Bankroll management

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Bankroll management is an essential part of winning poker.

Conventional wisdom

In discussion forums a lot of the questions revolve around bankroll issues: "What kind of a bankroll do i need to play such-and-such game/limit?", or "How can I best build my bankroll with bonuses and rakeback, as well as playing?". Conventional wisdom is that winning professional players should be bankrolled as follows:

Game Standard Example
Limit hold'em 1,000 big bets $6,000 at a $3/6 game
No-limit hold'em 100 maximum buy-ins $10,000 at a $100 max buy-in game in which you typically buy in for the maximum
Pot-limit Omaha 150 maximum buy-ins (see link below) $15,000 at a $100 max buy-in game in which you typically buy in for the maximum

However, these numbers assume no replenishment of resources if you go broke. To the other extreme, if you're independently wealthy and can afford to lose all the money you're staking at poker, bankroll issues probably don't matter much. (Hence you probably wouldn't be reading this article...) Most of us fall somewhere between these two extremes.

For highly skilled players (including professionals) "bankroll management" may refer to something rather specific and extremely important. The skilled player expects to make a profit playing poker in the long run. However, like everyone else, they may experience days (or even weeks) when they make a loss, perhaps due to an unfortunate series of unlikely outdraws. Part of being a skilled poker player lies in making sure these short-term swings in fortune don't get large enough to wipe out your bankroll (the money you have available to play poker with) altogether. "Bankroll Management" is therefore about having a strategy that keeps the losses you make from those inevitable runs of bad luck to a level that your bankroll can sustain.

Obviously playing at higher stakes can increase the size of the swings in your bankroll, but there are many other factors to consider. For example, a player who plays mainly in multi-table tournaments is likely to experience much bigger swings than a cash-game player. Your profits playing in MTTs will depend largely on a relatively small number of big wins when you make it to the final table. A stroke of bad luck in a tournament you might otherwise have won can be a huge hit to your overall profits. Again, an Omaha player is likely to see bigger swings than a Hold'Em player playing at the same stake level. Bankroll swings will also depend on a player's playing style. Some players make a profit by winning lots of small pots and may make a profit very consistently. Other players make profits from a small number of big hands and may see a big swing in their bankroll when a series of these hands go wrong.

But, some might say, a professional player can build his bankroll up to whatever level he likes, so why should such variances bother him? The answer is that professional players take money out of their bankrolls so they can have money to live on - they've got to eat and pay bills like everyone else - so their bankroll remains limited and they sometimes have to adjust their strategy accordingly - perhaps changing the games they play or adjusting their style - in order to ensure their bankroll won't be swallowed up by a run of bad luck!

Bankroll and the losing player

-Of course, for a losing player, the standard line is that 'no bankroll will ever be big enough', I disagree; there are things that you can do with your bankroll to mitigate your poor (hopefully improving) play. the first thing is to keep at least $500 in your roll, such that you can take advantage of the various party skin, pokerstars, and paradise reloads. A -4BB/100 loser playing on a bonus all the time will be breakeven or better at .50/1. If they only had the standard 300BB, they would not be able to pad their play with the reload bonuses, and will be broke eventually unless they get better fast.

-Response by pzhon:

The 300 BB figure assumes a particular win rate. You should include any bonuses or rakeback in the calculation of your win rate.

If your win rate is higher, perhaps because you take advantage of bonuses most of the time when you play, you may need significantly less than 300 BB. This is the case with the better Cryptologic bonuses. You can comfortably play with about 100 BB when you get paid an extra 4.5 BB/table-hour.

If your win rate is lower than is commonly assumed, perhaps because you are playing in tough games, or do not know how to play shorthanded well, you will need a much larger bankroll than 300 BB. If you are a losing player after taking into account all factors, you will burn through any amount eventually. Having a large bankroll will not convert a losing player to a winning player.

A good place to start to decide what kind of bankroll you required is to use a variance calculator. Input your winrate, standard deviation (typically around 100bb/100 for 6max NLHE) and number of hands. This will output a series of curves informing you how likely you are to be go broke over that number of hands. Vary your winrate and number of hands to get a sense of how variance effects your winnings over 'small samples'. Small samples are considered anything less than 100,000 hands.

Bankroll as a means to financial discipline

-Some will say: "Why bankroll? if, for example, a person is making 50k/year, there's no reason they can't lose 2+BB/100 at 1/2 and never risk any kind of financial problems, poker is an inexpensive hobby (compared to many other ways to spend your dough) for the great majority of players." I disagree with this, too, and i think that people that just deposit whenever they want to play and then slowly lose it are losing more than they think. Maintaining a bankroll is the best way to track your progress and limit your losses; it forces you to become a better player. Even if you make a ton of money and only play very low stakes, there is a purpose and a justification for using the standard bankroll paradigm (300BB or 20 Buy-ins)- the point is that using a roll makes you a better player faster.

Arguments for larger bankroll

-for the winning player, i sometimes feel that the 300BB rule isn't enough. I am rolled to play 10/20, but there is no way I'm confidant enough in my abilities to beat that level long-term. so, i play mostly 3/6, which i can consistently beat. When i first moved up to this limit (i play mostly stud- hold em I'll only go as high as 2/4) i played scared, even though my roll was bigger than necessary (I'm young and not yet a wealthy person, so seeing more than $100 in a limit pot go the other way hurts a bit). I'm just getting to the point that i can play at that limit totally fearlessly, that is, correctly. I am also willing to play at lower stakes- down to 1/2, if i think i can make more money and clear bonus faster at that level.

