Safer requirements for poker bankrolls

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This article first appeared in Card Player magazine.

Today, I’m going to do something I swore never to do. I’m going to answer one of poker’s most perplexing questions: How big should my bankroll be to play which limits? The answer will be based on a powerful concept that we’ve discussed before; but it will employ a formula that I’ve never shared before.

In supplying this answer today, I’m surrendering to popular demand. You’ve heard me say over and over that nobody should be criticized for playing any game anytime with an “inadequate bankroll.” That’s because there’s really no such thing as an inadequate bankroll. In the past, I’ve made the following points about bankrolls, and they all remain true today beyond question:

  1. It is up to you to determine how much security you require and how much risk you’ll tolerate.

  2. The more you risk, the more likely you are to achieve sudden success, and the more likely you are to go broke in the attempt.

  3. Anyone who claims that you must follow precise, mathematically formulated guidelines to protect your bankroll, probably doesn’t have a clue about how other real-world factors outside of poker, plus your own tolerance for risk, affect this decision. (Despite this, today I’m unveiling bankroll requirements based on my own sophisticated formula that will work wonders for most players.)

  4. Mathematical formulae designed to protect your bankroll are not especially useful. Notably, the Kelly Criterion – which can be used to calculate the percentage of bankroll you should risk in accordance with your advantage – is not easily adapted to poker. That’s because it’s difficult to determine what your advantage is for a given poker session in the same way that can determine your advantage for a single wager.

  5. Common mathematical methods don’t consider the reality that small bankrolls are easily replaced and are not worth protecting in the same way that large bankrolls are. (That’s the powerful concept that we’ve discussed before, referred to in the first paragraph.)

  6. Don’t spend your bankroll. You need to keep it, and if you didn’t know before today, you will know why after you study the chart that follows. Because you need a specific amount to play a given limit, you not only can be demoted by losing money from your bankroll, you also can be demoted by spending it.

  7. The minimum mathematically proper bankroll to play at a given limit is one buy-in. (However, as our bankrolls grow, we should be less and less reckless.)

  8. Not everyone needs a bankroll. I recommend that most serious players, especially professionals, keep an expanding bankroll to be used for poker and for nothing else. But some players – those who have comfortable assets or who play only occasionally – have no real reason to maintain a bankroll. They can simply choose to play when they want, using whatever money they want. Still, it might be helpful for them to estimate what portion of their assets they can afford to risk at poker and imagine they have that bankroll. Then, they can choose their appropriate limit in accordance with Caro’s Recommended Bankroll Requirements for Poker Players, presented later today.

Caro’s Recommended Bankroll Requirements.

Now, the part we’ve all been waiting for. Today I break my long silence on bankroll requirements. In doing so, I would appreciate it if you kept in mind my general philosophy. You should not criticize anyone for any risk they willing take, ever. That’s their personal decision, based on how suddenly they seek to succeed and how much they can tolerate the pain of losing. Having said that, here are the best guidelines I can provide for the broadest number of poker players. I’ll explain the chart in a minute.

Caro’s Recommended Bankroll Requirements (for typical winning poker players)

If your bankroll is…

Highest limit you can play is…

Number of buy-ins you need is…

$10 to $299

$1/$2

1

$300 to $528

$2/$4

15

$529 to $1,081

$3/$6

17.64

$1,082 to $2,854

$5/$10

21.64

$2,855 to $5,036

$10/$20

28.55

$5,037 to $7,535

$15/$30

33.58

$7,536 to $13,293

$20/$40

37.68

$13,294 to $19,886

$30/$60

44.31

$19,887 to $27,178

$40/$80

49.72

$27,179 to $47,946

$50/$100

54.36

$47,947 to $71,725

$75/$150

63.93

$71,726 to $126,533

$100/$200

71.73

$126,534 to $189,286

$150/$300

84.36

$189,287 to $333,924

$200/$400

94.64

$333,925 to $499,531

$300/$600

111.31

$499,532 to $682,711

$400/$800

124.88

$682,712 to $881,233

$500/$1000

136.54

$881,234 to $1,318,272

$600/$1200

146.87

$1,318,273 to $1,801,686

$800/$1600

164.78

$1,801,687 to ?

$1000/$2000

180.17

Factors used in calculation: Buy-ins for second level = 15; Fluid Acceleration Factor (FAF) = 0.4. Diminishing Acceleration Factor (DAF) = 0.0 (not used).

Chart explained.
I am making public many similar charts based on the concepts I teach, and I’ve included some in my recently published Guide to Doyle Brunson’s Super/System. The most important concept is that the larger your bankroll grows, the more you should seek to protect it. Here’s how to read the chart above.

  1. Determine what the size of your available bankroll. This does not need to be cash actually in your pocket, but constitutes money that is readily available to you for the purpose of playing poker.

