If you're serious about playing online poker you'll want to have a poker bankroll set aside that you can play with so you're not dipping into your rent money. But how much money should you start with in poker?
🙄 The size of a starting poker bankroll will differ for each and every player. However, we can give you key guidelines to help you make the best decision for your situation.
Criteria That Determine Your Starting Poker Bankroll
The amount of money that you need to start your poker bankroll will depend on a few things.
Types of Poker Games
The kind of poker game you're going to play in will change your poker bankroll requirements. Tournaments are high variance so the number of buy-ins you need is a lot higher than the number of buy-ins needed for a no-limit cash game, which in turn needs more buy-ins than a limit cash game.
In order to be properly bankrolled for poker tournaments, you should have at least 100 buy-ins of your average tournament buy-in as you can go multiple tournaments without cashing and a long time without any significant win. On average, the top 15% of the tournament field will cash, so 85% of the players won't cash!
Cash games are a little lower variance than tournaments as instead of repeatedly losing buy-ins before making one big score to make it all back, it's a lot more of a grind where if you're a winning player you'll win 50-60% of your sessions.
An average level of poker bankroll management for cash games is around 30 buy-ins for your stake level. If you're more aggressive then you may want to have as low as 20, if you're on the conservative side you'll want 40 or 50. It all depends on your personal comfort level and your willingness to reload if you go broke.
When deciding your starting poker bankroll, the most important thing is the amount of money you can afford to lose. Even though poker is a game of skill, there is a gambling element to it and you shouldn't risk any money that you can't afford to lose.
The amount of money you can risk will be different depending on your circumstances, but the more money you can start with, the higher the stakes you can start at. Some people like to start at as high stakes as they can, as they find it hard to play properly at the micro-stakes.
It will also dictate the level of bankroll management you decide to use. Many players will take a very aggressive poker bankroll strategy at the lower stakes to move up as fast as possible. However, the lower amount of buy-ins you have for a stake level increase your risk of ruin. If you have enough disposable income to reload after going broke, you may want to take that aggressive strategy to quickly move up the stakes.
Whether or not you're a winning player and how much you're a winning player will have a big impact on the amount of money you need to play a particular game. The bigger the edge you have on your opponents, the less risk you have of going broke with a smaller poker bankroll.
You will see this in live cash games, where players who have a significant edge over their opponents can take a relatively small amount with them to the casino knowing that the edge they have means they will be winning the majority of the time.
This isn't as much of a factor in tournaments, as tournaments are greatly impacted by variance, and no matter what your skill level is it's easy to go on a bad run and not make a significant score over an extended period of time.
It can be useful if you have to rebuild your poker bankroll or want to turn a small amount of money into a much larger amount of money. This is how a lot of well-known professional players got their start in poker and forms the basis for one of the most popular challenges for players to attempt.
$25 Poker Bankroll Challenge
Back in the glory days of online poker, every interview with one of the stars would ask how they got their start in poker, and almost all of them would say something along the lines of "I deposited $25, learned how to play and ran it up to hundreds of thousands of dollars".
Sounds pretty good right?
Even today, a lot of players attempt to do something similar and try to make their millions from a minimal investment. Whether you're a beginning player or someone who's been playing a while but is now starting to take poker more seriously, these kinds of challenges are a great way to teach yourselves the skills you need to be a higher-stakes player but at a much lower cost.
Playing with such a limited poker bankroll to start with forces you to learn strict bankroll management, as you need to be moving up and down the stakes with discipline in order to avoid going broke. It also allows you to get in a lot of hands without costing you a lot of money, allowing you to hone your skills cheaply so you're ready for when you move up to where the real money is made.
If you're going to start one of these challenges you'll need to choose a game type to play. If you want to play cash games I would recommend playing the lowest stake level your poker site offers. For most this is going to be NL2 or 1c/where the max buy-in is $2. If you want to play tournaments I would recommend starting with sit and gos rather than MTTs as the variance is much lower and again, playing the lowest stakes that they offer.
It's important with these types of challenges that you set yourself targets for when you're going to move up in stakes. For example, if you're playing cash games you may want to move up in stakes when you have 15 buy-ins for the next level which would be/ (NL5).
Once you move up, it's important that you also have a clear stop-loss to move back down. A lot of players don't like moving back down in stakes once they've moved up, they see it as a hit to their ego and would rather go broke playing a stake they can't beat than move back down and potentially rebuild. Don't be one of these players, swallow your pride and move back down until you can rebuild your poker bankroll and live to fight another day.
This leads us nicely into our next topic - knowing when to stop.
Importance of Stopping
Tilt is when you let your emotions dictate your decisions at the table, leading to poor decisions. Tilt usually happens after losing several pots in a row in particularly unlucky circumstances. Tilt is a very common occurrence amongst poker players.
When you tilt, your whole poker bankroll is often at risk as players will make outlandish plays in an attempt to win back their money and will often just end up donating more of it away to the waiting regulars. When tilting you'll often feel yourself getting emotional and when you feel yourself getting like this you should remove yourself from the game, cool off, and try again another time.
As there is a yin to the yang, there is a flip side to tilt often referred to as "winners tilt". This is a form of overconfidence that comes from winning a lot of hands and can make a player feel like they can do no wrong. When a player feels like this they will start to make a lot of loose plays, feeling as if it doesn't matter what they do as it will all work out in the end. Inevitably it won't, the cards will catch up with you eventually so if you feel like you get overconfident when you start winning, set yourself a profit limit and stick to it.
The takeaway advice is to only start playing poker with any amount you are comfortable losing.
Having the money to play is one of the only prerequisites to playing in any poker game and to make sure you have the money to keep playing you should follow our tips to look after your poker bankroll.
This article was published on June 24, 2021, and last updated on October 26, 2022.