What do poker players hate to talk about and rarely practice? If you guessed poker bankroll management, then you would be correct. Poker players are known for lying in poker games, but they’re also lying off the table. The difference is that they’re lying to other people in poker games, and they’re lying to themselves off the poker table.
There are exceptions, including winning players and those who know how to stick to a poker bankroll. First we’ll look at the basics, then we’ll get to poker bankroll differences between cash games and poker tournaments.
Best Approach to Managing Your Poker Bankroll
The best way to maintain your poker bankroll is to play down. This means that you’re playing in lower-stake cash games and smaller buy-in tournaments.
On the cash game side, you might want to play 1/2 NL or 1/3 NL, but use logic. For example, the 2/5 NL game at Harrah’s Cherokee is much more beatable than the 1/2 NL game there. The 1/2 NL game at Harrah’s Cherokee has a $200 maximum buy-in and there is a $7 rake. For the $200 max buy-in, this means you will be unable to move your opponents off hands on big pots.
In most situations, they would have already committed a lot of their chips by the turn, let alone the river. Firing a big third bullet is unlikely to be effective. Therefore, you’re relying too much on the cards. As far as the $7 rake goes, it’s one of the highest in the country.
In most poker rooms, you’re fine at 1/2 NL. It’s the easiest game to beat, but just make sure you follow the poker rules of always checking the max buy-in and the poker rake.
On the tournament side, the smaller buy-in tournaments are going to have a higher rake, but they’re also going to attract softer players. A lot of players who crunch numbers and take the technical route to everything related to poker strategy won’t play in the low buy-in events because of the rake.
I understand what they’re trying to say, and I also hate a high rake, but you’re paying the higher rake for the softer field. Also, those same players that crunch numbers and say that a $135 Daily or $150 Nightly is a bad idea are often the same players that fire three bullets into $400 ring events.
Would you rather pay a high rake on a $135 or a $150 or risk $1,200 because of the lower rake? Some people might point to a bigger prize pool, but if you’re a good poker player then you’re going to win more in the smaller buy-in events because skill is more of a factor. You pick up a few thousand at a time, which allows you to be selective with the bigger buy-in events. This is proper poker bankroll management.
Traveling and food expenses also play a role. As far as traveling goes, try to stick to poker tournaments near you that are drivable. Also, make sure if you book a hotel room far in advance for a much cheaper price. I wouldn’t recommend booking your hotel through a third-party site because the hotel won’t have as much maneuverability if you can work out a deal with them.
Never be afraid to ask for a comped room. If you have a big social media presence, if you’re playing at their casino, or you have something else that offers value, call them. Always ask for a comped room first.
They might say, “We can’t comp your room, but we can offer you a discount.” If you start at the discount, they’re never going to say, “Well … I’m a really nice person, so I think I’m going to give you even more than that and comp your room.” If you’re going to fly, then it’s also imperative to book it as early as possible.
Cash Games Poker Bankroll Management
The basic rule for your poker bankroll in cash games is that you should buy-in for at least 100 times the big blind (BB). You should also never risk more than 5% on any one session. This is easier said than done for a lot of people, but if you stick to the following rules, you should be fine…
#1. Bring your buy-in and leave your ATM card at home. This won’t allow you to rebuy, which could put you in a tough spot at some point, but it’s better than the alternative, which is buying-in several times when not playing or running well and steamrolling yourself in regards to your poker bankroll. Also, 100 BB should be plenty for one session.
Furthermore, by only bringing one buy-in, you are absolutely going to be more focused. I know this because I have done both many times, and I can promise you that you will play better when you only bring one buy-in to a cash game. You’re going to play fewer poker hands, you’re not going to go on tilt as easily, and you’re going to let the game come to you (opposed to forcing the action).
#2. Never play any casino games against the house. If you do this, you have no shot at being a winning poker player. And if you tell people that you have some kind of system for beating craps, blackjack, or roulette, then you’re in denial. People like this aren’t keeping records of their wins and losses, but it’s simply impossible to be ahead over the long haul when you’re playing against the house.
If you have a bad habit of playing casino games, then I highly recommend only playing in poker rooms that are standalone poker rooms–opposed to poker rooms in casinos.
#3. Make sure you have an income outside of poker. This helps a ton. It will relax you because you will know that losses can be made up with hard work.
#4. Never play more than a 12-hour session. The normal rule is to not play more than eight hours, but I have a lot of endurance and I know there are other people like me, so it depends on the person. If you can stay focused for 12 hours, then I think it’s okay to stay for 12 hours. It won’t impact your poker bankroll.
#5. Play in soft games. This one is pretty obvious, but a lot of people let Ego and Greed get in the way, which are enemies #1 and #2 for any poker player.
Poker Bankroll Management for Tournaments
A lot of the rules above are similar, but temptation is much higher in the tournament scene. Let’s say you’re running bad and haven’t cashed in a while. For example, let’s say you have lost $3,000 over the past month. You just arrived at a poker tournament series and there are two poker tournaments ready to launch.
