Saturday, June 20, 2015

Poker Bankroll Management in 2018: The Complete Guide

Poker Bankroll Management in 2018
This article was updated in 2018.

A key factor in successfully moving up the stakes these days is utilizing proper bankroll management. The reason why is pretty simple. You can't win if you go broke! Poker is inherently a game full of ups and downs and you need to have a suitable bankroll in order to withstand the fluctuations.

But what a "proper" bankroll management strategy is can differ depending on who you talk to. And furthermore some people also fail to take into account the real nature of variance in today's micro stakes cash games.

So since I have never covered this topic in any depth on this website before I wanted to give you my thoughts on bankroll management especially as it relates to the micros today.

Bankroll Management Only Applies to Winning Poker Players

The first thing that I need to point out here though is that I will be assuming that you are a winning poker player throughout this article. That is, you have a bb/100 (big blinds won per 100 hands) that is a positive number. If your bb/100 is currently a negative number then there is no bankroll management strategy on earth that will work out well for you.

There are several resources available on my website to help you achieve a positive win rate. On the "Start Here" tab above I have linked to dozens of my most popular articles which are designed to get you winning right now. Also, my first book "Crushing the Microstakes" was written specifically to plug the holes and get you winning at the lowest stakes right away. 

Assuming that you are a winning player though, what kind of bankroll management strategy should you utilize when climbing up through the micros? Well I think that the answer depends on several different factors including your poker ability, experience and goals in the game. 

New to Online Poker, Marginal Win Rate

I think that if you are new to online poker and have a small win rate then you should employ a fairly conservative bankroll management strategy. By new to online poker I mean that you only started dabbling with it in the past year or two and your win rate is just above break even (i..e., 1bb/100 or 2bb/100). 

If you fall into this category then it is pretty likely that you are going to face some big variance even at the very lowest stakes. While we normally associate 20+ buyin downswings with limits such as NL25 and higher where the play becomes more "serious" the truth is that if you are only winning at 1bb/100 at NL2 or NL5 then you can go on lengthy periods of losing as well. 

There is a direct relationship between your win rate and the level of variance that you will face.
  • The lower your win rate the more losing sessions you will have
  • The higher your win rate the less losing sessions you will have
This is why I think that the traditional advice that you might have heard on forums that 20 buyins is enough simply doesn't work for everybody at the micros anymore. If you only have 20 buyins in your bankroll and you hit a 20 buyin downswing then guess what? 

Yup, your entire bankroll is gone. 

The games have tightened up in recent years even at stakes as low as NL2, NL5 and NL10. Some of the really crazy win rates of the past like 20bb/100 and higher just aren't that realistic anymore unless you really know what you are doing or you are a hardcore "bumhunter" who only plays a handful of tables. This means that downswings of a considerable length are much more commonplace now even in the very smallest games on the internet.

Furthermore, most of the people who are just scraping by at the lowest stakes typically have a lot of fundamental issues to address in their game. It is best therefore for them to slowly move up and learn how to plug their leaks along the way. 

There is simply no rush. 

It makes much more sense to take a year or even two years to make it to NL100 than to rush yourself there in a few months without developing a really solid grasp of the fundamentals. The reason why is that by the time you get to a level like this if you don't have a solid understanding of the basics then the regs will expose your leaks and you will probably end up having to move back down and retool. 

40 Buyins is the New 20 Buyins

So my bankroll management recommendation for a relatively new player with a marginally positive win rate is:

40 buyins per limit. 

Yes, even at NL2, 40 buyins. 

What is a buyin? A buyin is 100 big blinds which is the maximum amount that you can put on the table in most online cash games. So these would be my bankroll recommendations per limit:

NL2: $80
NL5: $200
NL10: $400
NL25: $1000
NL50: $2000
NL100: $4000

So what this means in practice is that you do not move up to the next limit until you have these amounts in your bankroll. If you have never played online poker before for real money then I would suggest depositing $100 to start so that you are more than adequately rolled for the NL2 games. You should then move up to NL5 when your bankroll hits $200.

These amounts might seem excessive to some but once again for those people who are only winning at a very marginal amount (i.e., 1bb/100 or 2bb/100) the variance even at the lowest stakes can be considerable. If things go really bad and they hit a 20 buyin downswing then under my advice they will now end up losing half of their bankroll rather than the whole thing. 

Now I would certainly recommend moving down well before losing half of your bankroll. But this brings me to the other main point of why I suggest a fairly conservative bankroll management strategy for this group of players. This is because of the psychological component of the game.

Psychologically it is just far easier to deal with the standard ups and downs of poker when you know that even a really bad day can still only make a small dent in your bankroll. Variance is indeed one of the most difficult things for newer struggling players to deal with. So I suggest having a big cushion and therefore the mental strain of a bad stretch should be diminished. 

Some people might argue by saying who cares, just reload. I don't really agree with this philosophy though. I personally have never gone "broke" as in having to refund my online bankroll because there was $0 in it. I think that psychologically this is damaging for a winning player. A winning player by definition should only be taking money out, not putting it in. 

So if you are just getting started with the online game and managing to squeak out a small win rate for now, my advice is so keep a large bankroll (40 buyins per limit) and take your time. Do it the right way instead of rushing yourself and paying the consequences for it later. 

