poker bankroll management

Introduction to Bankroll Management

Good Bankroll Management (BRM) is an imperative for any poker fan, given that the health of our finances is the overall aim of the game. Without a sensible, patient and realistic approach to this crucial aspect of poker nobody would be able to attain and subsequently retain any level of success. And this poker truism applies to everyone, including the very skilful. The point we should never forget is that, however well we play at the tables, it will ultimately come to nothing if we fail to engineer and then adhere to a workable BRM strategy. With this article we aim to help all those Tournament, Sit & Go and Double or Nothing players who, for whatever reason, have yet to get to grips with BRM.

What is a Bankroll and how do we ‘manage’ it?

In our online poker context, a bankroll is a sum of money that we set aside to be used exclusively for funding our poker quest. We might have it all in one poker room or spread across several, and it’s also common nowadays to keep part of our bankroll in accounts with online payment services such as Skrill or Neteller. Regardless, the whole point is that it is only for poker and (of course), in an ideal world, we want the bankroll to remain intact, hopefully increasing over time. The thing we must endeavour to avoid is finding ourselves needing to add funds in order to keep playing, the worst case scenario being going bust. While anything is possible in poker, we have the power to mitigate circumstances and engineer situations that keep the chances of disaster to a minimum – and that’s where prudent BRM comes in to play.

Smart MTT, SnG and DoN players should manage their bankrolls on the same lines as a business. As much as poker is a fun game, of course, the fundamental aim is to end up with more money than we started with. To this end, our bankroll is to our poker career what an initial seed or start-up investment is to a conventional business. We put down our capital (Bankroll) in our poker company (tournaments etc) in the hope or expectation of a return on our investment (ROI). It follows, then, that in order to reduce risk, we limit transactions (buy-ins) to a manageable level that can sustain whatever variance we might come across – just as a business would ensure to keep this or that cost/investment within strict parameters of the overall capital. Poker, at the end of the day, requires the same sober balance of risk, prudence and discipline that any decent entrepreneur would require in order to enjoy any kind of long-term success.

Online poker bankroll management (BRM) is essentially a means of managing the risk of going ‘bankrupt’ by putting in place strict (and necessary) measures that revolve around the level of the buy-in(s) for tournaments in relation to the size of the bankroll.

Factors that need to be taken into consideration when trying to find a workable balance are variance, win-rate, risk of ruin, and ROI.

What is ROI?

ROI (Return On Investment) is the comparison of profitability in relation to the cost of playing. We have an expected return for our investment, and we can calculate an actual ROI easily. For example, if we play a Sit & Go that has a $10 buy-in + $1 fee and win a prize of $10, we have lost $1 on that tournament. The ROI here would be minus 1/11 = minus 9.1% which, perhaps not surprisingly, is around the average ROI among Sit & Go fans. Any kind of positive long-term ROI, then, would be good news indeed in today’s Sit & Go world!

As well as a specific ROI we consider expected ROI based on a sample of results. The more we play, the more accurately this can be determined, and the closer the two become.

Our recommendations for bankroll management are aimed at players who can beat their current buy-in level and who expect a ROI in the region of 5%-10%. Those with a high expected ROI can get away with smaller bankrolls at the same level of others with a less positive strike rate, while if you are doubtful of a 5% ROI we suggest going higher than what is recommended in our table (below):

brm probability downswing

Risk of Ruin

Risk of ruin might sound rather dramatic, but the prospect of seeing our bankroll disappear in a puff of virtual smoke is a serious one! It’s obviously important to have an idea of the likelihood of ruin when deciding on what level to play at. As simplistic as it seems, the higher proportion of our bankroll we commit to each bite of the proverbial cherry, the greater risk of ruin we are taking. Using a bankroll of $1,000 to have a go at beating $100 buy-in Sit & Go games would be a risky – and quite foolhardy – strategy compared with safeguarding the same investment by playing $10 games. If you think that the first plan is exaggerated and unrealistic, it’s a lot more common than many believe, and the reason why so many go bust.

One more thing you need to know: your win-rate will probably decrease after you move up in stakes. It stands to reason that a recreational player who prefers $5 buy-in games can expect less competition than a pro grinder who battles away for $500 a game. It’s by no means unusual in this context for a less skilled player to have a higher ROI and win-rate than a strong high stakes veteran.

Buy-ins according to your level

Recreational: 15-20 buy-ins

Serious: 20-35 buy-ins

Full-time: 50-100 buy-ins

50 buy-in Bankroll according to different levels

$3+ 0.30 SNGs = $165
$5+ 0.50 SNGS = $275
$10+1 SNGs = $550
$20+2 SNGs = $1100
$25+2 SNGs = $1350
$30+3 SNGs = $1650
$55+5 SNGs = $3000
$100+9 SNGs = $5450

Tournament types

The type of tournament being played has a significant influence on Bankroll Management – specifically in terms of the amounts to be won and the payout structure. For example, playing Heads-Up (HU) Sit & Go or Double or Nothing Tournaments (DON) – doesn’t require as large a bankroll as would be the case when specialising in Multi Table Tournaments tournaments with 500-player fields. We can expect to profit half the time when playing DON games, but a standard success rate in MTTs can be 10%, while winning big might happen only once in 50 tournaments.

