How to Go from $0 to $1000 in Poker (Step by Step Guide)

How to Go from $0 to $1000 Quickly in Poker

This article was written by contributor Fran Ferlan.

Earning a thousand dollars playing poker is a huge milestone on your journey to poker greatness. But the road towards it is paved with obstacles, and it’s anything but easy.

However, with the right strategy and adequate preparation, it can be achieved, even with little or no starting capital.

This article will give you a simple step-by-step guide to earn your first thousand dollars from poker, regardless of your previous game knowledge and expertise.

1. Get a Sufficient Bankroll

The first thing you need to do on your way to a thousand bucks is having a bankroll. 

Your poker bankroll is the amount of money specifically set aside for playing. It consists of a certain number of buyins (i.e. the money you deposit every time you sit down to play).

To be fair, this means you won’t actually start with zero dollars. There are ways to build your bankroll starting with literally no money, but they are far more time-consuming (more on that below). 

A far more efficient way to get to a thousand dollars and beyond is having a small starting capital. 

This can be as little as 40 bucks, and with the right strategy, it will be the last money you’ll ever need to deposit. 

There are a couple of reasons you need to have a bankroll to reach your goals.

First of all, it allows you to track your progress. If you know exactly how much money you deposit and withdraw, you can objectively assess how you are doing, and whether or not you’re actually winning. 

Secondly, it prevents you from going broke and having to reload if you run out of funds. If you do it right the first time, you’ll never need to reload, and you’ll only take money out of the site, not the other way around. 

And that’s the goal. To start winning consistently without needing to worry about losing money. 

With that said, sometimes you WILL lose, no matter how well you’re playing. There is a short-term element of luck involved in poker, and some losses along the way are inevitable. 

In the short term, your results will be all over the place. 

The technical term for these fluctuations is called variance. Put simply, variance is the difference between how much you expect to earn on average, and how much you actually earn over a given sample size.

Suppose we bet on a coinflip. Heads, you give me one dollar, tails, I give you two dollars. We’ll flip it 10 times. Pretty sweet deal, and most people would take it.

Since the odds are 50:50, you expect to win five times out of ten. So you expect to lose 5 dollars, and win 10 dollars, for the overall profit of 5 dollars. 

But let’s say I get lucky, and it lands heads 8 times. You lose 4 dollars, even though you expected to win 5 on average. You experienced negative variance.

If you won 8 times out of 10, for a total profit of 14 dollars, that would be an example of positive variance.

In a small sample size, anything can happen. You can lose a coinflip ten out of ten times. It’s highly unlikely, but it is possible. 

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have taken the bet. If we flip it a hundred or a thousand times with the same odds, you’d eventually take all my money. 

But only if you’re prepared to lose some in the short term. This is why having a bankroll is crucial. Without it, there’s no way to handle the negative short-term variance, and you run the risk of going broke.

You might think it’s not a big deal, because you can always reload, but again, the point is earning money, not losing it. 

Not to mention the adverse psychological effects of constantly reaching for your credit card to fund your account. 

Which brings us to the third point of the importance of having a bankroll, and that is having a peace of mind. 

By setting aside a certain amount of money for a specific purpose, you separate your playing money from your real-life money. 

This will give you enough leeway to focus on playing to the best of your abilities, regardless of your short-term results.

Due to the nature of variance, it is therefore advised to have at least 30 buyins in your bankroll for your preferred limit. 

The assumption is you’re only starting out on your poker journey, so you should start at the lowest limit, or NL2. 

You could do well with only 20 buyins, or $40, but more is obviously better. And $60 is more than enough to weather the negative variance at NL2.

By the way, check out my 15 proven ways to beat small stakes poker games like this for much more.

2. Play Freeroll Tournaments

If you aren’t quite confident in your playing abilities yet and don’t feel like putting real money on the line, there are alternatives, but they will be more time consuming, and it’s questionable if they’re worth the effort in the end. 

After all, time is money.

This is something that BlackRain79 discussed in his latest video, literally starting from a $0 bankroll to becoming a full time poker pro.

And like he mentioned, this probably wasn't the smartest idea! But not everybody wants to risk money in the beginning.

So you could still look into this if you’re only just starting out and learning the ropes. Some online poker sites offer no-deposit bonuses, where you get free money for making an account. 

There might be some strings attached, however, but they might be worth looking into. You could also look into the freeroll tournaments.

