The Art of Poker Bankroll Management: Strategies for Tournament and Cash Game Players

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Written by: Matt E.

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Poker bankroll management is a critical skill that can make or break a player's success. A proper bankroll strategy allows players to weather the storms of variance and reduces the risk of going broke. In this in-depth blog post, we will discuss bankroll management strategies for both tournament poker and cash game poker. We will explore various theories, use real-life examples, and delve into the mathematics behind variance.

Understanding Variance in Poker

Variance is the inevitable ups and downs that every poker player experiences. It is a measure of how much actual results can deviate from expected results over a specific period. Variance is present in all aspects of poker, including tournament poker and cash game poker.

In poker, variance is influenced by two main factors: the player's skill level and the natural fluctuations in the game. The skill level determines the long-term win rate, while natural fluctuations are the random deviations that occur in any gambling game.

Mathematically, variance is calculated as the sum of the squared differences between each outcome and the mean, divided by the number of outcomes. In poker, we typically measure variance by comparing a player's actual winnings to their expected winnings over a certain number of hands or tournaments. The higher the variance, the greater the swings a player will experience.

Tournament Poker Bankroll Management

Tournament poker, especially multi-table tournaments (MTTs), is characterized by higher variance than cash games. This is due to the nature of the format, where a large number of players compete for a few top prizes, and many factors can impact the outcome, including luck, blind structures, and player tendencies.

Tournament poker is a high-variance game. Especially if you're focusing on large player pool MTTs. One of the best sites and tools to measure your potential variance for cash games and poker tournaments is the variance tool. Just take a look at this image below to get a better idea of how big variance can swing for the same player. And this doesn't even account for playing worse and tilt because of a bad downswing.

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Buy-in Rules For Tournament Bankroll Management

The most common rule for bankroll management in tournament poker is to have a bankroll of at least 100 times the average buy-in of the tournaments you play. For example, if you typically play $50 buy-in tournaments, you should have a bankroll of at least $5,000. This rule aims to cushion the impact of variance, allowing players to endure a string of bad results without going broke.

That being said, I have seen other recommendations from GTOWizard that suggest you have somewhere around 150-300 buy-ins. This seems like a lot, but it also allows you to play for free. So if you were playing $5 MTTs than you could have $1500. The process would be slow and feel like a grind, but you could play more freely and allow yourself a lot less stress as a recreational player.

Adjusting for Skill Level and Tournament Type

The 100 buy-in rule is a general guideline, but it should be adjusted based on your skill level and the type of tournaments you play. More skilled players can afford to have a smaller bankroll, while less experienced players may need a larger cushion.

Additionally, the type of tournaments you play also affects the required bankroll size. For instance, if you play mainly large-field tournaments with thousands of participants, the variance will be higher, and you should have a larger bankroll. Conversely, if you mostly play smaller, single-table tournaments or Sit & Go's, the variance is lower, and a smaller bankroll may suffice.

Moving Up & Down in Stakes

If you are using the 100 buy-in rule for your bankroll management, then you should also have a threshold on either side that will either allow you to move up in stakes and take a shot at the bigger games if you increase your bankroll. And also a threshold that would force you to move down in stakes if you lost a certain amount of Buy-ins.

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An example of this might be that you have 100 Buy-ins for $10 Multi-Table Tournaments, which would be $1,000.

If you run up your bankroll and win 50 more buy-ins so that you have a bankroll of $1,500, you might consider trying to play $15 tournaments where your $1,500 would be 100 buy-ins at this stake.

Conversely, if you are at 100 Buy-ins and a bankroll of $1,000 and you lose 50 buy-ins. You might want to consider moving down to $5 tournaments until you can increase your bankroll back up. This is the main way that bankroll management works.

Cash Game Poker Bankroll Management

Cash game poker has lower variance than tournament poker due to the consistent blinds and opportunity to rebuy. However, proper bankroll management is still essential for long-term success.

Cash Game Buy-ins Rule

In cash games, a common bankroll management guideline is to have at least between 20 and 30 buy-ins for the stakes you play. This means that if you play $1/$2 cash games, where a typical buy-in is $200, you should have a bankroll of $4,000 to $6,000.

Moving Up or Down in Stakes

A disciplined approach to bankroll management includes knowing when to move up or down in stakes. As your bankroll grows, you can gradually move up to higher stakes, but it's essential to maintain a sufficient number of buy-ins for the new level.

For example, if you start with a $5,000 bankroll and play $1/$2 cash games, you have 25 buy-ins. If your bankroll grows to $15,000, you could consider moving up to $2/$5 games, where the standard buy-in is $500, and you would have 30 buy-ins. However, it's crucial to recognize that the competition at higher stakes is often tougher, and you may need to adjust your strategy accordingly.

On the other hand, if you experience a significant downswing, you should consider moving down in stakes to protect your remaining bankroll. For example, if your $5,000 bankroll decreases to $3,000 after a string of losses, moving down to $0.50/$1 cash games would give you 30 buy-ins at the lower level, allowing you to rebuild your bankroll while minimizing the risk of going broke.

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Bankroll Management for Cash Game Specialists

Professional cash game players who rely on poker for their primary income should take an even more conservative approach to bankroll management. Since their livelihood depends on their poker results, they must ensure a stable income while minimizing the risk of ruin. For cash game specialists, a bankroll of 40 to 50 buy-ins or more is recommended, depending on the player's skill level, game format, and risk tolerance.


Effective bankroll management is crucial for poker players, regardless of whether they focus on tournament poker or cash games. By understanding variance, tailoring strategies based on skill level and game format, and knowing when to move up or down in stakes, players can minimize the risk of ruin and maximize their chances of long-term success in the game. Remember, poker is a marathon, not a sprint, and maintaining a disciplined approach to bankroll management will help you weather the inevitable ups and downs while building a sustainable and profitable poker career.

In summary, here are the key takeaways for bankroll management in both tournament and cash game poker:

  1. Tournament Poker:
    • Have a bankroll of at least 100 times the average buy-in.
    • Adjust the rule based on skill level and tournament type.
    • Move up or down based on thresholds
  2. Cash Game Poker:
    • Maintain a bankroll of at least 20 to 30 buy-ins for the stakes you play.
    • Adjust the rule based on skill level and game format.
    • Move up or down in stakes based on your wins or losses, while maintaining an adequate number of buy-ins.
    • Cash game specialists should aim for a more conservative bankroll of 40 to 50 buy-ins or more.

By adhering to these guidelines and continually refining your bankroll management strategy, you'll be well on your way to a successful and enjoyable poker journey.

Written by

Matt E.

I've been immersed in the world of poker since 2003. Poker is hard. It has undoubtedly been a roller coaster of experiences for me over the years. My poker journey spans from playing at .01/.02 NL tables to engaging in intense sessions at $5/$10. Poker isn't just a game to me—it's a passion. Outmaneuvering opponents in this test of mental strength and strategy offers an unparalleled thrill. To deepen my understanding of the game and to assist others, I initiated this blog. It aims to elucidate the ever-evolving technologies, strategies, and legal landscapes of poker, especially in the online realm. We're now in the age of solvers, but both online and live poker continue to thrive. A quick visit to a local $1/3 game would be ample evidence of its vitality. Regardless of your proficiency level, from novice to expert, I hope my blog posts offer you valuable insights. Feel free to engage with me through messages or by commenting on my posts. Cheers!

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