How to Manage Your Poker Bankroll

A poker bankroll is defined as the amount of money you have to play poker with. For online players it’s simply to cover their buy-ins. If you’re a live player, your bankroll might also be money that’s used for travel, room and board. It should go without saying that managing this money well is very important.

However, a lot of players have a difficult time managing their bankrolls. I’m not just talking about the fish either, but pros too. It’s not uncommon to hear about skilled players burning up their money doing other things, and having to borrow money to play. Ungar, Cloutier and Matusow are a few names that come to mind. These guys made millions of dollars playing poker — yet they couldn’t pay for their own buy-ins. That’s because they had issues away from the tables, namely gambling on sports or in the pits.

Anyway, the point of this article isn’t to show you all the downsides of not properly managing your bankroll (although I do think it helps). Instead, it’s to discuss the different things you should keep in mind when managing your bankroll, as well as share a few tips for how much money you should have for the different kinds of poker games.

Managing Your Poker Bankroll — What Do You Need Money For?

You obviously need money for your buy-ins. But there are other expenses that you might have too, that you shouldn’t forget about.

  • Airfare. If you play live, you’ll need to fly to different events (unless you live in Vegas or Atlantic City and stay home). You should figure the costs to be $200-$500 to travel from one state to another. It’ll cost you more to fly from the US to another continent and vice versa — $x,xxx.
  • Hotels. You need a place to sleep. A hotel will cost a minimum of $50-$200+ a night.
  • Food. You got to eat. It’s not hard to spend $20 to $50 a day on food, depending on what you eat and where.
  • Car rentals or taxis. You need a way to get from point A to B.
Some of these things might be compensated for depending on where you’re playing and your status. I’d still have the money on hand though, just in case.

I haven’t played much live, and certainly not as a pro or semi-pro. But I think that it might be better in the long run to separate these costs from your buy-ins. I think it’d be easier to keep track of all your costs (I highly doubt very many players do that though, especially the more money they make).

Now, if you have a home, you’ll need to consider those bills too, especially if you travel. These costs can add-up quick. I would definitely suggest separating these funds from your buy-ins, since you don’t want to find out at the end of the month that you don’t have enough money to pay for something like your mortgage.

Managing Your Poker Bankroll — How Much Do You Need to Play?

How much money you need to play poker is going to be player dependent. So take the following as a guide only, and adjust it to suit your situation.

Before I get into the general guidelines, I also want to point out that if you’re a losing playing, no guidelines in the world will keep you from losing your bankroll eventually. Either get better or prepare to reload your bankroll.

Bankroll Guidelines for Cash Games

The consensus for cash games is that you should have around 20 buy-ins for no limit hold’em. So if you play $1/$2 with 100 big blinds ($200) as the standard buy-in, you should have a bankroll of $4,000.

For limit games, it’s suggested that you have 300 big bets. If you play $1/$2 limit hold’em, you should have a bankroll of $600.

Bankroll Guidelines for Tournaments

Tournaments are difficult to give guidelines for, since there are so many different kinds. And each one has a different level of variance. But as a rule of thumb, you should have about 40 buy-ins for any tournament you wish to play. If you want to play $10+$1 MTTs, you should have $440. My suggestion is to have more though. I would say 50-60 buy-ins, and more if you play higher stakes. Sit and go’s will be about the same, although from my experience you can get away with less.

Don’t Forget to Consider Your Playing Style

Something I also want to point out is that you should consider your playing style when determining how much money you need in your bankroll.

For example, if you’re an aggressive player who takes a lot of risks, you’re going to want to have a deeper bankroll. You’re going to lose bigger pots, therefore face bigger swings; so you’ll want a deep enough roll to absorb them.

On the other hand, if you’re a tighter player, you can get away with the standard guidelines or perhaps even less. You won’t find yourself losing enough (big) pots to justify needing to have an excessive amount of money in your bankroll.