The art of successful poker bankroll management – 7 steps for long-term success

Posted on: February 2, 2023 03:35 PST

You already know your bankroll is important. After all, no bankroll, no poker, right? But it’s fair to say that successful bankroll management is an absolutely critical skill to master if you want to enjoy long-term success in the game.

The more serious you are as a poker player, the more serious you should be about looking after your bankroll. If you’re a pro and you’re relying on your bankroll for an income, it’s vital that you protect it so you don’t go bust. If you play mainly for fun and you don’t mind depositing every now and again, you can afford to be a bit more relaxed. But no one sets out to play poker as a long-term loser.

So how should you approach bankroll management? Well, it’s right to say that there’s no 'one size fits all' approach. For most people, a tight approach is the right approach. You’ll avoid big swings that could affect you mentally as well as physically. And you’ll move up and down buy-ins as and when simple charts dictate. You can find these in our comprehensive guide to mastering poker bankroll management for cash games and tournaments .

It's not just about the money, either. Phil Galfond is one of the most respected players in the game, and he points out that good bankroll management is also about proving you’re good enough to regularly beat the level you’re at before moving up to see if you can do the same at higher stakes. Unless you’re in the rarified air of select private games, poker tends to get tougher with each level that you move up. 

Galfond goes on to say that if you know your game, know yourself, and are good at assessing your edge in the games you’re playing, a more aggressive approach could be better and help you maximise your potential. According to Galfond, however, this will only work for a minority of players and involves moving down levels quickly when needed. If you don’t consider yourself in the top echelons of the game, tight is right. 

At the heart of bankroll management is finding a level that you can win at. Once you’re a proven winner at that level, your bankroll will increase to the point that you can look at moving up. Moving up means winning more, but it’s important that you leave your ego at the door. If you start losing, you can go through your bankroll quickly, so you need to drop back down according to your bankroll requirements. Moving down quickly is better than staying at a level where you’re a regular loser. 

Poker bankroll management for cash games and tournaments

Successful bankroll management also varies depending on the games you play. Tournaments have the greatest variance, and if you’re a tourney player you need to employ stricter bankroll management. That’s because it’s possible to go on a very long run without even cashing, and your bankroll needs to be able to withstand this. Hopefully it won’t happen to you, but it’s important to remember that it can happen to the best. Variance is fickle. 

The bigger the fields, the bigger the prizes, but you’re also increasing your variance. Playing a large volume of tournaments reduces the variance and gets you closer to your true expectation, but it’s tough to put in huge volume – for one, it takes a lot of time. Standard MTTs with decent structures take a big commitment. It’s why some players get tempted by turbos or even hyper-turbos. Be warned, though, the faster the structure, the more variance there is. Be careful not to play too much and burn yourself out, or play too many tournaments at once. You’ll know how many you can play without your game suffering.

Cash games provide much less variance than tournaments and give you set levels to move up and down through. Generally, the fewer opponents you play against, the higher the variance. Six-max provides more action but larger swings. Heads-up cash games might be exciting, but they’re also very aggressive. This is assuming you’re playing NLHE. If you’re playing PLO, you should give yourself an even bigger bankroll to play with.

Player pushing chips over the line to make a bet
Neil Stoddart

7 rules for effective bankroll management

In this Bankroll Series , we’re going to look at everything connected with bankroll management and poker finances in general. But it’s always good to start with the basics, so check out these seven rules of bankroll management before moving up to the next level – our comprehensive guide to cash and tournament play . Because poker is more fun when you’re winning. 

  1. Start small and aim high
    You want to build your confidence and your skills, and it’s easier to undo all your hard work than it is to build back up again.
  1. Don’t play above your bankroll
    It might be tempting to take a big shot, but what if it doesn’t come off? Think long-term and don’t rely on a huge bink. 
  1. Be disciplined
    Successful poker bankroll management is all about discipline, but that doesn’t mean poker can’t be fun. Poker is more fun when you're winning. 
  1. Take a break
    If you’re losing and you can feel yourself getting emotional, just stop playing. The games will still be there when you get back.
  1. Avoid chasing losses
    Losses are a part of poker – no one wins all the time, no matter what Phil Hellmuth says. Chasing losses will likely lead to bigger losses. Take your Ls and move on.
  1. Keep detailed records
    This is absolutely crucial. You need to know how much your bankroll is, how much you’re winning, and how much you’re losing over specific time periods in all the different games you play.
  1. Look at the big picture 
    Above all else, take a tip from the crypto bros – if in doubt, zoom out. Successful bankroll management is all about the long game, so have a long-term perspective. Don’t get caught up in short-term results and know you’ll have downs as well as ups on your personal chart. Stay disciplined, stay focused, and remember that a successful poker career is a marathon, not a sprint.

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