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Best Poker Bankroll Management Tips for Live and Online Games


Bankroll management might be one of the most important skills and one that gives many players the hardest time. Since poker is a volatile game where luck plays a big part in every individual outcome, it is necessary to maintain a bankroll that allows us to keep playing when things aren’t going well.

Variance is a reality in poker, and a bad stretch can decimate bankrolls that are not large enough to withstand the hits.

Of course, there is always the question of how large a bankroll should be and when is the right time to move on to higher stakes not to miss any value.

Therefore, we decided to answer some questions and discuss the required bankroll size for different game types, as well as some general tips that will help you maintain better bankroll management regardless of your preferred game type.

Best Poker Bankroll Management Tips for Live and Online Games
Pokercode Founder Fedor Holz is a master of bankroll management

The Big Question: How Many Buyins Do I Need?

Over the years, poker players have tried to define bankroll management and find the exact number of buyins necessary to prevent ruin in each game type.

However, it is very important to remember that variance is also related to your skill level. Big winners suffer less variance than breakeven players or ones with a small edge simply because they put themselves in more profitable situations.

In the long run, a breakeven player is much more likely to run into a big downswing than a huge winner, and a big loser will naturally run into one.

Over millions of hands, these swings add up to the eventual wins and losses, and what this means is that the better you are at poker, the fewer buyins you will need.

Yet, even if you are the biggest winner in your game, you will still need to maintain a healthy bankroll and face the variance when it comes your way.

Here are some numbers that the poker community has generally accepted as standard bankroll recommendations, assuming you are good enough to beat the games:

You will notice that we recommend having the most buyins as an online MTT player, and this is because the variance in these is notorious.

The massive fields and the top-heavy payout structures mean you will go for long stretches without winning a big one, and you will need a huge bankroll to withstand the losses.

Live games are typically much softer than online games, which means a smaller bankroll will take you a long way.

Live tournaments are a beast of their own, as buyins tend to vary, and there are only so many you can play in a given time period.

If you have a way of replenishing your live tournament bankroll, it is perfectly reasonable to take some shots here and there and go back to your job if you don’t get lucky.

Heads-up players have it best in terms of poker bankroll management, as they only need a few dozen buyins to avoid the variance, provided they can beat their opponents.

Now that we’ve talked about the general numbers, here are a few tips on how you can maintain a healthy poker bankroll management and keep moving forward through the nastiest downswings.

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1. Keep a Separate Poker Bankroll

If you play poker as a hobby, it is completely fine to take some money out of your bank account and deposit it into an online poker account or bring it to the casino to play a live tournament.

However, if you aspire to be a professional poker player, you must keep a separate poker bankroll and keep very good track of it.

This means your living expenses should be covered by the money you already have saved up and by poker profits which you cash out of your bankroll once in a while.

Constantly dipping into your poker bankroll to pay for daily costs will leave your bankroll stagnant even if you are winning, and it may eventually decimate it once you run into a big downswing.

Professional poker players understand the importance of knowing exactly where their bankroll is and adjusting their stakes based on the bankroll size.

Best Poker Bankroll Management Tips for Live and Online Games
It is important to keep your poker bankroll separated from your 'other' money

2. Play Games You Can Afford

As a poker player, you will often be tempted to play higher stakes games that you believe you can beat. There are two things to consider here.

For one, your poker skills may not be as amazing as you think, and there is no telling if you can or cannot beat that high-stakes game you are thinking of playing.

Secondly, even if you are by far the best player at your table, variance can crush you if you do not have a decent reserve since you can still lose quite a few buyins on any given night.

The only way to ensure success in poker is to always play within your bankroll and never deviate from proper bankroll management strategy.

Slow and steady usually wins the race in life, and in poker, there is absolutely no better formula to long-term success than always playing in games you can afford to play.

3. Don’t Try to Beat Variance

Many people don’t realize that there is absolutely nothing you can do about variance. It is an inherent part of the game, and you should never adjust your game to compensate for it.

The best way to win at poker is to play a game that gives you the highest expected value in every given situation.

There are plenty of times when the most +EV move is also quite risky and can cost you a lot in the short run, which is why players sometimes avoid making it if they are on a downswing.

However, all the big winners in poker don't worry about variance or getting stacked in a single spot but rather consider their EV and the big picture.

If you want to be a professional poker player, forget about trying to reduce your variance, but rather embrace it and enjoy the ups and downs that poker has to offer.

Best Poker Bankroll Management Tips for Live and Online Games
Be patient. By making the best decisions you will succeed in the long run

4. Track Every Session You Play

Trying to make a living playing poker is not easy. If you want to do it, you will need to know exactly how well you are doing in your games.

The only way to know this is by keeping a very strict ledger of all the poker sessions you play. Over months and years, your numbers will begin to add up and paint a clear picture of your skills and win rate.

