Guest Post: Building and Managing a Poker Bankroll

By Ben Ragusa

It’s been about 17 years now since I played my first hand of No-Limit Hold Em. I started playing back in 2003 shortly after Chris Moneymaker’ WSOP Main Event win. His victory sparked a poker boom and brought it into the mainstream. He got in on a $40 online satellite to take down poker’s biggest prize which helped create the online poker industry.

The first site I joined in late 2003 was called Poker Room. I knew relatively little about how to play, and nothing at all about bankrolls. I deposited $600 and it was gone in a matter of weeks. I quickly realized I had a lot to learn so I bought a bunch of poker books at Barnes & Noble and got to work. The first book I read was called Ace on the River by Barry Greenstein. It gave me a basic understanding of how to play and gave a brief description of poker’s culture as well as the mentality of the professional players. It wasn’t until 2006 that I learned about bankrolls.

In 2006 I joined Full Tilt Poker, an online website represented by a large number of well-known pros. It was one of 3 major websites in operation at the time, the other two being PokerStars, and Ultimate Bet. I played exclusively on Full Tilt for a number of years until the government shutdown of online poker on April 15th, 2011, otherwise known as Black Friday. My introduction to bankroll management was sparked by Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, one of Full Tilt’s co-founders. One of the things that made him so popular, other than his multiple WSOP wins, was his 0 to hero online poker challenge. Its purpose was to turn $0 into $10,000. Ferguson believed that by adhering to strict bankroll management rules he could achieve this feat. Full Tilt ran a few tournaments each day called freerolls which is where Ferguson started his challenge. There was no buy-in and you could win money by placing in the top 27 spots. There were typically 2,700 entries and the tournaments would fill up in just 90 seconds. It took Ferguson many weeks to make his first $2. Overall, he made $22 from the freerolls. It took him 9 months to make his first $100. One of the big moments in the challenge was placing 2nd in a $1 tournament for $104. Nine months after that Ferguson had amassed over $28,000 but failed to hold it eventually dropping back below $10,000. His rules were simple. He would invest no more than 2% of his bankroll on MTTs (multi-table tournaments). If he was under $50 however, he could play $1 tourneys since that was the lowest buy in at the time. For cash games, he could invest no more than 5%, and if his winnings exceeded 10% of his overall bankroll, he would be forced to leave the table when the blinds reached him. His challenge inspired me to manage my bankroll the same way. Things were going well until Black Friday shut it all down.

After Black Friday, I didn’t play online poker for a long time. I had a pretty firm grip on how to play many forms of poker and had finally figured out the importance of bankroll management, but never got the chance to really put it into practice. I had over $1,300 on Full Tilt at the time of the shutdown and was sticking firmly to Ferguson’s rules. There was no doubt his theory worked, but I needed a site to play on so I could start over. On May 2nd, 2017, I discovered Global Poker, an online site that treated each hand as a sweepstakes. This sweepsatkes model made it possible for them to bypass the online poker ban. They gave you $2 for signing up. I took the $2 and jumped into a .02/.04 cash game and ran it up to $8. The next day I played with $2 again and built the roll up to $17. Global had tournaments running once a day for $0.11 that payed out around $80 for 1st place so I quit the cash games and started playing those. A few months later I won one and the bankroll shot up to over $120.

Ferguson’s theory works. There is no doubt about that, but how effective is it in the long-term, and is it the right way to build a bankroll? Sure, the 2% and 5% rules work when you actually have a bankroll to manage, but what about if you are building one? Bankrolls go up and down because of variance, and since luck is streaky by nature, you could play perfectly for long stretches of time and still lose. Your bankroll has to be able to withstand these “swings”, but what if you didn’t have to worry about swings? Is there a way to build a bankroll without having it go up and down like an elevator all the time? Remember, Ferguson actually got to $28,000, but then dipped below $10,000 not long after. I decided to make my own rules to find out if there was a better way.

I didn’t abandon Ferguson’s system altogether, but I did some modifications. First, I needed to figure out my goal. Global’smost costly MTT buy-in is $218. If you multiply that by 50, (remember the 2% rule), you come up with $10,900. That means you need at least that much to be able to play the most expensive tournament. I made that my goal. I decided not to incorporate cash games, as that is not my preferred medium when it comes to online poker. Plus, the swings in NLHE cash games can be enormous. I don’t like the idea of losing 5% of my bankroll in one hand, especially when trying to build from scratch. Next, I needed a starting point. I still had some money left on Global after withdrawing $200 in June. I figured $55 was a good starting point since $1.10 was Global’s cheapest buy-in other than the $0.11 tourneys. They also run a handful of freebuysthroughout the night. Freebuys are basically freerolls that you can pay to re-enter if you go broke during the re-buy period. You can also pay to add on chips at the end of the rebuy period. I chose to treat them as freerolls and not invest any money in them. Another thing Global does, is they give you money to play each day. The first 4 days they give you $0.25, days 5 and 6 $0.55, and day 7 it’s $1, then it starts over. That means you can make $3.10 every week as long as you remember to claim it. If you subtract $0.77 from that assuming you play the $0.11 tournament every day, you will make $2.33 every week even if you cash in nothing. Following this method ensures your bankroll will never actually come down even if you run bad.

So basically, I am trying to make $55 into $10,900. Now that can seem pretty overwhelming when you look at it like that, so I broke it down into 9 levels. Each level starts at 50x the buy-in of that tournament. For example, Level 1 starts at $55 (50 x $1.10)and goes to $110 (50 x $2.20). Each level is made up of steps. So, level 1 has 11 steps of $5 each. Once I go up a step, the rule is not to let the bankroll dip below that. My goal each week is togo up one step. For example, if my bankroll is $62.50 to start Monday, I want to break $65 by Sunday. Remember, I’m profiting $2.33 that week no matter what happens, so all I really need to do is make at least $0.17 from my tournaments and I hit my goal that week. If my bankroll is above the minimum amount for a step, but the $2.33 profit isn’t enough to get to the next step, I will use whatever I have above the minimum to play. So, let’s say I’m in the $300-$325 step, and I have $318. That means I have $18 I can spend on tournaments that week to bump up to $325 or more. The buy-ins still have to be 2% or less of my bankroll, but I’m guaranteed to still be above $300 at the end of the week even if I strike out on every single tournament.

I think Ferguson’s rules work well if you have a bankroll to manage, but if you are trying to build, you want to avoid having those up and down swings. Look at it like building a house. You don’t want to get halfway done, and then start taking it apart. A bankroll is no different. My motto is “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”. That means no cash games during the build phase, and no dropping a step once you reach it. On July 20th, I had $55 in my account and as of this post, I am sitting at $513 and climbing just by sticking to these rules.

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