One of the first things to think about when choosing what stakes to play at is just how seriously you want to play. Believe it or not, this might work counter to how you imagine: the more casual your feelings about your poker play, the safer it is for you to play at higher stakes.
This is because serious players, especially those who want to seek poker as a profession, must carefully manage their bankrolls. On the other hand, a casual player can lose their stake and walk away without any second thoughts. This means that, in the example of the $1/$2 poker games we mentioned above, you might be okay playing with just $100 in your bankroll, all of which you’d take to the table to play with – provided that you don’t care if you lose it all, and understand that even random variance could easily cause you to lose it all. This is equivalent to visiting your nearest casino’s poker room and buying in just to play for the day. You hope you win, but if not, you can absorb the loss.
On the other hand, a serious or professional poker player would never risk their entire bankroll at a single table. For a serious poker player, their bankroll is separate from their everyday funds, and if that bankroll disappears, they’re either going to have to painfully dip into their savings or go out of business entirely. That’s why serious players exercise what’s known as bankroll management: they carefully manage their money by playing only at stakes where they are as certain as possible that they won’t lose their bankroll due to bad luck alone.
Proper Bankroll Size
The “correct” bankroll size for serious players has been a topic of debate for decades, and will probably continue to be so for many years to come. In truth, it depends on your level of risk tolerance; the smaller your bankroll in relations to the stakes you are playing, the more risk there is that you’ll go broke at some point. A serious amateur will want to keep a bigger bankroll than a casual player, but in turn, won’t need to be as conservative as a semi-professional or professional player.
With that in mind, the following guidelines are just that: guidelines. You can adjust them up or down as you see fit, based on your risk tolerance and need for security in your bankroll.
In limit cash games, the general rule of thumb is to have 300 big blinds to play at a given level. This means that for a $2/$4 limit game, you’ll want to have a bankroll of at least $1,200.
In pot limit or no limit cash games, you’ll want to have at least 20-30 buy-ins for the level you are playing at. For instance, if you’re playing a $1/$2 no-limit game with a $200 maximum buy-in, you’ll want between $4,000 and $6,000 in your bankroll.
For regular poker tournament play, you’ll want to have somewhere between 50 and 100 buy-ins available to counter the high variance in this form of play. For a $10+$1 tournament regimen, then, you’ll want to have at least $550 in your bankroll. Sit and go requirements can be a little lower than this, as they have less variance than larger multi-table tournaments.
Skill Matters, Too
One last note: your level of skill can also influence the above bankroll requirements. If you are crushing a game at an extraordinarily high win rate, you won’t need quite as much in your bankroll to play safely. On the other hand, if you’re just barely squeaking by, you might need more than the guidelines suggest. Finally, if you’re not capable of beating a given limit, then no size bankroll will stop you from eventually losing. That means that your level of skill always gives you a maximum cap on the level you can play – at least if you care about winning in the long run. Once again, though, these considerations only matter if you want to maintain and build a bankroll for serious play: if you’re just in poker for the fun of it, you should play whatever games give you the kind of action you’re looking for.