Freeroll tournaments are a great risk-free way to build up your bankroll. Most online poker sites offer some sort of daily or weekly tournaments you can buyin for free. 

The requirement is usually making a real-money deposit, but some don’t require any deposit at all.

Now, it’s worth mentioning the prize pools are quite small, and it might take you a while to build up a significant bankroll. 

Also, there’s usually quite a large player pool involved, so it’s not really easy to cash out consistently, but hey, it’s free money.

Of course, freeroll tournaments, and tournaments in general can be quite time-consuming, so a better bet would be playing micro-stakes cash games. 

But if you are a beginner and aren’t quite comfortable with losing your hard-earned real dollars, you can try playing freerolls for a while. 

The player pool’s average skill level is usually abysmal, so if nothing else, freerolls could help you build a much needed confidence in your playing abilities, and from there you could try other challenges with bigger potential upsides.

3. Start Playing NL2 Cash Games

NL2 is the lowest cash game limit online with a buyin of 2 dollars and 1¢/2¢ blinds. Learning to beat NL2 is the first and most important step to building your 1k bankroll and beyond. 

This is where you will learn the fundamentals of the tight and aggressive strategy and exploiting other players’ weaknesses, namely playing too many hands, calling down too much and so on.

There are a number of reasons you should start at the very lowest limit. 

First of all, if you are a beginner poker player, the chances of you losing money at the start are virtually 100%. Learning the winning strategy isn’t overly complicated, but it takes some time nonetheless. 

You’re bound to trip and stumble as you’re learning the ropes, so there’s no point in risking more money while you’re doing it. 

Secondly, there is a substantial skill difference even between NL2 and NL5 players. 

There are a lot more beginners at NL2, and with the right strategy, you can start winning fairly quickly. This is important for building your confidence as you move up the stakes and encounter harder opposition. 

You might feel it’s beneath you to play for pennies, but even NL2 could pose a challenge for you, not necessarily due to the hard competition, but due to the insane number of bad beats and suckouts you’re bound to encounter. 

Dealing with those is a challenge in and of itself, and a lot of players can’t ever really wrap their heads around it. 

Taking bad luck in stride is something you will have to internalize, and sooner rather than later. Since it will be outright infuriating at times, it’s better to protect your downside, and lose two dollars rather than five. 

For more, I have already written the most comprehensive guide to beating NL2 found anywhere online.

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4. Learn the Tight and Aggressive Strategy

This is by far the most efficient way to earn a thousand dollars quickly. The reason this style works so well is because it exploits the overall weaknesses of the majority of the player pool you’re likely to encounter at the lower stakes. 

The most effective style of play is the opposite of the one your opponents play. At the lower stakes, players tend to play too many hands, call too much, chase all kinds of ludicrous draws and so on. 

The best strategy against them, therefore, is being very selective with your starting hand selection, playing in position and playing very aggressively postflop.

Let’s break down what this means in practice.

Starting with your preflop hand selection, you should only play good hands that are either strong in and of themselves, or have a decent chance of making strong combinations postflop.

This includes only about 20% of all starting hands, including pocket pairs, broadway hands, suited Aces and suited connectors.

You can just read the free BlackRain79 poker cheat sheet for charts showing you exactly what hands this refers to.

Next, you should play the majority of those hands in position. 

Playing in position is one of the biggest advantages you can have, as you’ll be able to see what your opponents are doing, and they’ll have no idea what you’re about to do. 

By playing in position, you can bluff more effectively and get more value out of your strong hands. 

If you have a mediocre or a drawing hand, on the other hand, you can practice pot control and try to improve your hand cheaply.

You should therefore play most of your hands in late positions, namely the cutoff and the button, and be more selective with hands you play in early positions and out of the blinds.
The last component of an effective TAG strategy is playing your hands aggressively. This is a tricky part, as you’ll need to have a balance between playing too passively and being totally out of control. 

But chances are you could benefit a lot by upping your aggression. Most players think they’re playing aggressively, but that’s not quite the case in a lot of situations.

By being aggressive, not only do you get more value out of your strong hands, but you also make yourself more difficult to play against. 

If you play aggressively, over time your opponents will give your bets less and less credit, which means you’ll be able to extract more money out of them once you actually do have a strong hand. 

The reality is really strong hands don’t come around very often in no limit Texas hold’em, so once they do, you want to be in a situation to actually make money from them.