These tables will help determine your bankroll

Essentially, the more serious the player in their ambitions (and the greater the importance of money), the more stringent the parameters.

Bankroll Management Strategies

We can break down Bankroll Management into two distinct categories, namely ‘conservative’ and ‘aggressive’ strategy. In other words, depending on how much risk you are willing to take, you can choose to play with many (conservative) or few buy-ins (aggressive).

Serious players who invest time and money in poker to earn money for ‘life’ in the same way someone has a conventional job should clearly lean to the more cautious, conservative approach, whereas those mainly seeking a fun, hobbyist experience can let loose a little and enjoy the thrills and spills of a more relaxed, aggressive (albeit riskier!) style.

Here are advantages and disadvantages of both strategies:

Conservative Strategy

Benefits

  • Lessens the need to move down in limits.
  • Decreases the likelihood of downswings by keeping each ‘sit down’ amount to a minimum. Note that doing this also reduces possible psychological stress.
  • Encourages staying at the same level and, consequently, allows players to get used to the game and developmental process over time.
  • The volume of games at the same level can lead to a good, reliable Return of Investment.

Disadvantages

  • It takes longer to move up limits.
  • Longer waiting time to see progress at the relevant buy-in level.

Aggressive Strategy

Benefits

  • Strong and improving players can move up limits quicker, which in turn ramps up the rate of profit.
  • Players are incentivised by the prospect of moving up limits quickly.

Disadvantages

  • It can be annoying and frustrating having to move down limits.
  • Downswings – even comparatively short ones – can remove a considerable proportion of the bankroll.
  • Extra care must be taken to adhere absolutely to the BRM – failure to move down at the right time can be seriously detrimental to your bankroll.
  • Moving up limits too quickly can lead to playing with so-called ‘scared money’ and, as a consequence, sub-optimal play.

Game Variants

With so many kinds of Sit & Go games these days, it helps to be able to adjust BRM accordingly. Here are some of the most popular games:

  • Hyper/Super Turbo

Playing these fast and often crazy games means having to be prepared for what can be enormous, volatile swings. It’s prudent to increase general guideline amounts by at least 50% when determining BRM criteria.

  • Double/Nothing or Fifty50

With half the field getting paid and the mechanics of the game not requiring any extra nuanced strategy, this format lends itself to a more relaxed BRM.

  • Knockout

The more recreational feel to the Knockout format attracts more novice players. It’s interesting to note that bounties tend to balance the increased variance, suggesting a BRM similar to standard games.

  • Steps

These games can be profitable, and losses are much smaller, but there’s only the occasional big win.

  • Multi-Table

More players than single-table games equates to higher payouts for 1st, but due to the lower ‘winning’ frequency we advise standard BRM for 2-table games and a little larger for 45-player games. 90 to 180-player Sit & Go games, meanwhile, effectively put us in the MTT category (e.g. 100 buy-ins).

YourPokerDream Bankroll Management Recommendations

Very often the ultimate BRM decision comes down to how this or that player feels most comfortable (as opposed to least uncomfortable!). A key factor is someone’s willingness or otherwise to take risks. We have put together the following table in order to help determine how many buy-ins are appropriate for different tournament types, as well as considering the level of risk.

In the columns you’ll see the Sit & Go formats, Double or Nothing (DoN), Heads-up, 18-45 player Sit & Go and Multi-Table Tournaments (MTT; tournaments with 100 or more players).

If you want to pursue an aggressive Sit & Go BRM, then 50 buy-ins for standard and 30 buy-ins for Double or Nothing (DoN) are the minimum bankroll requirement. For example, if you have $1,200 available you can play $22 Sit & Go (54 buy-ins) or $33 DoN (36 buy-ins). If you have a downswing and your bankroll is reduced to less than $550, then you must move down from $22 to $11 because you have only 50 buy-ins left for that lower limit.

One more thought: the fastest way for the vast majority of players to increase their profits is to stop sitting at tables full of other grinders and instead seek out weaker opposition. PokerStars is great for serious players, but does have a lot of grinders. We recommend you give one of the other big sites a try and compare the games – Party Poker, Bwin Poker, Betsson Poker, PokerKing, Winner Poker or Coral Poker are all potentially lucrative hunting grounds.

Conclusion

It’s a must for all poker players to have a bankroll and accompanying appropriate BRM strategy that acts as an effective protection against variance. Fortunately, this vital aspect of poker is one over which we have considerable control and, as such, requires as much ‘skill’ and patience and so on as other areas of the game. This is a discipline that must be learned if you are to enjoy any level of long-term success (even if it is enough top simply allow to continue as a recreational player). Don’t risk too much money at one time, and don’t lose out to impatience by moving up limits too quickly. By safeguarding and nurturing your bankroll you’ll be able to enjoy poker for a long time and perhaps even find your path to poker glory…

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The last changes of the page “Bankroll Management for SNG, MTT and DON” was made by YPD on November 25, 2021