how to build a poker bankroll

Bankroll Management That Works In 2017

bankroll management tips infographic

Even top players go broke sometimes.

Fact is, being a great poker player isn’t all it takes to be successful. You need to be disciplined and practice good bankroll management to avoid poker’s pitfalls.

At one time, even Upswing’s Doug Polk felt at the end of his rope. What makes stories like his different than those who never reach the highest stakes?

A lot of potentially great players never move up in stakes because they’re never able to build a poker bankroll. Most know how to manage a bankroll, but they lack the discipline to follow through.

Most players have heard the typical “buy-in rules.” Namely:

  • 20-40 Buy-Ins for Cash Games
  • 100+ Buy-Ins for Tournaments

That may work just fine for some, but the topic is far too complex to be summed up with a simple one line rule. Let’s examine the topic of building a bankroll with more nuanced tips to help you jump-start your poker career.

Poker Bankroll Tips

Before you get started, there’s a few things you’ll have to figure out.

  • Bankroll Tip #1: Figure out what you can set aside for poker.

First you need a bankroll to grow.  It’s the seed money that you will invest in poker. How much money can you allocate solely to poker right now?

If you say “[X], but It doesn’t matter because I can just reload” then you are already setting up yourself for failure.

You will never build a bankroll in poker if you play with the assumption that you can just reload indefinitely. Poker is played better when there is a small risk of ruin involved. Not enough to turn you into a nit, but enough to make you value every decision. 

  • Bankroll Tip #2: Figure out what games you want to play.

Find your best games at the lowest rake and specialize, and definitely don’t hop around games. You want to focus your efforts on crushing a single format.

Taking risks by playing games with unknown edges are a luxury most bankrolls don’t have. When you are low in funds is better to invest in games you know you have an advantage in.

Remember to factor in more than just the players/softness of the games. Find a game that offers them at a beatable rake and/or a site with great rakeback deals.

  • Bankroll Tip #3: Play within your bankroll.

Play games that make sense for your bankroll and ability. No one envisions themselves at the micros, but if that’s where your journey begins then do it as long as you have to. The high stakes will be much more rewarding if you can look back at your $0.01/$0.02 days with pride.

How will you when your bankroll is ready for higher stakes games?

Well, that depends on the variance of your chosen games.

No Limit Cash Games (20 to 40 Buy-Ins)


Bankroll Required


$40 to $80


$160 to $320


$200 to $400


$1000 to $2000


$2000 to $4000


$4000 to $8000


$10,000 to 20,000

If your no limit game has more variance than average, lean towards the high side of the above estimates.

Limit Cash Games (300 to 400 Bets)


Bankroll Required


$12 to $16


$30 to $40


$60 to $80


$120 to $160


$150 to $200


$300 to $400


$600 to $800


$1200 to $1600

(Note: We cover proper bankroll management and much more in the Upswing Lab! This comprehensive poker training course was created by Doug Polk & Ryan Fee. It’s sure to improve your game and help you win more money!)

Single Table Sit & Gos


























Heads Up Sit & Gos

























Like cash games, the proper bankroll for HUSNGs also depends on the variance in your game type. The above bankroll requirements will be effective for reg-speeds and bumhunting turbos, but hyper-turbos will require significantly more buy-ins.

Now, let’s see how these tips apply to a real world scenario by checking out Doug Polk’s Bankroll Challenge.

Doug Polk’s 10K Poker Bankroll Challenge

In August of 2016, Doug Polk launched a poker bankroll challenge with an end goal of turning $100 into $10,000.

Throughout the challenge, Doug has demonstrated the principles mentioned above. Here are a few examples:

Figure out your bankroll: Doug decided to start with $100, giving him 50 buy ins for NL2 and 100 buy ins for $1 Tournaments and SnGs. Not enough for anything higher than that.

Figure out what games you want to play: After a couple of days of hopping around different formats, Doug decided to play tournaments and SnGs even though he is a heads up cash game player at heart. Why not exploit this edge?