With that being said, most of your winnings will actually come from those strong value hands. So when you get them, don’t be afraid to play them very fast and inflate the pot as much as possible, sooner rather than later.

By the way, I discuss this in much more detail in my new Elite Poker University training. 

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A lot of players are afraid they might scare off their opponents with big bets, but as mentioned before, a lot of players at the lower limits just don’t pay much attention for that to be the case. 

They will call you down a lot more than they should, much to their own detriment. So you should capitalize on that as much as possible, and don’t worry about scaring them off. 

They’ll call you down with all sorts of junk on the off chance of hitting their miracle draws.

This means they will, in fact, sometimes get lucky and hit their draw. When that happens, don’t let it rattle you too much. It means you put your money in with a mathematical advantage, and this is basically all you can do. 

Over the long run, you’ll win far more than you lose. You can’t outrun math. 

If you want to learn the optimal TAG strategy for crushing small stakes poker games Crushing the Microstakes is the best place to start.

5. Climb Up the Stakes With 30 Buyins

30 buyins are enough to weather the variance without the risk of going broke. This only applies if you’re a winning poker player, of course. If you’re not, no bankroll in the world is going to help you. 

So with the assumption you’re beating your current limit, starting with NL2, (meaning having a positive winrate over at least 10,000 hands), you should move up to NL5 when you have at least thirty buyins in your bankroll, or $150. 

Then, if you’re beating NL5, you can move up to NL10 when you have at least $300. 

By winning consistently at NL10, you can achieve the wanted 1k bankroll. If you want to speed up the process even more, you can play NL25 when you get to $750.

It’s worth mentioning that getting to a thousand dollars this way won’t be smooth sailing all the way. In fact, it might take you a couple of tries to stick at the next limit, due to bad short term results. 

This is to be expected, and you shouldn’t worry too much if you don’t make it right away. 

If you dip below 20 buyins at the limit you’re playing, you should drop down and try to make it back. Then, when you’re back at 30 buyins, try again. 

This way, you eliminate the risk of ever going broke and needing to reload. 

For example, if you’re playing NL10, and your bankroll dips below $200, drop back to NL5. When you get back to $300, go back to NL10. Rinse and repeat. 

Remember, getting to a thousand dollars can be achieved with the right strategy, but it’s no walk in the park by any means. It can be a long, one step forward and two steps back kind of journey, but that’s just the nature of the game. 

As long as you keep improving your game, you’ll be able to achieve your goals eventually. 

So expect a few bumps in the road, and if you encounter a particularly vicious stretch of bad results, use it as an opportunity to study more, instead of chasing your losses. 

Then, when you’re feeling confident about your game, put in more hours in actually playing. 

You should basically do the opposite of what your instincts tell you. When the games are good and you’re feeling on top of your game, keep playing and pushing your edge, instead of just booking a win and protecting your earnings. 

Conversely, if the cards aren’t falling your way, don’t chase your losses. Take a break and live to fight another day. Poker is a marathon, not a sprint. Slow and steady wins the race.

For more, you can find my complete guide to optimal bankroll management for all stakes right here.

6. Learn Before You Earn

Getting to your first thousand dollars from poker will have a lot to do with your approach and mindset. 

When you start out on your poker journey, you shouldn’t focus too much on the end result, i.e. earning a certain amount of money in a certain time period.

How much you earn isn’t going to be entirely within your control, so if you fall short of your desired goals, it might lead to frustration, which leads to suboptimal play. 

This in turn will lead to further impairment of your results, which leads to more frustration and so on. It’s a vicious cycle, so you’re better off avoiding such a downward spiral altogether. 

The way to do that is counterintuitive at first, but highly effective, and that is ignoring the short-term results altogether. 

That’s not to say you shouldn’t care if you’re burning through your money, as this will usually mean there’s something wrong with your overall strategy, and should be attended to. 

The point is focusing solely on improving your technical game knowledge, as well as managing your emotions. 

If you know the basic winning strategy, you might feel the need to maximize your time on the felt at the expense of studying. After all, more volume equals more money.  

But sacrificing your study time for your playtime will cost you more over the long term. As you climb the stakes, the competition will get tougher, and the mistakes will get more costly. 

If your skill level reaches a plateau, so will your earning potential. 

That’s why it’s important to keep expanding your knowledge. Luckily it is easier than ever to do that these days with so many of the game's best players putting out high level training programs.

