Tips on How to Manage Your Bankroll

Tips on how to manage your bankroll

When it comes to casino or sports betting, the aim of the game is to play the odds and win. To do so, you’ll need to have money to begin with. This is used to pay for buy-in or to place your bets at the bookies.

For most people that dabble with betting, they don’t prepare themselves to understand the best way to manage their finances. Betting responsibly is not just a slogan that casinos and bookmakers use for legal purposes. Responsible betting is the difference between having a lot of fun or destroying your personal finances. It is wise advice rather than a scolding voice.

Man holding many euro notes in his hands with poker chips stacked up
When it comes to betting, you should set aside an amount of money you are willing to play with, and potentially lose. In a similar way that you would put money into an investment, you should set an amount of money aside exclusively for betting. The money you set aside is known as your bankroll.

While there are many betting tips available to help you improve your odds of winning in poker or sports bets, there are also tips for effective bankroll management that will help you understand your winnings and your losses. This, in turn, will help you to grow your bankroll, which will open up the opportunity for further winnings.

This article will unpack the concept of a bankroll, how to set one up, the different strategies to build it, manage it and protect it from being lost, and ultimately, how to spend it wisely.

What is a bankroll?

A simple bankroll definition is an amount of money you’ve set aside to use for betting and gambling. It’s important to understand this because you might think that your money is all clumped together.

So what is a bankroll’s purpose? Understanding what a bankroll is could be the difference between losing all your savings, or having fun and making money. When you first start playing poker or sports betting, you might just use your bank account and pay with your credit card. If you win, that’s great, you have more money. If you lose, no problem, you’ll play again. This is the danger of betting and gambling and why it should be done responsibly.

To ensure that gambling and betting is a rewarding experience, it is in your best interest to set up a bankroll. In that way you acknowledge the risks involved, i.e you might lose all of the money in the bankroll. It will also ensure that your betting strategy is determined by your bankroll, meaning that you won’t place bets that will ruin hours of hard work. It also means that you can develop a strategy that works for you.

All in all, having a bankroll and building your betting or gambling strategy around your bankroll is the first thing you should do before placing that first bet or paying for buy-in.

Setting up your bankroll

Learning how to make a bankroll is simple once you understand the concept of a bankroll. When setting up a bankroll, you will need to consider how much you would like to allocate for betting and gambling, and then how you will manage and keep track of that bankroll.

When thinking of an amount, it’s important to find the right balance for you. The size of your bankroll will determine what types of bets and games you’ll be playing. Starting with a very small bankroll could mean that you keep topping it up or starting from scratch. That might sound safe, but you won’t be able to see larger trends in your play. Over the long term, you could spend a lot more than you thought you would, when you count all of the top-ups.

A person's hand balancing 3 rolled up dollar bills on a wooden seesaw.
Starting with a bankroll that is very large could also be dangerous as you need to accept the possibility that you could lose all of it. Every single cent. If that were to happen, how would your personal finances stand? Would you need to sell your car to pay for your expenses? Again, the money in your bankroll should be treated as an investment.

Once you have determined an amount that you’re willing to play with and potentially part with, you’ll need to find a way to separate it from your other finances. This could be by making your bankroll cash and drawing all of the money. This would be for if you were going to casinos and sports betting bookmakers. All your winnings would be kept in cash as well.

Alternatively, you could set up a separate bank account or card so that you can manage your bankroll separately from your other money. You might do this if you plan to play online poker and blackjack or do sports betting online. The point of the separate account is so that you can keep a clear view of what your bankroll is. If your bankroll is mixed in with your other finances it can lead to confusion over how much you have in your bankroll, and how much you have for a new pair of shoes.

If you don’t feel like going to the bank and prefer to keep all your finances in one account, you can keep track of your bankroll either through a spreadsheet or an app. You would use a spreadsheet or an app regardless, as tracking your bankroll is a section on its own.

Spreadsheet screenshot on an app with some cells highlighted.
The bottom line is that you need to make a clear distinction between what your bankroll is and how much you have in it.

