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Managing Your Bankroll

A common question in the poker world today remains: “How much money do I need to play the game?”

The two word answer is one that orbits the poker community in a dizzying lightshow fit for a Pink Floyd spectacle: It Depends.

The variables of poker (let me state again why we love this game) make it impossible to etch concrete rules about how much capital is needed to play at a certain table. It depends on the game you play, your playing style, the limit of your game, even your reason for playing and where you partake are some variables which should affect the size of your bankroll. Nonetheless, we here at have come up with a series of guidelines that will, after some thought, enable you to better understand the needs of your bankroll and how to manage it.

The amateur poker player is no longer a gambler with a pair of dice. He is no longer the craps player with a winning day surrounded by fifteen losing ones followed by another win. He is an odds calculator. He knows the difference between a gutshot draw and an open-ended one. He understands the chances of hitting a four card flush on the turn after seeing a suited flop. It’s hightime he studies money management as vivaciously as he does his poker game.

A good player with the proper bankroll should never go broke. There’s a reason for this and perhaps you’ve been privy to it before or if you haven’t I’m going to let you in on one of life’s biggest secrets. A secret that, for some reason, poker players seem to grasp sooner than most: Everyone is about as lucky as everyone else.

poker Bankroll
You’re as lucky as your neighbour down the street, the cat on the fence or the doofus at your home tournament. You’re going to be outdrawn as much as the next guy and hit your miracle card just as often as he will. The fact remains that there is no such thing as good luck or bad luck, luck is simply a word used to describe an outcome and is the prefix of how we perceive that outcome.

It is a temporary fluctuation in the order of the random. For example, if you were to take a coin and flip it two million times, about 1 million times the result would be heads. Was it luck that the coin landed tails the first 35 times? No, it was simply a temporary fluctuation. These fluctuations are the prime reason why good poker players require a bankroll. Even when you’re a 4 to 1 favorite, it doesn’t mean you won’t lose ten times in a row. On the other hand, you may also win 40 in a row in the same situation. You need to be sure that your bankroll is large enough to eliminate the short term effect of “luck”.


The game limits you choose to play also determine the desired size of your bankroll. The traditional rule of thumb is that you should have 300 times the big bet at the table. This means if you want to play in the $2-4 limit game you should have about $1200 at your disposal. I feel that this can be a very general guideline. If you are a tight, solid player your needs could be quite a bit lower or maybe you like to mix it up often and your swings will be even higher by comparison. Also, the number of seats at the table should influence your bankroll quite a deal, as the shorthand games will be more aggressive then the full tables.

Furthermore, the locale of where you play should also be considered. It is in my experience that online players tend to play less hands on average that casino or other “real life” game players. This may be due to the lack of distractions during the game or maybe even the slower rate of hands dealt per hour.

Lastly, the skill level at the current limit should also be factored. In the lower limits, there will be many persons involved in each hand so even when playing premium holdings, you’ll win a smaller percentage of the pots you do play. Since these pots will be bigger on average, your chip stack will see more ups and downs than at higher limits. This translates to requiring an inflated bankroll at the lower limits and a slightly more modest cache at the higher table stakes.


The above guidelines can be thrown out the window, so to speak, upon entering the realm of No-Limit games. In No-Limit, your entire buy-in is in jeopardy each and every hand. Therefore, in a $1 game of texas hold’em with a restricted buy-in of $100 – 300 times the big bet might not even last the evening. In No-Limit, you’ll want to have about triple the base than that of a limit player. For many recreational poker enthusiasts this means stepping down a few limits or simply being comfortable with an amount he or she might lose.


Another often overlooked consequence is the amount of betting rounds your game of choice features. While Texas Hold’em and Omaha have 4 rounds, games such as 7 Card Stud have 5. It will take a larger bankroll to play triple draw than it will for dueces wild, and you’ll want to avoid playing with scared money.


Very dangerous to your money management, overextending yourself at the poker table can have dire consequences. Overextension can be defined as sitting down with 25% or more of your bankroll.

Almost every player has succumbed to this at one point in their poker development and they’re all likely to caution you against it. Earlier in my poker career, I was guilty for “taking a shot”; playing outside my usual limit and as a result had to move down to stakes I simply don’t enjoy playing at. Having amassed a total bankroll of somewhere around $4,000, I say in at a Texas Hold’em No-Limit $20-20 shorthand game. The game was tight and I played conservatively for an hour before I scored a hand. I was dealt KsJs in the big blind and the button had raised to $100. The small blind folded and I called. I hit the flop hard when it came 2sQs9s giving me a king-high flush.

I decided to bet out, as I usually do, and tossed $150 into the pot. The button raised to $500 and I instantly moved all-in with my remaining $1750 or so as I assumed he had an overpair or three of a kind. Much to my suprise I was called and my opponent showed AsQh. The turn came the 4s and the river an inconsequential 10d to give my opponent the nut flush. The moral of the story?

I simply did not have the capital to risk all my chips even when I’m a heavy favorite to win, the best play is to move down to a limit where I can play comfortably and luck can remain what it is: a fluctuation in the order of the random.

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