One is a $150 Daily. If you win this, you can get all your losses back in one shot. The other is a $400 event. You tell yourself that if you final table this one, you will win back your $3,000 and then some. And if you win the whole thing, you will be loved by the poker community for your success.
Do you see what happened there with the second option? Greed and Ego. They are always there, and you need to be aware of it. If you don’t admit that these two enemies exist, they’re going to get you. Stay modest. By doing so, you keep the pressure low, which will allow you to perform better.
A lot of poker players try to stick to the 5% rule. This means they will never buy-in to a poker tournament if the buy-in is more than 5% of their poker bankroll. The problem with this approach is that 5% is too high.
If someone has a $10,000 bankroll and they go on a downswing while consistently buying-in to $500 events, they’re eventually going to lose. That’s only 20 tournaments. Cold streaks are going to happen. There is no avoiding it.
I would recommend going with a 2% rule. That’s 50 buy-ins. 50 buy-ins! Not only is it 50 buy-ins, but it’s 50 buy-ins to poker tournaments with soft fields. If you can’t win money in poker after playing in 50 poker tournaments with soft fields, then you shouldn’t be playing poker.
Another key factor here is that you will pick up more about poker strategy just by playing. If your poker bankroll allows you to play in 50 poker tournaments opposed to 20 poker tournaments, then you’re going to see a lot more poker hands. The more poker hands you see, the more you learn. There is no substitute for experience.
By following the 2% rule with poker bankroll for tournaments, you’re also going to play better. This is obvious. If you buy-in to your first tournament for $200 and know that you have 49 more buy-ins if you fail here, do you really think you’re going to fear calling an all-in when you’re holding AK? Nope! You might not win that hand every time, but when you do win that hand, you’re in the driver’s seat. You are playing fearlessly in this situation.
However, if you were playing the 5% rule and only 19 more buy-ins, you might think twice about calling that all-in with AK. Everything is more important to you, and the potential of losing weighs on your mind. Not only that, if you’re following the 5% rule, then you’re likely playing in more competitive events.
Whether you realize it or not, you’re already chasing. You want that big money so you don’t have to worry about only having only 19 more buy-ins. Eliminate this stressor and stick to the 2% rule.
My Approach to Poker Bankroll Management
The first thing I do is look at the hotel options in the area. I look at the best values and make a list. I try to narrow it down to five hotels. Then I call the hotel and let them know about my social media following. I offer a review on my social media pages in exchange for comped rooms for every night.
They almost never agree to this, but remember, that’s just the starting point for bargaining purposes. They usually say, “Well, we can comp one or two nights.” Or they say, “Well, we can give you a discount for each night during your stay.”
If you want the same bargaining power, you don’t need to write books. Send friend requests to people in the five cities you visit most on all social media sites. Human beings are social creatures and want more friends. The majority of them are likely to accept. Once you reach the limit for followers/friends on that social media site, use it to your advantage.
The second thing I do is look at the poker tournaments taking place at the series and select which ones I want to play in. I take 1-2 bullets per tournament and immediately place my ATM card in a drawer. Since I know I won’t have access to more money, I’m going to focus more and play better. I’m essentially forcing myself to play better.
The third thing I do is play in those Texas Hold’em poker tournaments, which is usually a bunch of small buy-in tournaments and a few bigger buy-in tournaments. I use the smaller buy-in events as a place to earn money for the bigger buy-in events.
If I’m staying at a casino hotel with restaurants, then the fourth thing I do is show them my Yelp account (185,000 followers). I tell them that I will review all their restaurants in exchange for a free night. I don’t use those exact words, but you get the idea. They say yes about half the time.
My approach to poker bankroll management is a little different than the norm, but it has worked for me. There have been times when I have not followed my own poker rules on this, and that has hurt. Sometimes a lot. But those mistakes have been a lot less frequent. Live, learn, adapt. The best part for you is that you can learn from my mistakes and save a lot of money. Stay tight off the felt, my friend. See you at the WSOP!
Poker Bankroll – FAQ
How many buy-ins should your bankroll be for poker cash games?
A professional poker player should have at least 100 buy-ins at the ready for cash games, but most operate on less than that.
How do you manage a bankroll in poker?
You don't play anything against the house (no blackjack, no craps, no roulette, no sports betting etc.), you don't spend excess money on clubs or partying and you make as many deals possible for comps (free food and accommodations) to minimize costs.
How many buy-ins should your bankroll be for poker tournaments?
At least 50 buy-ins. The tournament world is different because you can find backers if you run into trouble.
Are cash games harder than tournaments to manage a bankroll?
Yes and No. They're easier in one sense because cash games aren't as tough as serious tournament play. On the other hand, you're not going to find many backers for cash games if you get into trouble because the upside potential isn't nearly the same.