Structure of your bankroll

If you understand the importance of a bankroll, how much you would like to invest in it, and how you would like to house it, you should be ready to go, right? Not quite. The amount of money you put into the bankroll is also determined by how you would like to structure your bankroll.

It is advisable to settle on a timeframe for your bankroll. Most players will spread their bankroll over a calendar year. This will help with tracking your bankroll and provide valuable insights later down the line.

Once you have an amount and a timeframe, the next thing to do is to break your amount into 100 units. You can do this with any amount, but it can be easier to do it with a simplified amount, like $100 or $1000. The reason you would break it into units is that it makes implementing a strategy far easier.

Calendar icon with a dollar sign in black and white outline.
You will now have the building blocks of your bankroll and you will be able to make bets that are a percentage of your bankroll. This is an essential concept to practice as it will help you understand the risks you are taking when betting. For example, making many bets over 5% of your bankroll could seriously deplete your bankroll if you have a run of losses. With your bankroll in place, it’s time to consider ways that you can build your bankroll.

Building your bankroll

Sports betting and gambling can be hours of fun. When the time comes to log out or go home, you want to leave with more than what you arrived with. Your bankroll is the proof in the pudding.

When it comes to building your bankroll, there are many different strategies that are underpinned by broader approaches to building your bankroll. Having a core understanding of your approach will ensure that you can grasp these strategies.

Building your bankroll should begin with the following approaches.

Know how long you are playing for

Too often players will end up sitting for longer than they had planned either because they are on a hot streak or because they want to try to recover their losses. Neither is a good option.

You should always know that when you sit down, you are only there for a finite amount of time. Set a time that you can commit to playing for. It shouldn’t be more than an hour and a half. You need to have a fresh mind to make wise decisions, and a tired mind sure won’t be making those.

If it helps, set a time, but always stick to it. Discipline is essential in managing your bankroll.

Start with low risk games

We all dream of taking a chance on the 100/1 and winning it. The reality is that it is 100/1 for a reason. Reading the odds of games is really important when building your bankroll. It will also help you to avoid depleting your bankroll on poker tables that you shouldn’t be playing at yet.

A simple rule of thumb is to choose low-risk games. When it comes to gambling, starting at low-risk games means that you can steadily build your bankroll. You can be sure to find stronger players at the high-risk tables, and over the course of a couple of hands, you could do serious damage to your bankroll.

Stressed screaming woman behind a roulette table in pop art cartoon.
High-risk games and bets also bring a lot of stress. That stress can often cloud your judgment and you can end up making some silly decisions. It is far more advisable to start with the lower odds and gradually ease your way up.

Stay within your bankroll

It is essential to commit to staying within your bankroll. Your bankroll determines how many buy-ins you could have. If you take a chance with a big game, you might not only lose a lot of money but also force yourself to start with the smallest buy-ins for the foreseeable future.

When things are going well, and your bankroll is up, you might be tempted to start playing higher risk games. After all, you can afford it? The truth is you should scale up with extreme caution. When considering bigger games, the term ‘variance’ might arise.
What is the variance? Variance is a measure of how far results can differ from expectations. In practice, it means that with an approach of high variance, you could win big or lose badly. If you look at your hand, and think the odds are in your favor, and bet large, you are playing with high variance.

While it’s not essential at this point to understand variance, it is important to understand that the higher the variance, the more buy-ins you should be able to afford from your bankroll. For example, the following table shows the buy-in amount, and to the right of it, how much it will cost for 20 buy-ins:

Buy-in Bankroll required
$1 $20
$2 $40
$5 $100
$10 $200
$15 $300
$20 $400
$30 $600
$60 $1200

As you can see, if your bankroll is lower than $1200, you shouldn’t really be spending money on $60 buy-ins. Taking variance and the potential loss into account, a losing streak could severely deplete your bankroll.