  2. Find the row where your bankroll fits in the left-hand column.

  3. Follow across to the middle column and find the maximum limit poker game you are allowed to play. Never play higher than this limit. If you have backers taking a percentage of your action, adjust the game accordingly. If someone else is covering 50 percent of your action in a $400/$800 game, then you’re effectively playing half as large, so make sure you have the bankroll required for $200/$400. The first number means the fixed bet on early betting rounds, the second sum is for later betting rounds. If you play in games where the limits stay the same throughout all betting rounds, for simplicity use the lower number to indicate the limit of game (although these games won’t be quite as large, on average). You may (and often should) play games lower than this maximum limit allowed.

  4. The right-hand column shows the number of “buy-ins” which are needed to play that level. A buy-in means 10 times the minimum bet.

My bankroll charts all use the following methodology.

  1. Level one is always playable, assuming you have one legal buy-in.

  2. Level two requires an arbitrary number of buy-ins. Here, level two is $2/$4, and the number of buy-ins I’ve selected as appropriate for most people is 15. This is not a “safe” number of buy-ins, but is adequate to have a decent chance of getting most potential winning players jump started. If you fail, you will probably be able to come up with another starting bankroll in the real world outside of poker.

  3. (This part is technical and the non-mathematical should ignore this paragraph in protecting their own sanity.) The requirements for subsequent levels are calculated by dividing the minimum bet for that level by the minimum bet for level two, taking that result to the power of the Fluid Acceleration Factor (FAF = 0.4 in the previous chart) plus 1 (1.4) and multiplying by the minimum bankroll for the second level.

  4. A Diminishing Acceleration Factor (DAF) is sometimes used in my charts to temper the exponential amount of increase in number of buy-ins required at larger limits. DAF was not used in the previous chart (or, more correctly, was computed at 0.0, effectively turning it off). By turning DAF off, I am allowing the requirements for the larger limits to become greater than many players would expect. I have done this deliberately, because I believe there are many unexpected obstacles awaiting players at these larger limits, and I wanted to pad the protection in this chart.

If you’re playing no-limit or pot-limit games, you’ll need to try to pick a level on the chart that the game would most nearly equal in size and risk. Also, the chart doesn’t factor in your skill, the skill of others, the ante size, the form of poker, or other factors that might be used to adjust the recommended betting limits. It assumes that you are a winning player who – if you play your best game all the time – will have typical advantages and win typical amounts. If you’re better than that description, you can move up levels with slightly smaller bankrolls; if you’re not quite that good yet, you will need a larger bankroll to advance. Still, I think the chart is a good one for most players, and I think you should use it just the way it is.

Bigger might be harder.
Many players think that as their bankrolls grows, they have a relatively equal chance of reaching the next level. This might not be true. You can run into larger games that are much tougher to beat. If this happens, you should play smaller limits than the maximum that the chart allows. Remember, the maximum limit listed is just that, a maximum limit. If you are allowed to play $100/$200, but the $40/$80 game provides the best profit at the lowest risk, then that’s the one you should be playing.

Notice that the number of buy-ins required grows disproportionately as the limits rise. This is in keeping with my concept that when your bankroll is small, there is less reason to spend time and effort defending it. You can simply gamble more recklessly and hope to get off to a good start. But the more your bankroll grows, the harder it is to replace. That’s why the FAF is used in my formula. It makes sure that the bigger your bankroll becomes, the more secure it is.

So, there it is – finally, a reasonable answer to your question about how much of a bankroll you need. If you stick to my Recommended Bankroll Requirements and don’t con yourself into jumping up to levels without an adequate bankroll, you can probably use that single chart throughout your entire poker-playing career, although you may want to adjust for inflation. Hope this helps.


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Mike Caro

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/mikecaro FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/caro.mike Known as the "Mad Genius of Poker," Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority of poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full biography at Poker1.com.

5 thoughts on “Safer requirements for poker bankrolls”

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  1. Hey Mike ,

    would you adjust these bankroll numbers in the above chart to take in to account todays higher variance limit hold em games?(particularly limits below 15-30) and if so, by what factors?

    not to suggest so. calif games were ever unagressive. as I assume these games factored largely in its creation.

  2. You said that a buy-in is ten times the minimum bet. I want to point out that if you sit in a limit poker game online, like at $2/4 Stud or LHE with $20, it will mark you instantly as a fish. Also, I think it gives you too small a swing-margin and can make you tilty and start playing scared money. Okay – not *you* ….but a lot of players especially new ones.

    I used to buy-in for twenty BBs, big ego bigger buy-in, I guess, but it just scared the weak players. Now I consider a standard buy-in to be ten BBs. I think it doesn’t mark me as anything and it means if I lose a big hand, I still have plenty of chips to play with and feel comfortable.

    What do you think?

    I love this chart, tho’ …it makes so much more sense if you than the 300BB standard touted on 2+2 and the like.

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