Experienced Poker Player, Big Win Rate

If I was to start over at NL2 today though I would not bother having 40 buyins. I would probably go with half of that. The reason why is because I have been playing online poker for 10 years and I know that I can absolutely crush this game. Also, I utilize a style of play these days that is heavy on game selection and a limited table count which also ensures a large win rate.

What this essentially means is that my downswings are relatively small, typically never any more than 5 or 10 buyins at the lowest limits. Also, I have dealt with massive downswings on many occasions in the past so even if I do hit a big one it isn't going to psychologically devastate me or cause me to tilt hard. 

If you fit into this same category then you can probably make due with a much more liberal bankroll management strategy as well. Often it is better to simply move up to the bigger stakes games faster and not bother wasting your time at the very lowest limits which you can easily crush. 

Lastly, if you are like me and regularly play at a lot of different sites then busting a bankroll on one of them is not the end of the world. Often I will simply deposit on a site because I see a good game that I want to get into. Even if things don't go well and I bust my shoestring bankroll there it is only a small part of my overall online bankroll which is spread across many different sites. 

So for a solid experienced player looking to take shots and move up fast these are the bankroll requirements that I would suggest at the micros:

NL2: $40
NL5: $100
NL10: $200
NL25: $500
NL50: $1000
NL100: $2000

So basically this would be the traditional advice of 20 buyins that many people still advocate for the micros these days. I think these amounts are fine but only for highly experienced and solid players. I think that in today's tougher online poker environment most people who are relatively new to the game should exercise a much more conservative approach of 40 per limit.

Run It Up!

Honestly though, all of this bankroll talk depends on your goals as well regardless of whether you are a solid experienced winner or a newcomer looking to make a quick splash. While I would suggest the slow and steady approach in most circumstances not everyone is wired this way. And also, sometimes the game itself dictates that it is more +EV to jump up the stakes quicker. 

For instance if I see a massive whale sitting on some site at NL200 I am not going to move $4000 there just to sit down and play with him. I will probably just stick $1000 on there and have a go at it. 

The reason why I think this approach is fine is because my intentions are very clear here. It is simply to play against this one huge whale and maybe run up my bankroll quickly. I would look at this like a 5 buyin "shot" more than anything. If the fish gets lucky and felts me well then that is life. I am risking just a small portion of my overall bankroll though. It was a calculated risk that just didn't work out this time.

Once again, this sort of ultra aggressive bankroll management is not something that I would suggest for the vast majority of you who are reading this article. It is an option though for a specific type of experienced player who is looking to take a calculated risk to play in a good game. 


I hope that this article helped give you a better idea of what a proper bankroll management strategy in 2018 looks like at the micros. For the large majority of people I suggest a pretty conservative 40 buyin approach these days. It might seem like a lot to some but I believe that it is better to move up slowly and confidently and make sure that you fully absorb all of the fundamentals along the way. 

For a few other people out there, especially experienced players who game select and move around various sites a lot, they can get away with some lower requirements depending on their goals. 

At the end of the day it is up to you what bankroll management strategy you choose to utilize. I think that you should always err on the side of being too conservative though if you can. A lot of people vastly under-estimate the amount of variance in today's games especially at the very lowest limits. These games are not always the complete joke that they were in the past and downswings of a somewhat considerable length can occur even for top winners. 

Always remember that poker is a long term game. The games will always be there tomorrow. If I was coming up in this game again I would rather spend the time paying my dues and doing it right the first time. 

Let me know your thoughts on bankroll management in the comments below. What kind of strategy do you use? If you enjoyed this article please "Like" or "Tweet" it below!

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Poker Bankroll Management at the Micros in 2018


  1. Awesome article Nathan! You're the best!

  2. Is this 20/40 BI applicable for 6-Max cash games as well or Full Ring only?

    1. Yup 6max and FR, makes no difference.

  3. Thank you ,it was wery nice to read. I use 30 stack buy in ,i think that its inaf to survive a 10 bb downsiwng.

    1. Thanks Toms, ya I think 30 buyins is a good amount as well.

  4. My 100/bb is 7 bb in 100k on nl 5 hands so i think this is the right size .

  5. - a good resource to get a better grasp of what variance might look like. All you need to input is your winrate and standard deviation (both in bb/100, both can be found in HEM and PT).

    Personally, I stick to 100 buy-ins ultraconservative BRM so that I can sleep at night well no matter what :)

    Anyway, nice article.

    1. Thanks sandr1x. I keep a ton of buyins also because like you said, then losses never matter.

  6. Sorry guys, I'm new here... wrong button...
    My question is not really related to the bank roll but... I played 180K hands in 1,5 year with 8.40 bb/100. I play 6max on 4-5 tables (since Jan 2015 and i did 90K hands of the 180K) on pokerstars.ue. My bankroll is more than 400$ and I m thinking to move up at nl5.
    The question: better to move up or ad more tables at nl2? According to my stats, what win rate can i aspect at nl5?


    1. Nice job! I would definitely suggest moving up to NL5 with your bankroll. You should expect your win rate to be about half of what it is now though.

  7. I can attest to the psychological effect that having an insufficient br has on play. It doesn't take to many BIs lost for the BR to become "scared money" and start to whittle away at your aggressiveness. Unfortunately, I'm stuck with my little deposit in my current cardroom (it was a bonus to be able to deposit 50 bucks to begin with) with its lowest limit of 5c tables. Ah well, it's good knowledge for future reference.

    1. Ya in cases like yours, just do your best to grind up that $50 and then use better BRM as you move up. All the best with it!