If you have managed to work your bankroll up to over $1200, and feel confident in your abilities to try a $60 buy-in, by all means, go for it. Should you hit a losing streak and dip below $1000, you will need to show discipline and humility to return to the lower buy-ins. Pride has often been the reason for a depleted bankroll.

Know your odds

Sometimes in sports betting, you might know something that the bookies don’t. Maybe you’ve supported a team for over thirty years and you know when a young player in their team is going to break through and what he can do. Or you know that a manager is going to get the sack. Weighing your knowledge against the betting odds is where you can start to see potential value.

In casinos, it is equally important to know your odds. Casinos know the house edge, and you should try to as well. The house edge is how casinos survive as businesses. In the long term, the odds of the games are in the houses favor. This doesn’t mean the game is rigged. It just means that the odds are more favorable for the casino. That’s why you wager a bet, because there is always an exception.

It is important to remember this so that you never end up chasing your losses. The odds aren’t in your favor, so you will need skill and tactics to win. In a game like blackjack, for example, there are odds on the success of different hands. This helps you to know when it is a good time to hold, stand or hit. It doesn’t come down to luck as much as you might think.

Stay comfortable

It is never a good idea to gamble or place a bet when you’re not in a good headspace. If you are tired, drunk or angry, chances are that you are going to lose money and deplete your bankroll. You should always gamble responsibly and that means being fresh and alert so that you can stand a better chance of winning.

Gamble responsibly written in fridge magnet lettering
Building a bankroll takes time, focus and strategy. There is no quick-fix solution to build your bankroll overnight. If you don’t have the discipline and strategy, your bankroll will disappear quicker than it took you to set it up.

Bankroll strategy

So you’ve set aside an amount of money for your bankroll, you’ve broken the amount up into 100 units, and you’re wide-awake and ready to play. The next step is to determine your bankroll strategy.

There are many gaming tips and strategies available to help you grow your bankroll. It might seem overwhelming at first to decipher which one is for you. One way of sifting through the strategies is to know what type of betting or game you will be playing the most. For example, are you interested in sports betting, poker or blackjack? Your strategy should not speak to more than one of these. If you play all three with the same bankroll, chances are you might find it difficult to pinpoint and improve your bankroll strategy. As a result, you might not grow your bankroll.

Knowing your own strategy and reflecting on it is the best way to grow your bankroll. You will be able to interpret bad decisions and avoid them in the future, as well as appreciate your strengths and grow in confidence.

Below are bankroll strategies that you can apply to sports betting, poker, and blackjack.

Sport betting bankroll

Sporting teams are supported by millions of people across the world. Cup finals and grudge matches are intense and enjoyable to watch. For many, betting on sports adds an additional element to the experience. It can also make games or fights that you weren’t interested in, suddenly seem very engrossing.

In terms of bankroll management, sports betting is as tactical as poker or blackjack. Yes, there is an element of chance, but there are also odds and probabilities. Your sports betting bankroll should be treated with the same respect as you would with an investment or any other bankroll.

Man celebrating his win on a sports betting app with his phone in one hand
There are two main sports bankroll strategies that are effective when implemented correctly. They are using the Kelly Criterion and betting a consistent percentage of your bankroll.

Consistent percentage

As the name suggests, this strategy involves always betting the same percentage of your bankroll. It is perceived as a very cautious approach. As you will always be betting a percentage of your bankroll, your bankroll will last longer during a bad run, i.e it won’t deplete as fast. The other side is that if your bankroll increases, so too will be the amount that you are betting.

A potential flaw in this approach is that it doesn’t take the odds of the bet into consideration. This means that you would be putting the same bet down for a favorite or an outsider. You could always go for the favorite, but even then it is still not guaranteed to be successful.

If you’re not looking to put too much thought into your bets, then this might be a way to add more excitement to neutral games. At the very least, it will help you not to lose all of your bankroll in a couple of bets.

The Kelly Criterion

When looking for sports betting tips, you’re sure to come across the Kelly Criterion. In layman’s terms, the Kelly Criterion is a formula that investors and gamblers use to determine how much of the bankroll should be invested to get the maximum return on investment. The Kelly Criterion is not faultless and there are some critics of it, however, having a broad understanding of its application can help you to develop a viable bankroll strategy.