If you are playing online poker, it is highly advisable to use software like Hold’em Manager or Poker Tracker to keep track of your wins and losses.

On the other hand, live poker players can download plenty of useful apps to keep track of their poker bankroll and swings or simply write it all down on their notepads.

In either case, don’t forget to keep full track of your winnings, and especially don’t forget to put down the bad sessions along with the good ones.

5. Drop Down if Necessary

A big part of bankroll management in poker is knowing when to drop down in stakes. If you are playing with a limited bankroll, there are times you will need to drop down and rebuild.

This is especially true if you move up in stakes and get smashed by variance or superior players, which can often be the case.

There will be times when moving up in stakes means being humbled by players who are simply better than you, and there is nothing wrong with this.

The only way to move up is to constantly play against higher skill-level players and learn. With experience and study, you will eventually be able to beat them.

In the meantime, ensure you are dropping down in stakes if necessary and always keep an eye on your bankroll and your ability to withstand losses.

Best Poker Bankroll Management Tips for Live and Online Games
Dropping down in stakes can be a tough decision to make but it's important for the health of your bankroll

6. Take Shots When Appropriate

Depending on your ability to replenish your poker bankroll and your dependence on poker winnings, there are certainly times when it’s smart to take a shot.

I mean that you may want to try playing a session or two at higher stakes than you normally play, especially when you have won some money in your standard games.

If good games are available at higher stakes and you don’t need your profits for immediate expenses, taking a shot can prove very profitable.

With a stroke of positive variance and some well-timed plays, you may end up winning more in a single session than you have in a dozen sessions before, and this may allow you to move up to regularly playing higher stakes faster.

However, keep in mind that a shot should only be for a few buyins at most, and you should go back to playing your regular games again if you lose.

Don't be tempted to keep playing higher, as you may end up losing your entire bankroll if negative variance continues.

7. Select the Best Games

If there is one thing that will help you be looser with bankroll management in poker, it is good game selection.

As we mentioned in the intro, you will need fewer buyins to play in very soft games, which means you can afford to play higher stakes if the opposition is weak.

When thinking about game selection, it is important to be realistic with your poker abilities and those of the players you are looking to play against.

Some games may appear soft at first but actually be quite competitive and difficult to beat. Instead, you are looking for soft games where players don't really care about winning that much.

Live poker rooms are the best places to find such soft poker games, as they tend to attract a lot of gamblers and casual players whose skills are inferior compared to the competition online.

Best Poker Bankroll Management Tips for Live and Online Games
Some games are a little tougher than others

8. Look for Extra Value

Whether we are talking about online poker bonuses, free tournament tickets, comps in your life cash game, or overlay in big-field tournaments, you always want to chase any edge you can get.

The more extra value there is to be had, the healthier your bankroll will be, and the more you can afford to take shots and move up faster.

Proper bankroll management in poker also means playing at online poker sites where a lot of your rake comes back to you or where the rake is low, to begin with.

It won’t really matter how many buyins you have if you are playing in games with a massive rake that can't possibly be beaten or if you are giving up on opportunities that you could be taking advantage of left and right.

Make sure to consider all your options and try to make the best financial decision if you plan on keeping your bankroll moving in the right direction.

9. Don’t Pay for Things with Poker Chips

This tip is specifically for live cash game players, but it's one that I think is well worth mentioning as it is very common to see live cash game players pay for drinks, food, and massages from their stacks.

The first reason why paying for these things out of your stack is bad, especially while playing lower stakes, is because your final numbers will not really reflect your results at the table.

What's even more, as a cash game player, you want to have as big a stack on the table as possible, as it allows you to win more when you put yourself in good spots against weak opponents.

Of course, this also increases your exposure and risk, but live cash games are all about building up a stack and playing some big pots late in the night when people are trying to win back their losses.

If you have to pay for things, do so with cash out of your own pocket, and generally avoid paying for overpriced things in casinos, especially massages at the poker tables.

Best Poker Bankroll Management Tips for Live and Online Games
Imagine having a big cash game stack like this!

10. Don’t Cash Out if You Don’t Have To

The final tip I will give you on poker bankroll management is to try and keep all your poker cash in your balance until absolutely necessary.

If you have a job that can support your living costs, don’t cash out any money from your balance until you have reached the stakes you want to play in the long run.

If you have to cash out some money you won at poker, try to keep it moderate and save on other things to keep playing higher and higher stakes.

In the long run, the money you miss out on now will be worth it when you play high-stakes games and cashing out a substantial win month after month.

Keep the dream alive and allow your poker bankroll to keep going up, as this will do wonders for your mental game and allow you to play the games you always wanted to play.

Best Poker Bankroll Management Tips for Live and Online Games

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