Proper bankroll management is a crucial component in the success of serious poker players. Ironically, it’s also a commonly misunderstood area of the game.
Most of the top poker professionals understand that having a solid grasp of our poker bankroll is fundamental to winning in poker. We can’t hope to make it to the highest of levels if we don’t have the backing and skill to do so.
One way to ensure that we give ourselves the best chance to make it is by learning what and what not to do with our bankroll.
Here we will consider 5 common misconceptions about bankroll management in poker.
1. The More Buy-Ins, The Better
The more buy-ins we have for a specific game, the less likely we are to wind up losing our entire bankroll. It’s therefore natural to assume that the more buy-ins we have, the better since we increase the safety of our bankroll.
While that may be true to a point, playing with too many buy-ins can be more of a hindrance than a help.
This scenario can perhaps be understood best with an extreme example. Imagine the following two players are starting at the lowest limit games of online poker.
Player A: Requires 1,000 buy-ins in his bankroll before taking a shot at the next limit.
Player B: Requires 25 buy-ins in his bankroll before taking a shot at the next limit.
Player A is very unlikely to blow through his entire bankroll, but it should, hopefully, be evident that there is a severe problem with his bankroll management strategy.
It will take him far too long to make any significant progress through the limits.
Assuming both players win the same number of buy-ins, there is a genuine possibility that by the time Player B reaches the highest stakes online, player A will still be grinding it out at the lowest limits. Player A’s overly conscious approach to bankroll security ends up being a considerable leak.
So, what is our overall goal when selecting a bankroll management?
To take shots at the next limit as aggressively as possible while still retaining an appropriate degree of bankroll safety.
Every hand that Player A plays while being rolled for the next limit up ends up carrying a huge opportunity cost. Safer is not necessarily better.
2. I’m Good Enough to Get Away With Playing Under-Rolled
No matter how obvious it may appear to some, there will always be players who assume that following a bankroll management strategy doesn’t apply to them.
We might imagine that if we play tight and cautious poker, or that we have a solid edge against the player pool, that we can get away without the proper bankroll requirements. While our skill edge certainly minimises the chance that we go broke, it doesn’t remove the possibility entirely.
Even good players can end up going on prolonged downswings, and a good bankroll management strategy should be able to absorb those swings. For example, imagine we were attempting to play a cash game with only five buy-ins in our roll.
The first three stacks we get all-in with the best hand (perhaps AA preflop) and end up getting sucked out. We find ourselves card-dead and end up watching our last two stacks dwindle away.
The point is, we didn’t lose our bankroll because we lack skill. We lost our bankroll because variance will catch up with every player from time to time no matter how skilled they are. Serious poker players hence respect the importance of proper bankroll management even when playing against a weak field.
3. We Only Need to Look at Buy-Ins for the Current Limit
There is a poker formula known as the “risk of ruin” formula. It allows players to estimate their percentage chance of going broke given specific parameters. For example, it looks at metrics such as winrate, standard deviation and number of buy-ins in our bankroll.
Let’s imagine that a player was playing the 50nl online cash games with a bankroll of $1,000. We might assume that the risk of ruin percentage is based around the possibility of that player losing 20 buy-ins. That would be incorrect, however. It’s important not to forget that we can aggressively move up and down limits based on the size of our bankroll.
For example, imagine we were to drop ten buy-ins at 50nl. We might move down to 25nl with our $500 bankroll. If we were to lose a further ten buy-ins at 25nl, we might then move down to 10nl with our $250 bankroll.
The complete progression might appear as follows –
$1,000 à 10 buy-ins at 50nl à$500
$500 à 10 buy-ins at 25nl à $250
$250 à 10 buy-ins at 10nl à$150
$150 à 20 buy-ins at 5nl à $50
$50 à 25 buy-ins at 2nl à Broke
That’s a total of 75 buy-ins that are technically in our bankroll. The chances of going broke with such a bankroll management strategy are low, assuming that we expect to generate a positive winrate.
So, what at first glance may appear like an especially aggressive bankroll management strategy (i.e. 20 buy-ins at 50nl), actually turns out to be on the reserved side. This situation is the case provided we have the discipline to move down limits when our bankroll calls for it.
