The Bankroll Myth
October 28, 2006  
© 2006 Randy Saylor  

Just how important is the size of a recreational poker player’s bankroll in relation to their chosen limits? A related article, Defining Bankrolls, takes a look at the various ways to determine proper bankroll size in the various games and formats. This article explores how a recreational player can make runs at various games with only a cursory consideration for bankroll.

Risk and Reward

One of the regular criticisms by regular poker players about novices is their lack of bankroll discipline. This is an improper criticism. After all, who is to say what level of risk I should accept? Only I can determine what my risk tolerance is.

Now, if I tell you that I am a medium-skilled limit holdem player, and would like to play regularly at a specified limit, you would probably tell me to have a bankroll of 300 big bets. Instead, if I tell you that I like to play poker, but only do it once a year on my Las Vegas trip, are you really going to hold me to 300 big bets? Do I need $6000 to play $10/20?

Determining Goals

The standard bankroll recommendations are usually made for regular players. These can be adjusted upward or downward depending on the individual player’s goals and risk tolerance. These factors should be considered:

- Need for profit. Is the poker player a professional or semi-professional who needs to earn an income for their time investment, or are they a strictly recreational player? The greater the need for profit, the higher the bankroll requirements should be.
- Liquidity of bankroll. Is the player’s money tied up in several online poker sites with slow cashout policies, or are they strictly a live-game player who deals in cash? A very liquid bankroll can be much smaller if the player has other means to replenish it if necessary.
- Presence of outside resources. Does the player have funds outside of their bankroll to cover living expenses in the event of a temporary setback at the tables? If not, the player should reduce their bankroll and play lower limits.
- Skill level. A completely novice player that is determined to play regularly without re-depositing should play at substantially lower limits until their skill catches up with their bankroll.
- Gambling mentality. Specifically, this asks how much the player wants to risk in relation to their potential return. A “tourist” player might save $1000 as a bankroll for their annual casino trip. This player might be happiest playing $10/20 or $15/30, where the entire thousand could be lost (or doubled) in one or two sessions.
- Frequency of play. If you play online poker three or four days per week, you need a fairly substantial bankroll to avoid constant deposits and withdrawals.
- Ability to replace bankroll quickly. If you have a regular job and some disposable income, you can take a bigger risk with money, knowing that you will be able to replace it in a week or two.
- Previous profit cashed in. If you have pulled previous substantial winnings from your poker funds, you have some flexibility in this regard.
- Playing style. If you like to make big bets on draws, playing the odds for a potentially larger payoff, your variance will be high and you need a bigger bankroll. If you prefer to grind out profits in small chunks, a smaller roll is fine.
- Quality of opposition. Ironically, weaker opponents mean bigger variance for you if they are not selective.

All of these factors should be considered when the player picks a limit. I have no place criticizing you for playing $10/20 with $1000 unless you tell me you’re trying to go pro. The only real risk of playing on short money is missing out on an opportunity to make a great bet later because you lost your current funds. Short money players are only affected by the fear of busting out if they allow it. A weekend gambler might simply not care.

Playing Various Games on Short Money

Limit Holdem can be played on short money, although you should try to keep at least ten big bets on the table at any time (a fully capped pot requires 12 BB from each player). For every chip you are short of 12 big bets, that is one fewer chip that you can win if a big pot comes along.

No-limit holdem can also be played on short money, but rather than play one single maximum buy-in, it is probably better to spread your risk by buying in for less than the maximum several times. Although you are giving up something by not having the chance to take an opponent’s entire stack, this is a slightly lower-risk way to play these games short.

Omaha games tend to be very loose at low stakes, so by playing any amount of time without 12 BB (or a full stack at pot-limit), you are probably giving up too much potential

Sit-and-go tournaments do not lend themselves to short money play unless you expect to replenish your bankroll soon. Entering 10 SnGs at $10+1 with $110 is infinitely better than a single $100 SnG. What if you lose with AA all-in preflop on the first hand?

MTTs also require you to have funds in reserve. Since only ten per cent of players win a prize, it is possible for even very good players to go several tournaments without cashing. The only exception here might be the player who enters a weekly $50 tournament after receiving a paycheck. Even though this person’s bankroll is essentially $50 every week (and they play it all each week), their effective bankroll is really $2500 for the year, or 50 times the buy-in.

Full Tilt Poker Logo
Carbon Poker
100% up to $600
Doyles Room Logo
Aced Poker
150% up to $750
BetUS Logo
PDC Poker
100% up to $600