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Poker 101: Avoid Going Broke with Proper Bankroll Management

Bankroll management poker

If you’ve ever watched a TV show and seen a character lose a car or a house in a poker game, you would be forgiven for thinking the game is straight-up gambling and everyone goes broke sooner or later.

The reality is that many professional poker players are able to avoid going broke altogether by utilizing proper bankroll management.

Bankroll management, in short, is about not risking more than you’re willing to lose in a single game. It seems exceptionally simple but good poker players generally have some strict guidelines for themselves that help dictate what games they can play.

In our ongoing Poker 101 series, we take a deep dive on bankroll management and give some basic tips on how to avoid blowing too much money on poker.

Rule #1: Set Aside an Amount for Playing Poker

This might seem like an obvious one but if you’re at all serious about poker, it’s smart to set aside a certain amount that’s just for playing poker. That’s your bankroll.

Having a bankroll accomplishes a couple of things:

1. It dictates what stakes you can play.
2. It eases the pain of losing sessions.

Poker is a unique game in that cold hard cash is essentially the point system. You can cash out at any time and use that money for anything you want.

The problem is that you don’t want to be thinking about real-world expenses when you’re playing poker. You want to separate the game from real life. You never want to play with scared money.

That’s why it’s important for every player to have a bankroll. It can make a losing session much more tolerable because it’s just a hit to your bankroll. Not your real-life bankroll.

Eventually if you get good at poker, you can always take cash out of your bankroll and spend it on real-world purchases, but for the early stages you should just focus on keeping that money purely for poker.

Rule #2: Don’t Risk More Than 5%

Once you have a bankroll set aside, you can figure out what stakes you should be playing.

Different players have different ideas about how much you should have in your bankroll to play certain games, but the common guideline is 20 buy-ins for No-Limit Hold’em cash games. In other words, you should never risk more than five percent of your bankroll on a single game.

Let’s break that down. Say you deposit $100 on an online poker site (which is generally the cheapest way to get started).

All you need to do is divide $100 by 20, which is $5. That means you can play any game where the buy-in is $5 or less.

The standard buy-in for cash games is 100 big blinds so you’ll likely want to play a game where the big blind is $.05. That leads us to the stakes of $.02/$.05. If you lose a considerable amount of your bankroll, then you should drop down to $.01/$.02 where the standard buy-in is just $2.

Using the 20 buy-ins rule, here’s the bankroll you’d need to play some of the most common stakes in poker:

StakesStandard Buy-inMinimum Bankroll
$.01/$.02$2.00$40.00
$.02/$.05$5.00$100.00
$.05/$.10$10.00$200.00
$.10/$.25$25.00$500.00
$.25/$.50$50.00$1,000.00
$.50/$1$100.00$2,000.00
$1/$2$200.00$4,000.00
$5/$10$1,000.00$20,000.00

Keep in mind that not everyone chooses to play this way. There are many professional poker players who’ve decided to risk their entire bankroll (or more!) on a game that was simply too juicy to pass up. We can’t recommend that strategy to anyone as a run of bad luck could put an end to your poker career in one fell swoop.

That said, it is your money and you can play poker however you want. If you want to risk 10, 50 or even 100 percent of your bankroll on a game, then you can certainly do that.

Rule #3: Move Up When You Can

You’ll notice that you can also use the chart above to decide when to move up in stakes.

If you’re consistently beating the $.02/$.05 game and your bankroll has reached $200-plus, then you should definitely move up in stakes.

Moving up in stakes might sound scary but it’s the only way to test your game against superior competition and figure out if you can beat the next level. If you’re able to beat the next level of stakes, then you’ll find that your win rate will go up exponentially.

Even if you find that you’re getting beaten up, you can always move back down to the stakes where you were able to dominate. There’s really no risk if you utilize proper bankroll management.

Bankroll management might sound like a rather simple strategy but it can help accomplish amazing things. Back in the mid-2000s, Full Tilt Poker pro Chris “Jesus” Ferguson was able to turn $0 into $10,000 using strict bankroll management.

He played a number of freerolls to help build his initial bankroll and then he moved up the stakes to eventually finish up $10,000 in 18 months.

Not everyone will be able to accomplish that kind of feat but utilizing proper bankroll management should at least make going broke very unlikely.

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