • 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 in 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?
  • Do you live at home, pay rent, have a mortgage?
  • Do you own a car? A boat?
  • How many loans do you have? 
  • Do you like to eat Kraft Dinner or filet mignon?
  • What is your minimum monthly income needed to sustain your current standard of living?
  • Are you happy with your current standard or do you want to make an improvement?
  • Are you focusing on cash game or tournament play?

Once you've answered those questions (and more) you can move on to creating the exact right size and rules for your bankroll to make sure you never go broke.

Base Buy-Ins (BIs) - The Beginnings of Bankroll Management

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 then your effective bankroll = 0BIs

If poker is a hobby, something you play a few times a month to once a week, you might 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

poker bankroll management

Poker as an obsession is where you need to have a proper poker bankroll. As soon as you're playing once a week or more you'll need to be able to cover the downswings you'll take without, ideally, losing your whole roll.

But 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.

Bankroll Minimums: Live vs. Online

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 and 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's 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 2-8 tables I wouldn't recommend playing on less than a 25BIs roll.

The accepted bankroll management rule used by Chris "Jesus" Ferguson is:

  • 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 and keeps 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; we'll get to this further down.

Let's Make Some Simple Bankroll Management Calculations

The more aggressive you are, the larger a roll you should 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.

bankroll poker

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, than 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 it's good 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, here's a little chart:

BIsBIs in Dollars for a $200 Max Buy Game

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.

So You Want to Go Pro?

This is where poker bankroll management can get tricky. The majority of players that want to turn professional base the size of their roll strictly on the numbers used above for the "obsessed" player.

The problem with this is it does not take into account the little thing we like to call "living."

As an obsessed player your day job earns you a paycheck, which is used to fund your life. Your poker roll is used to play poker and make money - without swings or variance affecting your quality of life.

When you start to play professionally, your bankroll is your only money. Unless you have massive savings you can live off you'll be forced to live off your earnings AND your bankroll.

Bankroll Management 101: A Bad Month

It's very common for professional poker players to go on very long losing streaks. But we'll take a moderate approach for our scenario.

poker bankroll management
Even Daniel Negreanu quickly lost back all of the money he made with his first big tourney win.

Let's say you have an average roll and rolling with $3,000 for your very tight conservative game. You run into a bad month (by our conservative standards) and end up breaking even on the month.

The non-professional player is still ballin' with a huge roll. For the professional, you now have a problem.

You didn't lose money. But you also didn't make money. So now you have to pay for your life out of your roll.

Rent, car, loans, credit card, food, entertainment, alimony, various other bills ... whatever your standard of living is you now have to pay for it out of your bankroll.

Again, let's go conservative and say that you can cover all of that and live quite comfortably for $1,000 a month. Your bankroll is now down to $2,000.

The next month you make a total of $1,000. That money goes to living for the month so you are still down $1,000 on your roll without actually having lost money at poker.

If you have another month like the first you will then be down to just $1,000 total without even having a losing month yet!

To get back any money you have to make your living expenses plus extra on the month. If you're playing at very low limits, this can be harder than it seems.

Bankroll Management 102: It Gets Worse

If we take a worse scenario and you managed to lose $1,000 that first month, plus paid for your living expenses, you head into month 2 with just a $1,000 roll.

If you only break even that next month, you're officially broke.

It's not uncommon for the world's best players to go on losing streaks for upward of six months yet here you're broke after two months. Having to pay for living expenses out of your roll takes a larger toll than you may think.

Until you do the math and work it out you don't realize how hard it is to get back to where you started once you get into a hole. If you want to be successful, you have to plan for the worst and be prepared for it.

You should have 2-6 months' worth of living expenses in addition to a complete poker bankroll for the stakes you're playing. This puts a "safe" roll right at around 50Bis while living cheap.

poker bankroll
Mike Matusow is probably not the best person to choose as a bankroll management role model.

Life Comes Before Poker

If you fail to earn any "living" money in your month of play your expenses should come out of a separate "living" fund.

If the next month you make money above your living expenses, all profit goes directly back into the living fund. Only once the living fund is full, your monthly expenses are paid and your roll is back to full will you have the chance to save money or try to grow your roll.

This still won't cover you for a serious meltdown or horrific downswing. It's not that uncommon for players to lose $1,000 in one session at a $200 buy-in game; it's not unthinkable that you could lose $4,000 in a month without breaking a sweat.

Prepare for Life Downswings, Too

It also doesn't cover you for a life downswing. It's not uncommon for $1,000 of unexpected debt to pop up, especially if you own a car. How do you suppose you'll cover that?

The first thing you always have to remember is that life comes first. If you hit a downswing, or just can't beat the game you thought you could, you need to quit playing while you still have enough money to continue living at your chosen standard for however long it will take you to find a real job.

Playing poker professionally requires much more capital than it may seem. If you've been making consistent money for the last year playing as an obsessed player, you still need this capital to make the move.