And don’t be too quick to assume you have it all figured out. Poker is deceptively simple, but it takes a lifetime to master, and there’s always something new to learn. 

This is crucial to remember, especially if you’re running well at the beginning. You might think you have some innate talent, but it may just be you’re running hot. 

It takes a long time to figure out if your winnings are the results of your superior skills, or the deck has just been hitting you in the face. 

All too often players get great results over the first couple of months, and start calculating how soon they’ll be able to fire their boss and go pro based on their previous winrate (which might not even be a good poker winrate). 

Until they encounter their first serious downswing, and their enthusiasm is extinguished a lot faster than it came about.

I’m not saying all this to dishearten you, of course. I’m saying it because short term results, good or bad, aren’t always directly correlated to your skill level, and shouldn’t be viewed as an accurate metric.

So instead of figuring out how to earn this and that amount of money in an x period of time, flip the script and figure out how to best improve your skill level. 

In the end, the amount of money you earn will be directly correlated to the effort you put in, and yes, that means studying as well as playing.

You might not be too stoked about the prospect, but that’s what it takes. It doesn’t mean you should get a math degree to study all the complex formulas, odds and probabilities and what have you. 

Designating a certain amount of time to study in proportion to your playing time is enough, depending on your current skill level. 

If you’re a total beginner, a 50:50 split between playing and studying should be optimal. If you figured out the basics, you’ll want to go for something like an 80:20 split. 

As your skill level increases, you’ll want to maximize your playtime, but you should still set aside some time to study as well.

I have already written extensive lists by the way for all the best poker software and advanced poker training programs that I recommend, for serious players.


Earning a thousand dollars from poker isn't life changing money, but it’s certainly a great milestone worth aiming at. 

It’s anything but easy, however, especially in today’s competitive environment. It will require a certain amount of dedication and patience on your part, but the reward is well worth the effort.

You will also need a certain starting capital to speed up the process. It’s a lot harder to go from zero to one than from one to two. 

To get started the right way, you will need to have a bankroll with 40 dollars at the bare minimum. This equates to 20 buyins at NL2.

More is always better, of course, and you’d do well to make it 30 buyins, or $60, just to be on the safe side.

If you want to try a risk-free way to build up your bankroll, you can look for online poker sites that offer no deposit bonuses, or try playing freeroll tournaments.

Bear in mind, however, that these tournaments offer scant prizes, and it’s difficult to cash in on them consistently due to the huge player pool they attract. 

Not to mention they’re time consuming, and offer little reward in proportion to the time you put in.

A far more efficient way to earn a buck is to start playing microstakes cash games, starting with the very lowest limit, or NL2.

The competition around here is fairly soft, so you can start winning relatively quickly. 

This is also where you’ll learn the fundamentals of the tight and aggressive (TAG) strategy, which includes being very selective with your starting hand selection, playing them in position, and playing them fast and aggressively. 

Then you can climb up the stakes once you have 30 buyins in your bankroll. This means you can climb to NL5 when you have $150, for example. 

You should only climb up once you are winning relatively consistently at the lower stakes, though. 10,000 hands or so is the minimum sample size required to determine whether or not you’re winning consistently. 

Also, keep in mind that when you climb the stakes, you should expect your winrate to decrease as much as 50%, due to the tougher competition and smaller skill gap. 

This means you might not stick at the new limit at your first try, or even a couple of tries. This is completely normal, and you shouldn’t let it discourage you. 

Simply move back down when your bankroll dips below 20 buyins, and climb back up again when you reach 30 buyins. This way you eliminate the risk of ever going broke.

If you’re ever feeling stuck (and you will, sooner or later), take a break for a while. 

Don’t chase your losses, as this can lead you to losing even more, sending you in a vicious downward spiral. Instead, use it as an opportunity to study and fix your leaks.

Studying off the felt is actually the best way to improve your overall profitability, especially when you’re first starting out. 

So instead of focusing on some sort of monetary goal, like a thousand dollars, flip the script and focus on the improvement process. 

Being process-oriented rather than results-oriented is paradoxically the most efficient way of achieving said results. 

Keep doing the right things, and the money will take care of itself.

If you want to know the complete poker strategy used by BlackRain79 to crush the small stakes games for some of the highest winnings ever recorded, grab a copy of the free poker cheat sheet right here.

How to Go from $0 to $1000 Quickly in Poker