Bankroll Management For Online Poker

Online poker is an exciting and potentially lucrative game, but to navigate its unpredictable waters, you need a lifeboat – effective bankroll management. Your poker bankroll is your financial foundation; it determines what games you can play, how aggressively you bet, and ultimately, your ability to weather the swings of variance. This article delves into the fundamentals of bankroll management, providing strategies and tips to safeguard your funds and maximize your chances of success in online poker.

What Is Bankroll Management?

Simply put, bankroll management in poker is the practice of strategically managing your poker funds to minimize the risk of going broke (also known as “going bust”). It involves setting limits on how much you can risk in a single session, determining the appropriate stakes for your skill level, and understanding how luck (variance) impacts your results in the short term.

Why Is Bankroll Management Important?

  • Variance is Real: Poker is a game of skill, but luck plays a significant role in the short term. Even the best players will experience downswings. A proper bankroll cushions the impact of these inevitable losing streaks.
  • Mental Game Support:  Having an adequate bankroll reduces stress and anxiety, allowing you to focus on playing your best poker without the fear of financial ruin.
  • Moving Up Stakes: Responsible bankroll management enables you to gradually climb stakes as your bankroll and abilities grow.

How To Determine Your Bankroll Size

The ideal bankroll size depends on several factors, including:

  • Game Type: Cash games, sit-and-gos (SNGs), and multi-table tournaments (MTTs) have different levels of variance, thus requiring different bankroll guidelines.
  • Stakes: Higher stakes demand a larger bankroll to handle the increased volatility.
  • Skill Level: Less experienced players might require a more conservative bankroll until they reduce variance through improved decision-making.
  • Risk Tolerance: Your personal comfort level with risk will influence your optimal bankroll sizing.

General Bankroll Guidelines

Here’s a helpful starting point for bankroll requirements:

  • Cash Games:
    • Minimum: 20-30 buy-ins for your chosen stakes
    • Ideal: 40+ buy-ins
  • Sit-and-Gos: 50-100 buy-ins
  • Multi-Table Tournaments: 100-200 buy-ins (even more for high-variance tournament formats)

Remember, these are starting points. More conservative bankrolls are always recommended, especially for less experienced players.

Key Bankroll Management Tips

  • Separate Your Poker Money: Maintain a dedicated bankroll specifically for poker, completely separate from your personal finances.
  • Never Chase Losses:  Avoid the temptation to play higher stakes or top off your bankroll after a losing session. Stick to your predetermined limits.
  • Move Down if Necessary: If your bankroll drops below the recommended level for your stakes, don’t hesitate to move down until you’ve built it back up.
  • Shot-Taking: While it’s tempting, limit ‘shot-taking’ (playing briefly at higher stakes than usual) to a small percentage of your bankroll and only if you’re confident in your abilities.
  • Record Keeping: Track your results and bankroll meticulously. This helps identify leaks and monitor your progress.

Advanced Bankroll Strategies and Adjustments

Beyond the basic guidelines, several concepts will help refine your bankroll management for greater success:

  • Understanding Variance: Poker is inherently streaky. Don’t panic during short-term downswings, but also don’t become overconfident during winning periods. Your long-term results are what matters.
  • Adjusting for Game Type: Certain formats are higher variance than others. MTTs with large fields have the potential for greater swings, meaning you’ll likely need a larger bankroll compared to a cash game player of the same stakes.
  • Win Rates and Standard Deviation: For the mathematically inclined, calculating your win rate and standard deviation (a measure of how volatile your results are) can provide greater precision in bankroll requirements. Online tools can assist with these calculations.
  • Shot-Taking Revisited: While occasional shot-taking can be acceptable, be realistic about your abilities. If you find yourself consistently losing when taking shots, it’s a clear sign your bankroll isn’t yet ready for the higher levels.
  • Mental Game Considerations: Tilt and emotional play are major bankroll busters. If you notice yourself becoming increasingly reckless after losses, take a break. Your bankroll will thank you.
  • Lifestyle Costs: If poker winnings are part of your income for living expenses, factor those needs into your bankroll management. Ensure you have enough to cover necessities, even during potential downswings.

Bankroll Management As You Improve

As your poker skills develop, you may need to re-evaluate your bankroll strategy:

  • Win Rate Increases: If your win rate improves substantially, you might be able to comfortably play the same stakes with a somewhat smaller bankroll than initially recommended.
  • Moving Up Stakes: Once your bankroll exceeds the recommended amount for your current stakes, you can consider gradually moving up. It’s often wise to start by mixing in games at the next stake level while still playing your regular games.
  • The Importance of Rebuilding: If you experience a major downswing, don’t be afraid to move down several stakes to rebuild your bankroll and confidence. There’s no shame in exercising discipline.

Additional Tips For Maximizing Your Bankroll

  • Rakeback and Bonuses: Seek out online poker sites offering favorable rakeback programs or deposit bonuses. These can significantly increase your long-term bankroll.
  • Table Selection: Actively choose the most profitable tables. Don’t just sit at the first table available.
  • Game Selection: Focus on the game types where you have the strongest edge. If you find you’re consistently a loser at a certain format, avoid it, even if you find it enjoyable.
  • Stop-Loss and Stop-Win Limits:  Consider setting stop-loss (automatically quit if you lose a certain amount) and stop-win (cash out winnings after reaching a target) limits for each session to help manage swings and lock in profits.

The Psychology Of Bankroll Management

Successful poker requires more than just technical and strategic skills. The mental game plays a crucial role, particularly in how it affects your bankroll management decisions. Here’s a look at some common psychological pitfalls and how to counter them:

  • Everyone dislikes losing, but an excessive fear of it can lead to overly cautious play and missed opportunities. Remember, short-term losses are inevitable in poker. Focus on making sound decisions and trust your bankroll to weather the variance.
  • This is one of the most dangerous bankroll-busting tendencies. After taking a hit, the urge to win your money back quickly can lead to playing in higher-stakes games or increasing bet sizes beyond your comfort level.  Always stick to your plan and remember, there’s always another session tomorrow.
  • Winning streaks can create a false sense of invincibility. Don’t get complacent or start making reckless plays. Conversely, losing streaks can trigger tilt – the emotional state where frustration and anger take over, leading to disastrous decisions. If you feel yourself tilting, take a break immediately.
  • Overly focusing on the outcome of individual sessions can distort your decision-making. Poker is about making the best play in the moment, regardless of whether you win or lose that specific hand or session. Focus on the process, not short-term results.

Tips For Strengthening Your Mental Game

  • Mindfulness and Meditation: Develop a mindfulness practice to increase self-awareness of your thought patterns and emotions. This can help you detach from the immediate swings at the poker table.
  • Tilt Control: Recognize the early signs of tilt and have pre-planned strategies to deal with it (taking breaks, lowering stakes, reviewing notes, etc.).
  • Celebrate Wins, Analyze Losses: Don’t dwell on the losses too long, but do analyze hands where you made mistakes or could have played better. Similarly, celebrate your victories to reinforce positive habits.

Remember, your mental state has a direct impact on your adherence to sound bankroll management principles. By working on your mental game, you’ll unlock greater consistency and resilience at the poker table.


Mastering bankroll management is a non-negotiable aspect of becoming a successful online poker player. By adhering to the principles outlined in this article, you’ll significantly improve your chances of long-term profitability and enjoyment of the game. Remember, patience, discipline, and a solid bankroll are your greatest allies at the virtual felt.