However, rather than see the exact number of buy-ins they are playing with, players tend to only consider the absolute number they have for the limit they are playing. As such, it’s commonplace to see players waiting for 30 ($1500) or 40 buy-ins ($2000) before playing a cash game limit such as 50nl.
While the exact number of buy-ins required to play is a personal choice, many players are hence assuming their bankroll management strategy is riskier than it is. They do not include the ability to move down limits as part of their calculation.
4. Taking Big Shots at the Next Limit Up Is Best
It’s common for players to spend a decent amount of time building a shot amount for the next limit up. It’s not unheard of for players to even save up 20+ buy-ins, which they plan on using for their shot.
Is this the best approach, however?
Keep in mind one of the general principles for bankroll management –
We want to spend as much time as possible playing the highest limit our bankroll allows.
Remember that any time we play a lower limit game when our bankroll allows for higher limit play, there is an opportunity cost associated with that. We won’t be able to grow our bankroll as large as we potentially could in the long run, because we are wasting our time playing lower limit games.
Saving up overly large shot amounts for the next limit is a perfect example of a situation where we are spending too long playing the lower limit games. For example, imagine we spend time saving up 20 buy-ins for a shot at the next limit.
Upon finally taking our shot, we might lose three buy-ins, and then we start spinning up, and our shot goes through. Of what value are those other 17 buy-ins that we’d saved up for the chance? (None.)
Of course, if we were to take a three buy-in shot, there is the possibility it might fail. But if we save up for another three buy-in shot and it goes through, we’ve still saved ourselves 14 buy-ins of grinding relative to the big 20 buy-in shot.
So, if bigger shots can easily be demonstrated to be mathematically superior, why is it that the average player prefers to shoot the next limit with more significant numbers of buy-ins?
The answer is purely for psychological reasons.
1. The player feels mentally more comfortable having more buy-ins.
2. The player is less likely to need to deal with the psychological “pain” of moving down limits.
Since we should purely focus on the mathematical expectation of our decisions, we’ll do much better in the long run if we can condition ourselves to be comfortable taking smaller shots. (Even if means our shots will now fail more often).
5. We Can Figure Out Our BRM Strategy On The Fly
This situation would be similar to a business not running any projections beforehand and saying things along the lines of “let’s just hope the numbers add up”. Any serious business will make estimations regarding the numbers before they even begin trading. They’ll want to know whether their gameplan is viable before putting it into action.
Serious poker players can take a lesson from this; we don’t want to leave our bankroll management strategy to chance.
There are two critical reasons for this:
1. We’ll end up playing under-rolled or over-rolled.
Both of these can rob a poker player of the chance of getting serious returns from the poker tables. Remember that playing over-rolled is also an egregious leak (not just playing under-rolled).
2. We’ll end up making rash decisions.
The big problem with not having a set strategy in place is that it can quickly become “flexible” in times of emotion. We have a terrible day and decide to shoot additional buy-ins on a particular limit. Or we are lacking confidence and choose to play several limits lower than our bankroll management strategy allows.
So, how do we avoid leaving our bankroll management strategy to chance?
We need to document our strategy in depth beforehand. A spreadsheet might be suitable for this, although there is doubtless a range of other tools that can potentially be used.
A good plan will have the following –
Number of buy-ins required for shooting each limit
Size of the shot at each limit
Plan for dropping down limits and rebuilding
See the following table as an example. We have based it around the cash game limits at the 888poker tables.
Note how our requirements for bankroll management get slightly tighter as we move up limits – our skill edge will not be as significant when facing tougher players.
Although the above table has been designed exclusively for cash games, we should make similar plans for tournaments. (We’ll typically need a tighter bankroll for tournaments. The standard advice is not to invest more than about 1-2% of our bankroll on a tournament buy-in).
Stick to the Script!
While some of the above bankroll management advice may seem standard to experienced poker players, the truth is that these points remain as misconceptions for the average player. A decent chunk of both planning and discipline is required to execute proper bankroll management consistently.
It’s also important once the bankroll management plan is in place that we stick to it. One recommendation is only to allow desired changes to the strategy 24 hours after we’ve made the decision. This situation helps to avoid rash bankroll management decisions made in a moment of tilt.
In other words, stick to the script, and watch the profits roll in!