After playing micro-stakes cash games for the beginning of the challenge, he came to the conclusion that the rake was too high for him to have a satisfactory win rate.

That coupled by Twitch regulars hunting him down for the chance to play with Doug at a discount made it clear that tournaments were his best bet to survive the challenge.

Play within your limits. Doug started the challenge with every intention to stay within his self imposed limits, but he re-learned the hard way why the limits were there in the first place.

Doug was, understandably, bored of the micro limits and took some shots. A few paid off, big time, but one in particular threatened his hopes of completing the challenge.

Doug started the challenge playing NL2 cash games and moving slowly but consistently up in stakes. After finding the rake in cash games too brutal to continue, he moved on to tournaments.

The strategy worked until he abandoned it on day 13, when Doug decided to jump from the NL4 all the way up to NL20 heads up cash games tables.

His reasoning was sound, he does have a big edge heads up over the average player, but variance had his number. After a bad run in a series of matches he ended the session with a $269 loss, losing almost ¾ of his bankroll.

(Note: Want to learn poker with Doug Polk as your coach? Build your bankroll with the Upswing Lab!)

Doug demonstrated a valuable lesson for his Twitch viewers. Playing under rolled almost cost him the whole (albeit temporary) bankroll. It could cost you a lot more if you took a shot like that with your permanent bankroll.

Poker Bankroll Management Tools

One of the wonders of being a poker player in the 21st century is that you don’t have to do as much math as David Sklansky did.

Now we have instant poker bankroll apps that can serve as your own personal bankroll manager. Even live poker bankrolls can be as effectively tracked as online bankrolls with this specialized software. Here are a few examples.

Poker Bankroll Apps

poker bankroll app

Apps like this can make it easier to track your bankroll, hourly and other statistics. Particularly useful for live players.

Poker Charts: An online service that allows players to manage their bankroll and analyze results through their website. Paying subscribers can record their results and upload them to their personal database.

Pro: Being online based allows them to have no compatibility issues with any smartphone, tablet or computer.

Con: It’s impossible to import hand histories from Holdem Manager or PokerTracker. New users have to start their database from scratch.

The service has a one month free trial, afterwards users can choose from the available price plans:

  • Semi-Annual Plan: $14.95/6 months
  • Quarterly Plan: $9.95/3 months
  • Monthly Plan: $4.95/month

Poker Dominator: An online service similar to Poker Charts, which allows players to track their bankroll and results in different online sites and casinos. All of it’s features are 100% free, as they are supported through affiliate deals and an online store.


  • 100% Free of charge.
  • No compatibility issues with any smartphone, tablet or computer.
  • Allows importing from Poker Charts


  • No mobile app, must be accessed through a browser.
  • It only allows 2,000 hands to be imported from PokerTracker
  • Had to close down their support forum due to a high influx of spambots. Customer support inquiries are only available through email.

Those apps will work great for any live player. If you’re an online player, we recommend sticking to PokerTracker 4 or HoldEm Manager.

Poker Bankroll Spreadsheets

If you prefer a simple approach to bankroll tracking, there are many free bankroll spreadsheets available online. Anyone with the know-how can make one of this spreadsheets, allowing users to freely record and share their progress online. If you want to make one yourself or use someone else’s, here are few models provided by

Cash Game Bankroll Management Spreadsheet: Divides your bankroll by types of cash games. It’s compatible with any game time, whether it’s full ring, short handed or heads up, limit, no limit or pot limit. It can also help you decide when to move up in stakes by tracking your progress to established goals.

Multi-Table Tournament Bankroll Management Spreadsheet: Similar to the Cash Game Spreadsheet, this is designed to help you decide when to move up in stakes. This is useful as tournament variance could fool you into moving up way too soon.

Hopefully you can take these tips, software and go build yourself a strong poker bankroll to jump-start your career.

(Note: Serious about improving your poker skills and watch your bankroll inflate like a balloon? Check out the Lab, a poker training course developed by Doug Polk & Ryan Fee! Our subscribers are crushing and you can too!)  upswing poker lab banner

Read more from UpswingPoker:

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