Arguments against excessive bankroll

-but i wouldn't take that concept too far - it's important to avoid playing so low that you are not challenged at all, and the money doesn't matter. Sometimes when I'll sit at a really small table I notice that i play terribly, being a maniac, not paying attention, etc. this isn't making me a better player, which is my goal. I think all players should play at the level where it stings a little to lose a big pot, but not enough to make you play scared.

The solution to avoiding an excessive bankroll is to mitigate risks to your bankroll] by:

  1. supplementing it with a secondary income
  2. moving down to lower stakes if your bankroll drops below half of what is required at your current stakes
  3. play tournaments with a flatter payout structure
  4. play tournaments with few entries

-There is a school of though that say if you have more than 600BB for your limit, you are losing your potential increased winnings at a higher level. There is some merit to this idea.

-Also, I think there are probably a lot of players that stick to the 300BB minimum far too rigidly. The 300BB number should only apply to your normal limit. One shouldn't be afraid to take a shot at a bigger game if it looks really good. When i see a known maniac/fish sit at a 5/10 table, and there's a seat open on his left, I'm there, even though that's a bit bigger than my normal game. Also, taking a shot once in a while will condition the fear out of a player as they prepare to make the move to a higher limit full-time. Also, live games are often much weaker than online games, and have bigger limits- I have seen live 8/16 games that were softer than Party 1/2. why wouldn't you play, if you're disciplined enough to quit if your roll gets seriously threatened?

Multi-table tournament bankroll

One often-cited benchmark is 100 buy-ins for multi-table tournaments. Although this may seem even more conservative than recommendations for other games, it's important to keep in mind that variance per hour is higher than in sit-and-gos since they take so much longer to play and the payout structure is steeper (i.e., the top 5 make much more than merely getting in the money).

Although 100 buy-ins is often cited by many "expert" sources, the reality is that the requirements vary wildly based on [1] your skill level (represented by your ROI), and [2] the number of entries in the tournament.

The required bankroll for multi-table tournaments is going to vary wildly based on the following factors:

  1. Entries
  2. Payout structure (i.e. how "top heavy" the prize pool is)
  3. Win rate (i.e. return on investment, or ROI)
  4. % in the money (ITM)

Entries is by far the biggest factor. Some people postulate that you might only need 66 buy-ins for a 10-player tournament, 83 for a 45-player tournament, but a whopping 473 for a 7,789 player tournament (566 to increase your chances of avoiding going broke from 95% to 99.7%).

-Added by pzhon:

See this post. The standard deviations of tournaments can be 1.7 buy-ins for 10-player SNGs, 4 buy-ins for a 150 player MTT, and over 7 buy-ins for a 700 player MTT. Winning at a higher rate can increase your standard deviation in MTTs link. The main problem with determining a MTT bankroll is that you need to estimate your win rate, which can take hundreds or thousands of tournaments.

If you assume a 50% ROI on tournaments with a SD of 5 buy-ins, the c*SD^2/WR formula with c set to 2 suggests a bankroll of 100 buy-ins. This bankroll is analogous to that of a limit player who has 225 BB with a SD of 15 BB/100 and a win rate of 2 BB/100.

Open questions

-if i have a 6k roll, what level MTTs should i be playing? I have a very good tournament record (sample size- I've only played about 20 of 'em), cashing often, but i've never played any bigger than a $35 buy-in. TYIA

how do you use your roll? how 'bout those MTTs?

fnord_too's thoughts on tourney bankrolls: Other than the normal BR considerations (how easy is it to reload, are MTTs a necessary income, etc.) the other big factors to consider with MTT's are:

Average Number of Entrants: I think this is huge. In my experience, and intellectually, it is much easier to have higher in the money finish percentages in smaller fields of equal skill level. If you are say playing in nightly tournaments that have 150ish players, and pay out 20 spots, you can get by with a smaller bankroll. (Another reason for this is that if a site pays say 10 players / 100, at the smaller number of entrants the percentage of players paid can be higher. For instance, if a site jumps to the next level of payout at the 50 mark, then at 150 you have 20 places, or 13.3% of the field paid. At 550, you have 60 places, or just under 11% of the field paid.)

Payout schedule: Flatter payout schedules reduce variance.

Strength of field: In my experience, this is not as correlated to the price of the tournament as one would think.

Your abilities: Obviously, the better you play the higher your expectation and in the money percentage should be.

Rebuy structure: Tournaments with rebuys require more money. Some have limitted rebuys but most have unlimmited rebuys for the first hour. Why bother with these? you may ask. The reason you may want to play these is that a lot of people do not employ good strategy. Sure, a lot of people don't employ good strategy at freeze out tournaments either, but this is just another set of ways for people to make mistakes.

So how much do you need? I have played a lot in nightly 25+2.5 tournaments that hae ~150 entrants, and either 10 or 20 places paid depending on which side of 150 the number ends up. I feel very comftorable with an $800 BR for these tournies (~30 buy ins). For something like the $150+ buy in tournaments that have 500+ entrants, I wouldn't feel comftorable with less than $10k, which is over 60 buy ins. I'm not sure if that is enough there, either. Take these numbers with a grain of salt, though. I am a strong tournament player with a lot of experience, but I have not crunched any risk of ruin numbers or the like.

Discussion threads

Negative examples

  • 2/5 NL *Super Deep* (2+2 High stakes no-limit, May 2006) - Hero considers folding middle set because he can't afford to lose a huge pot.

(Most of text of this article's original version was written by Two Plus Two user bholdr. However, like anything else on a wiki it can be edited, moved around, expanded, etc. according to community consensus. -- PhilipR 13:02, 14 Jun 2005 (UTC))

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