Having poker bankroll management (BRM) is one of the key pillars of being a successful poker player. Because of the high degrees of variance that is involved in the game, knowing and following proper BRM is imperative if you want to keep a healthy bankroll as you strive to improve your game, move up stakes, and win more money.

There are a couple of different philosophies on proper bankroll management, and the truth is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Some players advocate playing a more aggressive approach, which entails keeping a smaller number of required buy-ins for your current stake and taking shots at the next higher stake as soon as possible.

Others advocate exercising ultimate caution to minimise the potential, as much as possible, that they’ll ever go broke.

Understanding Bankroll Buy-In Management Charts

Personally, I think there should be a hybrid of both theories, and that both can be utilized at different times as one grows their bankroll (i.e. for the first time).

Part of the reason for this ultimately ties into something that I first learned from Jonathan Little, which is that your BRM guidelines should be dependent on your win rate for the game that you’re playing.

Take a look at the following chart:

NOTE: 3% chance of going broke using the guidelines outlined below

poker bankroll management chart 1

Typically, there is a more significant number of bad players at lower stakes games (in comparison to higher stakes game). As such, a solid reg will usually achieve a better bb/100 winrate at lower stakes (maybe 20bb/100 at 2NL) than they might at medium and higher stakes (such as 3bb/100 at 200NL).

Taking this information into account and relating it to the chart, it becomes evident that a solid winning player will often require less strict BRM guidelines for lower stakes games than they will at higher stakes games -  simply because of their corresponding bb/100 win rates.

Of course, a win rate is something that can often take anywhere from 25,000 to 100,000 hands (minimum) to get an accurate determination/result. As you progress through this sample size, it’s crucial always to assess and re-assess this figure of yours. Then you can relate it to how many buy-ins you should have to, comfortably, stay at the stake you’re playing.

As an example, I remember hearing a story one time of a poker hobbyist who ran hot for 3 sessions at $1/$2 live and boasted, “Thanks to <insert some poker training course here>, I now have a win rate of  $100/hr at 200NL after three sessions!”

Well, the truth is that while this win rate might be valid for three sessions worth of poker, it’s going to be pretty much impossible for this player to maintain this rate over a 25k to 100k hand sample size. (Even the world’s best players wouldn’t be able to achieve win rates like that over enough hands.)

Therefore, knowing that there are appropriate times that one may want to implore either safe or aggressive BRM, here is a chart outlining the minimum money requirements (in dollars) you need to have to play at a particular stake for each type of BRM:

poker bankroll management chart 2


Shot Taking: Moving Up Stakes

Practising “shot taking” is almost an essential part of moving up stakes. Most stakes are at least double what the stake level immediately below. Therefore, with a BRM guideline of having 100 buy-ins for your stake, you’d need to have 200 to 250 buy-ins of your current stake to start playing the next one.

This situation would entail an extremely long grind at each stake and is not at all practical from a time standpoint - especially if you’ve already proven yourself to be a winning player.

Players usually practise “shot taking” when moving up the ladder of stakes. That is to say, they’ll often not have a complete number of recommended buy-ins when attempting to move up in stakes for the first time.

This fact might mean having as little as $9,000 from live $1/$2 profits before taking a shot at $2/$5 (18 buy-ins). In this situation, you can have 3 buy-ins to try out 500NL before you’d have to move back down.

Note that the above example uses a 15 x buy-in minimum for shot-taking (which is a standard, aggressive recommendation to go by). The lowest buy-ins one should EVER shot take with under any circumstance would be 11 (leaving one buy-in to play with, but never dipping below 10 full buy-ins).

Shot Taking: A Psychological Perspective

Some poker players will take into consideration when they want to choose to move up and take shots, purely based on psychological factors.

Let’s say that you’re hovering around a $6,000 roll, usually, play $1/$2 live and want to take a shot at $2/$5 soon. You put in a session at 200NL and find yourself with a $700 stack ($500 profit) within a few hours.

Psychologically, this is a great time to take a shot at 500NL, as if you lose your buy-in, you’ll still walk away at the end of the day with no less money than you originally started with.

Players may also want to have 1.5 to 3 buy-ins set aside for their shot taking so that if they lose a bit of their stack, they can still top up on the session and play a 100bb game without having to become a short stack at the table.

How Much Do You Need To Become A Professional Poker Player?

While you can certainly make a living grinding micro or low stakes games, usually your corresponding win rate would require you to play extremely long hours to survive, stay afloat and live comfortably. (This factor also depends on where you live in the world and what your typical annual expenses are.) 

As such, a recommended baseline is usually to make it to 500NL live and prove yourself to be a winning player at this stake.  For online pros, it could be as low as 100NL (because being able to play more hands per hour and multi-table will help compensate for a lower bb/100 winrate for online vs live).

Once you go pro and have no other funds to live off of, it’s imperative that you nit-up your Bankroll Management (BRM). There is no side job now to support you if things take a turn for the worse in poker, so you must protect your assets and play a safer BRM than you might if you had other guaranteed income streams in the mix.

This means that the recommended bankroll you’d need to go pro in a live setting is $50,000 (100 buy-ins @ 500NL) PLUS 6-months of living expenses, however much that may be for you. This scenario might mean it’s recommended to have between $60k and $65k before “going pro.”

BRM: Tournament Bankroll Requirements

Up until now, we’ve talked about the BRM needed for cash games?

What if you’re a tournament player, though?

Often, players will use an AVERAGE BUY-IN (ABI) rule to calculate which games they should play. For example, if their BRM requires 100 buy-ins and they have a $10,000 bankroll, well they can only play $215 tournaments if they mix some $33 and $55 tournaments into the mix, as well.

Tournaments carry additional unique BRM guidelines, as well. The variance you will experience in your results will much depend on factors such as:

  1. How many players there are in the tournament (how big the tournament field is),
  2. What your ROI is for such tournaments (over a decent sample size)
  3. How high the rake is - (many live, small-buy-in “daily tournaments are not beatable over the long-term because of how high the rake is relative to the prize pool. Especially when just starting out, strive to find tournaments that have less than 13% rake.)
  4. The structure of the tournament: turbos and hyper-turbos will carry more variance than events with slower and more incremental blind levels because you’ll be all-in more often and sooner, as the tournament progresses.

Taking these into consideration, here is a baseline chart/guideline, which references appropriate BRM for playing tournaments of various field sizes:

*30% ROI is assumed       

poker bankroll management chart 3


When you dip about 20% below the required bankroll, it is wise to start lowering your average buy-in (ABI) by mixing in smaller games where you have a more significant win rate.

In Conclusion

As you can see, there are many aspects to keeping a healthy bankroll for playing poker and moving up stakes.

Always keep in mind what your win rate is in the games you play and be sure to be flexible with your BRM and adjust accordingly, as you need.

Additionally, never be hesitant to move down stakes, if you have to. Downswings are a normal part of the game but can cause substantial psychological effects on players and cause them to play differently than usual.

Ultimately, being properly rolled should never be a worry for you when you’re at the table. If you think you’re playing higher than you should be and aren’t able to play you’re A-game because the dollar amount at the table seems too big for you, then you’re probably playing at stakes that are too high.

Keep these tips in mind as you build up your roll, and good luck at the felts!


About the Author
Matthew Cluff is a poker player who specialises in 6-Max No Limit Hold’em games. He also periodically provides online poker content for various sites.
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