Fact vs Myths in Poker Bankroll Management
For 90% (or maybe even more) of poker players, what passes as ‘solid’ bankroll management advice is mostly nonsense.
Most players are recreational, and sticking to the 5% of your bankroll in any one game type ‘rules’ see them heading to the micro-limits and, well, bored.
If you aspire to be a pro, or need the extra income from poker, then these rules do have some merit. I’ll explain them below, covering cash games, tournaments, fast-fold games and sit n goes in turn. After the ‘formal’ explanation part, you’ll find the reasons that I think most players should mostly ignore these guidelines, take shots and make sure they are enjoying their poker playing time to the max!
First, a note about variance.
Variance in Poker – The Reason Fish Play
Poker is a skill game over the long run, though over the short-term there is a huge element of luck. This means that an amateur could get lucky and beat a pro, or that you could suffer a bad beat at the hands of someone making a terrible (mathematically speaking) decision.
If you have not already done so, you need to be thankful for this element of chance.
If it were not for this, no new players would be able to sit in the games. They would lose their money every time, and it would be no fun at all. If it were not for the big chance element, then poker as we know it would not exist as a game since there would be no ecosystem to support it.
Variance is also the reason why bankroll management exists. In order to stay in the game for long enough to ride out the swings and lock in a profit, you need to have the funds to survive bad beats, cold decks and downswings.
Let’s be clear on one thing. Bankroll management alone will not help you win, that is a different skill set. If you are a losing player, then being careful with your bankroll might well help you lose more slowly (which is good news for many players, even though they might not want to admit it!).
The ‘Standard Rules’ of Poker Bankroll Management
This section covers the different types of poker game and gives you the standard ranges for the number of buy-ins needed to protect your bankroll from the variance.
#1 Cash Games: The general rule is 20 buy-ins for your game as a minimum. That means playing $200 NL in your local casino would need a bankroll of $4000, while $10NL online needs just $200. If you are tight and cautious in your style then you might get away with fewer buy-ins, while a loose and wild player will see bigger swings and should consider a bigger buffer.
#2 Tournaments: Here the buy-in guidelines are very big, since there is a huge amount of variance in tournament play (most of your profits will come from the occasional first place (or at least final table)). To be a pro it is suggested that you have 100 buy-ins at your disposal, that is just 1% of your bankroll per game. If you play $20 tournaments online then you should have $2000 to back you up. Many tournament players seek backing (stakes in return for a percentage of profits) to level out the swings.
#3 Fast Fold Poker: Online poker games like Zoom Poker or Speed Holdem are much more intensive than traditional cash games. Since you see new opponents for every hand, things like history with an individual or table dynamics are missing from the games. These are very profitable games, though a little more swingy than regular cash games. The recommendation here is 35 buy-ins as a comfortable bankroll.
#4 Sit N Go Tournaments: For 1 to 5 table tournaments, the variance can be high. In fact these games often catch players out, as the variance feels like it should be lower. The recommendation for these games is 50 buy-ins. For example if you want to grind the $5 SNGs then you should have $250 in your account.
The HTG Alternative View on Poker Bankroll Management
If you are part of the 90% of players who would like to win money at poker, though do not consider themselves pro (or even semi-pro) then this section is for you.
My view is that the regular poker bankroll rules are suffocating to most people.
The simple reason is that most people play poker for recreation, and do not rely on the money to pay the bills. Most players do not even have a separate ‘bankroll’, they simply assign some cash from their overall money, and if / when this runs out they top it up again with another deposit (or ATM visit in a live casino).
Realistically, most players want to enjoy the games without having to play with ‘scared money’ or even think about their overall net worth during the game.
Variance will still be in play, so it makes sense not to risk your entire bankroll on a single table at once. Though there are plenty of ways to get a happy balance without the 5% or 1% rules. I’d say 10% works nicely for all the formats as long as you are a) playing with money you can afford to lose should variance strike, and b) happy to top up your account if you do go busto.
Don’t Grind – Take Shots
Instead of grinding up your poker bankroll a little at a time, I recommend you take a chance, move up the levels and if you do win to take shots at the bigger games.
Nobody is going to look back in 20 years time and fondly recall the 1000 hours they spent grinding $25NL to build their bankroll. Hitting a $1000 pot in a bigger game after taking a shot, or hitting the final table in big tournament you qualified for are what will be recalled.
If you don’t put yourself into a position to take those shots, poker will slowly grind you down.
Poker bankroll management has its uses (for pros and people who rely on the income mostly). I recommend that you are honest with yourself, and if you really want to enjoy the games to throw the old rules out of the window!