Bankroll management is the process in which a player decides how much of their money they should risk in any given game, specifically in regards to poker. If you are simply playing for fun, then play for whatever stakes make you happy. Otherwise, if you are trying to maximize your chances of growing your bankroll in the long term, then read on.
Never play with scared money
The first rule of bankroll management is to never play with scared money. By scared money I mean money that you need for important things like rent, food, or other necessities. Not only could this ruin you life, but it will undoubtedly effect your play, usually for the worse. Your bankroll should be an amount of money set aside specifically for poker.
Let your bankroll always determine your limits
After some minor adjustments, your bankroll should determine the stakes in the game you sit down at, every time you sit down. This rule is very simple in theory, but gets a little complicated when you look at the details. The purpose of doing this is so that when you inevitably take a big downward swing, it usually won’t bankrupt you. Your starting bankroll should be whatever you are comfortable with (i.e. an amount you won’t cry about if you lose it). With sites like Full Tilt Poker you can select from games as low as 1¢/2¢, so you should be able to follow these rules even with a very small deposit.
Limit vs. no-limit cash games
In limit cash games, the general consensus seems to be that you should have a bankroll of about 300 big bets. So if your bankroll is $150, then a good game to play would be .25/.50. No limit cash games are much more volatile, so when you do have a bad run of variance, you’ll need more of a cushion. A typical no limit cash game player should have about 20 maximum buyins in his/her roll. The max buyin is usually 100 times the big blind, so that works out to 2,000 big blinds if you want to think of it that way. So if your bankroll is $500 a good limit to play would be .10/.25. I realize that sounds like peanuts, but no limit cash games can get bloody very quickly.
Sit and go’s and Multi-table tournaments
For sit and go tournaments (often referred to as SnG’s), a rule of thumb is to have at least 25 buyins in your bankroll before going for one of these tournaments. Multi-table tournaments (MTT’s) with fields as high as 5,000 players are exceedingly volatile investments. A very good player is very likely to only cash in about 15% of these large tournaments, however if you do cash, the winnings could be gigantic. MTT entries should be few and far between if you even play them at all. If you were really serious about playing MTTs regularly for long term profit, I think a bankroll in the range of 60-100 buyins sounds reasonable.
Styles of play
The numbers given so far are only guidelines, as your style of play will effect these numbers greatly. If you are a winning, solid conservative player, you may be able to lower your threshold of 300x big bets in limit down to 200x since your variance should be more stable. Note that this will put you in a high risk / high reward game. On the other hand if you are a hyper-aggressive type player, you may need to up it to 500x to handle those bigger swings. Additionally, if you play poker for a living, you may want to up it to 500x just to take things conservatively in order to make sure you can easily pay bills even after a losing streak. Again, the opposite of that position would be if you are willing to make more risky play in the hopes of building your bankroll quickly, or if you can easily afford to lose your entire bankroll without a sweat. In these cases you can consider dropping your threshold down to 200x for limit cash games as an example. However you slice it, figure out your metric and stick to it. You do not want to suddenly change these requirements because you think you are doing very well or you need to ‘make up’ some losses. Any changes should come slowly so that you can account for variance.
After you have established your metric, changing levels should be a no brainer. Once your bankroll can support higher limits, move up. If you have taken some losses, then don’t be too proud to move down. Moving down in limits happens to the very best players, don’t let it effect your play. Chances are that in the long run, even with a big cushion in your bankroll, you will probably even go bust at some point. Most professional poker players have a story about going bust, just don’t let it happen to you suddenly. You would have to be some sort of superman to go from 1¢/2¢ up to $30/$60 without having to go down in levels at some point. Of course your available games will vary depending on which site you decide to play, so if the site you are playing on doesn’t offer a $2 + $0.20 SnG game, you should stay down in the $1 + $0.10 buyin games until your bankroll is ready for the $5 + $0.50 game. He is an example metric for a tight aggressive SnG player:
Bankroll SnG Buyin
$25-$124 $1 + $0.10
$125-$249 $5 + $0.50
$250-$499 $10 + $1
$500-$749 $20 + $2
$750-$1,249 $30 + $3
$1,250-$2,499 $50 + $5
$2,500-$4,999 $100 + $9
$5,000-$12,499 $200 + $15
$12,500+ $500 + $30
Bringing it all together
Assuming you have read and understood everything thus far, you should be able to put together the chart below yourself.
High Risk / High Reward Balanced Approach Professional / Conservative
Limit Cash Game 200 Big Bets 300 Big Bets 400-500 Big Bets
No-Limit Cash Game 15 Max Buyins 20 Max Buyins 30-40 Max Buyins
Sit and Go Tournaments 15-20 Buyins 25 Buyins 30-40 Buyins
Multi-Table Tournaments 60 Buyins 80 Buyins 100+ Buyins