A bankroll in poker is the money a player has reserved for playing cash games or entering tournaments. Managing your bankroll in poker is almost as important as playing the game. Without proper bankroll management, it will be an even greater challenge to become a successful poker player.
Many beginners have no concept of managing their bankroll, resulting in them entering higher stakes poker games than they should. A player’s bankroll should always correlate to the stakes they are playing.
We’re going to start with basic bankroll management tips that every player should follow, then we’ll cover a few ways to boost bankrolls.
The Golden Rules of Managing a Bankroll in Poker
What is a bankroll in poker? A bankroll in poker is money that is separate from your personal finances. This money is used and managed to play poker.
Use 5% or less of your bankroll at any time. If you have a bankroll of $50 on an online poker site, what size of cash game or tournament should you play? A player with a $50 bankroll should be using $2.50 at most for either tournaments or cash games.
Use a calculator to determine how the stakes you should play with your bankroll.
Using the 5%-or-less strategy with $50, you’ll be able to max buy-in 25 times at $0.01/$0.02 cash game tables.
Never play with money that you can’t afford to lose. This is a terrible thing to do, for two reasons. Losing money that you need for other things like rent or food will turn poker into an extremely negative experience. Putting money that you need on the table will also influence your poker strategy and cause you to play badly.
Don’t be like Matt Damon in the opening scene of Rounders; never put your entire bankroll or your savings on the line.
Don’t rush to higher stakes. Ever heard of a poker player “taking a shot”? This isn’t just a saying that’s applied to poker. Putting everything on the line and risking everything for a chance at a big win usually works in the movies, but not in reality.
Putting too much of your bankroll at risk and playing at higher stakes is a good way to risk everything against skilled opponents, so don’t rush. Move through the stakes slowly, using a calculator to ensure you are keeping 5% or less of your bankroll in play.
Play stakes that match your skill level. The players you find at $0.01/$0.02 tables will have very different skill levels to high-stakes players. Even from $0.01/$0.02 to low stakes like $1/$2, there’s a noticeable difference and play style. This is why moving up the stakes slowly can be a good idea, like acclimatizing at different depths on the way up from a dive in the ocean. As you rise through the stakes, you’ll become a better and better poker player.
Other Helpful Poker Bankroll Management Tips:
- Avoid withdrawing money from your poker bankroll unless absolutely necessary.
- Lower the stakes you are playing if you need to conserve your bankroll.
- Add to your bankroll when you join a poker site using bonuses and promotions.
How to Build a Poker Bankroll
Building a bankroll is a personal process, so never compare yourself to another player. Tune out the outside world for a moment and start by asking yourself, “What can I afford to dedicate to poker?”
When we use the word “afford,” we’re not talking about how much money is in your bank. A bankroll should be money that you can afford to set aside to pursue your goals in poker. Using that money for poker should have no negative effect on the quality of your life.
Disposable income can be easily repurposed into your poker bankroll. For example, the average US citizen spends about $90 on coffee each month. Managing expenses like car washes, restaurant visits, or gambling can help you create a bankroll from scratch.
Build Your Bankroll in Freeroll Tournaments
A freeroll is a tournament with real winnings and no entry fee. There's real cash or tickets to be won and no cost to enter. Some sites have freerolls just for first-time depositors, such as 888poker’s $500 First Depositors Freeroll.
Freeroll tournaments have two advantages. There’s real money you can win, without investing a cent of your bankroll. The other great part is, you can build more poker experience for free. Even though freeroll tournaments are sometimes full of thousands of aggressive players, they will challenge and train you to play in tough environments.
We’ve got a list of freerolls from major poker sites, all in one place. Instead of going from site to site, we’ll save you some time.
- Increased first deposit bonus
- Increased rakeback and reloads
- Help with deposits and cashouts
- Access to closed freerolls
- Round-the-clock support
Variance: How it Will Affect Your Bankroll
Variance is a term used to describe outcomes that are above or below a statistical average. For example, if you flipped a coin 20 times, you would expect to win 10 times. If you only won 5 times, that’s a negative variance.
Nobody can avoid variance and it works in both ways. Some poker players are known for running hot and having long streaks of positive variance. Other players experience downswings and “run bad” for weeks or months at a time. If you’re consistently on a downswing, it probably means that you need to adjust your strategy.
Poker tools like Hand2Note can give you a clear picture of your swings and win rate. Using the Reports feature, you can take a look at individual sessions or get a look at the bigger picture over months or years.
Having a downswing does not necessarily mean that your skill is the reason for losing. Every poker player expects to have peaks and valleys of variance throughout their career.
This is why the 5% rule is so important to overcoming variance. With such a small percentage of in-play, you’ll be able to maintain your bankroll through downswings.
Your poker bankroll is an investment, something to maintain and grow. Anything that improves your win rate is great for your bankroll. Poker tools will help you maximize profits and play at the same level as other experienced players. Improve your poker skills in various areas, like preflop and postflop strategy or your range analysis.
At the very least, you should be using a heads-up display (HUD) for online poker. PokerTracker and Hand2Note are two of the most popular HUDs on the market and are compatible with almost every poker site. Head to the GT Shop to find our full selection, including HUDs made specifically for sites like 888poker, PokerStars, and partypoker.