Defining Poker Bankrolls
October 28, 2006  
2006 Randy Saylor  

The standard bankrolls for various poker games are a source of much discussion among regular poker players. This article defines the ideal bankroll for regular play at each of several common games. A related article, The Bankroll Myth, shows that the bankroll requirements below should be adjusted for various types of players and how the adjustments should be done.


Common Bankroll for Fixed Limit Holdem

Three hundred big bets is the oft-quoted rule for limit players, especially at the lower limits. For example, a poker player wanting to play $1/2 should have at least $600. If pressed to name a minimum amount to play fixed limit, I would suggest that a player go no lower than 200 big bets to allow for normal variance and unlucky streaks.


This is possible playing online poker, because a smart player who takes advantage of bonuses offered by the various poker sites can endure more bad luck and downswings with the same win rate.


Higher limits do not mean higher bankrolls in terms of big bets (of course the actual dollar amount is higher). Often the play at higher limits is more standardized, which should have the effect of reducing variance. When more pots are decided before the flop or on the flop, you can play with a smaller bankroll due to the smaller swings.


No-limit Holdem Bankrolls


Determining a no-limit holdem bankroll is difficult, because playing style and game selection makes a big difference in the variance a poker player will experience. An aggressive player who sees lots of flops needs more than a tight player. The loose, aggressive player will hit more flops and be betting more often. This increases volatility, so the player should have a larger bankroll to weather the storms. The tight, aggressive player will experience lower volatility and correspondingly needs a smaller bankroll.


Loose players will win (and lose) more pots, and those pots won (and lost) will generally be larger. This creates a significant cash flow, so the swings will be large. Good players, of course, will be more positive than negative in the long run, but must have the bankroll to sustain losing streaks until the cards turn.


Tight players will win (and lose) fewer pots, and the corresponding money wins and losses will tend to be smaller. Opponents will be less likely to pay off a tight player.


The typical range for a no-limit bankroll is ten to twenty maximum buy-ins for the chosen level. This allows the player to play a hand to the limit without being restrained by the fear of going broke. If you’re not willing to go all-in with KK preflop, you need to move to a lower limit or supplement your bankroll.


Omaha Hi-Lo Bankrolls


Popular perception is that Omaha Hi-Lo requires a much smaller bankroll than holdem. This is absolutely true for skilled players, but inexperienced players absolutely must play at lower limits. Skilled players are able to play with a bankroll as low as 150 big bets in Omaha Hi-Lo, because the split pot concept reduces variance in this game.

In fixed limit games, most pots get reasonably large and many hands go to showdown, but the nature of the small split pot wins means that the player is breaking even with the blinds until the big hands come along. Winning three-quarters of a big pot (or scooping the whole thing) is how real money is made in this poker game. A player might go through five orbits around the table waiting for one of these profitable hands.


Less-skilled Omaha players are at the opposite end of the spectrum. Those with primarily holdem experience tend to overvalue holdings such as overpairs, top pairs, and even sets. Chasing a non-nut draw, chasing bad low draws, paying off flushes and full houses with straights, or drawing for half of the pot are some other common mistakes. Until a player develops the board-reading skills required to succeed in Omaha, I advise that they play far below their bankrolled limit, even going so far as to play with 600 or more big bets.

In pot limit versions of Omaha, the pot-sized bet on the flop often ends the hand. In these games, the good players are winning small pots while waiting for the big pots. The small pots cover the investment in blinds and seeing flops. Big pots come along when the player has multiple good draws and/or gets an opponent to chase a low that never comes.


Sit-and-Go Bankrolls


In single-table, unscheduled tournaments, the variance for the average player is relatively low. Since 30% or 33% of the entrants receive a prize (for 9- or 10-player tables), it is possible to play for a very long time on a relatively small bankroll. Because of this, the recommended bankroll for SnG tournaments is generally 20 times the regular entry. A poker player moving up to the next higher buy-in might want a few more buy-ins in reserve.


One caveat for SnG players at the lower limits is to watch out for poker sites that charge a $1 entry fee on $5 buy-ins. Although these games might still be profitable due to weak competition, the 20% entry fee means that the return on investment won’t be quite as high as at sites that charge 50 cents for $5 tournaments. In this case, the player might want to adjust their bankroll requirements up slightly.


Multi-Table Tournament Bankrolls


This is a point of contention for professional poker players, with no consensus opinion on the right number. Some say that 50 buy-ins are required, and some suggest as many as 200 is the right number. Somewhere between 50 and 100 is probably right. Following the formula for single table tournaments, that pay 30% of entrants, suggests that MTTs, which usually pay out to 10 per cent, would require a bankroll three times larger. This gives a result of 60, so a $50+5 tournament player should have at least $3300.


Adjustments for Professionals


A professional (or semi-professional) poker player is probably wise to maintain a bankroll significantly larger than the standard 300 big bets. When you are relying on poker profits for a significant portion of your income, your bankroll is your life’s blood. A professional can keep their bankroll towards the lower end of the spectrum only if they have committed to dropping to lower limits if a losing streak ensues (or if they have an emergency reserve for living expenses).

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