You can’t play poker with no money

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Welcome to my first strategy column for Ante Up. I constantly am asked why most players fail at poker. The answer is simple: bankroll management.

If you don’t have a bankroll, you can’t play. Even if you’re the most skilled player in the world, if you have one buy-in to your name, you won’t be able to make money unless you run very hot.

On the other hand, if you’re smart with your money and always keep a decent bankroll, you’ll maximize your potential to grow as a poker player and build your bankroll along the way.

I started playing $.25-$.50 limit hold’em when I was 18 years old. While I only had 100 big bets, I managed to run hot enough to grow my bankroll and slowly move up. It was common knowledge that you need 300 big bets to play limit poker with little chance of going broke if you’re a skilled player, so I followed this guideline until I reached $15-$30.
Most people think it takes a long time to build a bankroll from scratch, but in reality, it doesn’t take too long as long as you’re willing to put in some hours at the table. Assuming you can play four tables at a time online, which is the minimum I suggest, you will be able to play around 250 hands per hour. Assuming, at limit hold’em, you win two big bets per 100 hands, you’ll win five big bets per hour. If you have 300 big bets in your current game then that means you have 150 big bets at the next level. So, it will take you around 30 hours to double your bankroll and move up.

When it comes to no-limit hold’em, which is by far the most popular game, I suggest keeping at least 50 buy-ins, assuming if you go broke, you can never deposit again. This also assumes you’re buying in for 100 big blinds. If you buy in for less than that, which I only recommend if you realize you’re outmatched (which usually means you shouldn’t be playing in the first place), you’ll need a larger number of buy-ins because you will be forced to get all-in more often.

In no-limit hold’em, a good player can win around 10 big blinds per 100 hands. So, assuming you can play 250 hands per hour, you can win 25 big blinds per hour. Every four hours you’ll win a buy-in meaning it will take you around 100 hours to double your bankroll. If you play full-time, you could potentially double your bankroll in less than three weeks.
For multitable tournaments, keep around 100 buy-ins for your current level. There’s more variance in multitable tournaments than most forms of poker as you only win a significant amount when you cash in the top 1 percent of the field, which is tough to do. For sit-n-go tournaments, keep around 50 buy-ins.

If you plan on playing professionally, you should keep around two times the numbers I suggested. Also, if you play many more tables at a time, you’ll need a larger bankroll as well. If you’re playing in tough games where your win rate will be less, you should keep a larger bankroll. Basically, as games get worse and you play more hands per hour, the minimum bankroll requirement will increase.

I recently decided to put these bankroll management guidelines to the test by starting with a $300 bankroll. I wanted to prove you can build a bankroll playing low-stakes no-limit hold’em if you follow these bankroll management guidelines. Seeing as I was starting with $300, I decided to play $.05-$.10 NLHE and always keep 30 buy-ins in my bankroll. I also decided to record every hand I play so you can see not only that it is possible to build a bankroll, but exactly how to do it.

I’ve been playing around one hour per week for this challenge, and the results so far have been decent, though very swingy. If you’d like to get the first video from my Bankroll Builder Challenge for free and follow my results, check out www.bankrollbuilderseries.com.

— Jonathan Little is the Season 6 WPT Player of the Year and is a representative for Blue Shark Optics. Check out his poker training website at FloatTheTurn.com.