There are many adaptations of the Kelly Criterion that you could apply. The first one is the Full Kelly. It is simple to understand but can deplete your bankroll if you’re not careful. To have all the components for the Full Kelly you need to know the overlay and the odds.

If the odds are 2.5 (40%) for Team A to win, but you do your own research and calculate that Team A has a 60% chance of winning, the overlay will be 20% (60% – 40%). With an overlay of 20% and the odds of 2.5, you have the values needed to complete the Full Kelly:

Percentage of bankroll to bet = overlay/(odds – 1)

Percentage of bankroll to bet = 20/(2.5 – 1)

Percentage of bankroll to bet = 13.3%

If your bankroll is $1000, your bet would be $133 on Team A. As you can see, if your overlay calculations are wrong, you could lose a lot of your bankroll after a few bets. There are many helpful tools online to convert odds into decimals and percentages.

Another example of a Kelly Criterion is the Constant Kelly. This follows the same formula as the Full Kelly with one difference. In the Full Kelly and Fractional Kelly, the percentage to bet would be a percentage of your bankroll. As your bankroll will diminish and grow over time, the amount that the percentage refers to will as well. For example, 13% of $1000 is $130, but 13% of $1500 is $195.

The Constant Kelly is when you ignore how your bankroll has grown or diminished and always calculate the percentage from a fixed or ‘constant’ amount. So if your bankroll begins at $1000, you will always calculate your percentage from that amount, regardless of how your bankroll fluctuates.

The next adaptation of the Kelly Criterion is the Fractional Kelly. As the name suggests, this involves betting only a specified fraction of the Full Kelly. This is perhaps a recommended approach for sports betting as it doesn’t pose as much risk as the Full Kelly, while still using the odds to calculate how much to bet.

The two common types of Fractional Kelly are the Half Kelly (50%), and the Quarter Kelly (25%). If we applied the Quarter Kelly to the above bet on Team A, you would only be betting 25% of $133, which would be $33.25. In the long-term, this approach has been found to return better results than the Full Kelly.

Poker bankroll

A poker bankroll, like a sports bankroll, has its own strategies. The game is always fun to play, but a strategic poker bankroll management will guarantee far more enjoyment from your hands.

The world of online poker has brought the game to the homes of millions. Never before has it been as accessible as it is now. With casinos vying for your attention, it has also ensured that the best casinos have risen to the top with better offerings. It is important that, despite the promises of big winnings and prizes, you remember to manage your bankroll.

If you research enough, you’ll find that some top casinos offer excellent signup bonuses. These bonuses can be added to your poker bank, but it is important to be aware of any terms and conditions. For example, some casinos allow you to play with the bonus coins, but not withdraw them until you have played a certain amount of times. This is to avoid players signing up and leaving immediately with their bonuses. Make sure to do your homework and select a renowned casino that you can trust has good games.

So, you’ve selected your casino and doubled your bankroll with the signup. Regardless of whether it is a bonus or not, your bankroll should still be managed as if it was an investment. Many players are too frugal with their bonus coins and lose them without applying any strategy that they can learn from. Worst still, they adopt habits that they use on their own bankroll.

By learning how to build a bankroll, poker players will find the playing experience that much more gratifying. With an increased bankroll from signup, it’s the ideal opportunity to apply a strategy and see how it works.

Before you begin playing, it is important to know how much you are willing to spend. If your bankroll is broken into units, you can use a unit per session. It is also an effective way to calculate how many buy-ins you would like to purchase.

Your bankroll will always determine how many buy-ins you can afford. There are many poker buy-in calculators available online that can be used to advise on how many buy-ins you should go for.

In general, when playing cash games, you will be looking at between 20 – 40 buy-ins with your bankroll (not per session). A cash buy-in poker game can be set at a minimum of $5 and a maximum of $10. If you want to play 20 times with the minimum buy-in, you would need a bankroll of at least $100. If you use the maximum buy-in, you would need a bankroll of at least $200.