Without having a proper poker bankroll (and then managing it properly), the ability to continue playing will depend on you getting lucky out of the gate.

If you're short-rolled you're throwing the dice on starting your new poker career on an upswing to get you where you need to be. That's not a very reliable recipe.

More Than Just Respecting Your Bankroll

The more poker you play and the higher stakes you get into, the less you'll respect the value of a dollar. After enough play, and as your stake level increases, the value of money becomes un-relatable to most people outside of the poker world.

Phil Ivey cash

People will say you're crazy for carrying around a few thousand dollars in cash (what if you get robbed?) but to a poker player it feels like the most normal thing in the world.

Most people never carry that much money at one time. And it goes without saying that a normal person can't even comprehend the idea of losing it all in one session of poker.

But if you're playing $10/$25 No-Limit, losing $3,000 only counts as a marginally bad day. The amount of money that pro players view as being an acceptable loss for a session of poker can be more than a normal person will make in a couple months of honest work.

Don't be mistaken: They are still the "normal" ones. This detachment from the true value of money is what allows them to play poker at a high level.

You just can't be thinking about how many months' rent the last bet was to play optimal poker.

But if you are playing properly inside your roll you can afford to lose everything in front of you. So the only thing you need to worry about is if you're putting your money in when you have the best of it.

You have to leave the real world at the door.

When you get off that table, though, you need to find a way to achieve a normal perspective again. If you're grinding low-stakes poker for a living averaging $20 an hour, you're making more than enough money to live - provided you manage your expenses carefully.

You simply cannot afford to take that cavalier view of money from the table to your life. At that pay rate you can't afford to be buying a brand-new 61" plasma.

Even though you have $5,000 in cash in your pocket, you have to realize that you're only making $20 an hour. Your lifestyle should reflect your average hourly wage -- not your cash in hand.

2016-01-29 23:54:52

Hyper turbos aren’t good games for skill based poker. It’s basically a bingo game, so if you are serious about increasing your bankroll try to stick to games with at least 9 players at the table and longer levels. You want the blinds to remain low for an extended period of time so you can wait for decent trapping hands and situations to take advantage of novice players. This is why cash games are so much better for consistent bankroll building. Also try to play deepstack tournaments.

2014-10-06 22:04:03

hi everyone…i have a qustion about bankroll variation…i’m playing 2 tournaments at same time hyper turbo 3.5 buy in 9 players… and i have recently played about 8 hours and i’m stacked at the same money (bankroll: 120 usd) ..why i cannot inrease my bankroll? what do you recommend me to do? stop playing hyperturbos? or it is normal to happen?thanks in advance !!

2013-09-25 10:52:45

The second link hasnt been working? Could someone send it to my email? [email protected]

2013-02-17 22:53:54

What do you mean by KD? Kraft Dinner?

2011-04-25 18:56:42

i play 1/2 live once sometimes twice a week should i have a bankroll? when i play, i play solid tight poker,(being the table if full of LAGs, i easily beat the game at my local club, calling 4-5x BB with Q7s is not unusual play. i play online also but not 1/2, i noticed that live games are juicier than online games,majority of players multi-tabling and waiting for the nuts. but back to my original question.

Sean Lind
2010-04-28 23:49:42


You’re going to want to stick to the most basic rule of thumb for poker in that game. If the whole table is being overly aggressive, you want to play very tight. Play the opposite. If the other players are willing to make bad bets, bluffs, and donk calls, you just need to play solid ABC poker, and let them pay you.

2010-04-28 11:35:56

This is now the 6th time I’ve read this article and it has helped me so mcuh. Thank you. I am honing my skills in Ukraine against Spuer-Ultra-Mega aggressive players on 5/5 tables. That is 5 grivna – the local currency which equates to about 0.62 cents. However, players readily and almost every hand raise 10 to 15 times the BB with 7-3 offsuit. The past 6 weeks have been pretty profitable for me, but do any of you have any ideas about how to approach this type of game??

2010-02-08 01:52:55

totally agrre with jonathan.. i have been the guy i know u have me beat but i will call anyway to prove what ?? i find it best to log off and go do a workout on my GF or us the internet for outer sites haha 🙂

2010-01-22 18:49:58

Bankroll is the single biggest way new players get in trouble. Hand down, no questions…do not pass go, do not collect $200.

Time and again, I have seen new players lose their first buy-in, go on tilt and then blow their whole bank roll. Myself included.

Bankroll is inextricably connected to emotional control. Unless you firmly understand why you are at the table and how poker fits into your life, you are doomed to be a sad, losing poker player.

whydoiplaypoker net

2009-11-14 20:12:00

very good article…all this is very helpful. bankroll has always been my biggest issue. this is much more in depth than any other bankroll articles ive read. thanks alot.
anyone interested can check out my site. im doing a 0 dollar challenge on bodog, im up to 52 dollars so far. ive got bankroll management articles and other strategy tips. it would really help me out if you guys would check it out and let me know what I need to improve or any other suggestions. Thanks!! (i just started 6 days ago)

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