Managing Your Poker Bankroll by Steve Zolotow

People always ask, “How much do I need to play in a certain stake game?” The usual answer to all poker questions is, “It depends.” But in this case, it is the wrong question. The question really should be, “Given my temperament and current financial situation, how much can I risk in a game?”

Let’s examine these components. First is your temperament. Years ago, Mike Caro distinguished between two types of players – plodders and adventurers. I like to put poker players into three categories. First are the plodders. They are extremely risk adverse and would rather play for pennies than take a chance of going broke. Next are the normal players. The normal players are willing to take moderate risk if they think they have a reasonable advantage. Lastly there are the plungers. They love to take extreme risk. They are the poker equivalents of mountaineers who want to reach the top of Mount Everest. The risk in question is, of course, losing a large percentage of your bankroll or, in the worst case, going broke.

There are many gradations of each of these types, and many players may go from plodders when winning to plungers when losing. Likewise, external circumstances may change a player. Losing a job, getting married, having a kid, etc. make some players eager to avoid risk and others desperate to win a fortune.

The second component to examine is your financial situation, specifically your bankroll. Some people have jobs, businesses or other outside sources of income. Some do not. I am going to divide bankroll types into three categories – small, medium and large. A small bankroll is an amount you could get in a month or less from working, from your business or from your investments. For some people this may be a few hundred and for others a few hundred thousand. A medium bankroll should take about six months to accumulate. A large bankroll takes at least a year. If you have no outside sources of income, treat your bankroll as large. Losing a small bankroll is distracting, losing a medium one is disturbing and losing a big one is disastrous.

Your temperament should not change from session to session. It is possible that you might want to adjust your risk threshold a little higher for great games and a little lower for bad ones. Before starting any session of any game, determine what your bankroll is and then refer to the chart below. This chart gives my opinion of the correct percentage of your bankroll to risk in any game. Use the appropriate percentage to calculate the amount you can risk.

  Plodder Normal Plunger
Small 10% 15% 30% 
Medium 5% 10% 20% 
Large 3% 5% 10%

If you lose that amount, I’d advise you to quit for the day. If you don’t want to quit, make sure you re-calculate the amount you can lose starting from your diminished bankroll. As long as you continually recalculate the amount you can risk, you will never go broke. If you are playing in games where you have the worst of it, you will eventually end up with such a small bankroll that it is meaningless. But in general, you will be able to risk larger amounts (not larger percentages) as your winnings accumulate, and you will be forced to play smaller when you are losing.

Why can you take more risk with a small bankroll? Because it is easier to get it back. As your bankroll gets larger, it becomes harder to replace it and going broke becomes more disastrous. It is much easier to rebuild a bankroll of five thousand then to rebuild one of five million. (Yes, there are players who have built up a bankroll of five million or more, and then gone broke or even into debt.) While these guidelines are customized to provide bankroll management strategies for a variety of temperaments and bankroll sizes, they will enable a winning player to avoid disasters and steadily increase his bankroll.

Steve Zolotow