Money icon, poker chip icon, calculator icon and chart icon
When playing cash games, it can be difficult to stop playing when you’re on a winning streak. It is better to set rules for yourself and to remain disciplined if you really want to grow your poker bankroll. One of the best poker tips is to leave the table once you’ve won twice the buy-in. When you’re having a bad time, limit yourself to two buy-ins per session. Remember that frustration can cloud your judgment.

Tournaments are also an excellent way to enjoy poker. In terms of bankroll management, poker tournaments come with their own set of guidelines. The main strategy for poker tournaments is to only play tournaments whose buy-in is 2% or less of your bankroll. If your bankroll is $1000, this means that you should only play tournaments with a buy-in of $20 or less.

Many online tournaments offer add-ons and re-buys. If you are tempted by these, it needs to be factored as part of the 2%, not more. These top-ups often tempt you in the heat of the game, so it is best advised to make your mind up beforehand if you are going to use them or not. Remember, they all add up, and you could end up spending a lot more than you planned to.

Now that you know whether you are playing cash games or tournaments, it is important to know how to build your poker bankroll while playing.

Raising the stakes sustainably

All players should start with low stakes games. Over time, you might have grown your bankroll gradually, and want to raise the stakes to increase your bankroll further. This is a natural progression, but it is something that you need to constantly reflect on. Higher stakes make for more nerves and better players. If you see that your bankroll is diminishing, there is no shame in returning to lower stakes. You could even spread your buy-ins between low and high stake games until you feel comfortable at the higher stakes.

Navigating tournaments

Poker tournaments are a great way to earn large amounts of money. An example is the $1,000,000 buy-in tournament at the 2012 World Series of Poker. You might find that you’re good at the tournaments with a buy-in of 2% of your bankroll. Now you want to try a bigger tournament above the 2% threshold. A good way to attempt this is to lower the usual buy-in you pay and use the savings to pay the buy-in at a more expensive tournament. In that way, you are still managing your bankroll responsibly, while playing in a higher risk tournament.

Poker tournament banner in front of a royal flush poker combination.

Blackjack bankroll

When it comes to casino games that need bankroll management, blackjack is up there with poker. Blackjack might seem like a game that can offer quick wins, but it can also deplete your bankroll if you are not careful.

As with poker, you’ll want to divide your bankroll into bet-size units. If you are planning to use your casino bankroll exclusively on blackjack, you should try to create 150 bet-size units. You should then only use a maximum of 50 units per trip to the casino. The same applies to online play. In practice, if your bankroll is $1200, you should have 150 x $8 units. If you go to the casino or playing online, you should cap yourself at $40 (50 x $8).

You shouldn’t jump straight in and spend $40 in one go. It is advisable to start with one unit per game. If you get ahead, keep going, but maintain your bets in units per game. As with any gambling or betting, set a time-limit for yourself. It should be less than three hours. Don’t feel the need to spend the $40 per trip either. It’s always advisable to quit while you’re ahead.

Protecting your bankroll

If you’ve adopted a bankroll strategy and experienced success, you might start to worry about losing it. If you’re not expecting to feel this, think again. It may have taken you hours and hours of cautious play to earn it, but you can lose it in a single game if you are careless.

It’s also important to remember that your bankroll is separate from your main finances. If you’ve earned a lot of money, you might want to cash out some of it to buy things in your personal life. That’s completely fine, so long as you take the cash out. Don’t hold onto the bankroll as assurance. You might feel invincible but your bankroll can, and most likely will diminish at some point.

Protecting your bankroll should be part of your bankroll strategy. For sports betting, using the Fractional Kelly should help you to manage a losing streak. You can lower the fraction to an amount that makes you feel comfortable. Alternatively, you could use the consistent percentage strategy, which will make for a steadier descent.

Gold padlock standing up on many scattered coins on a white table.
In poker, there are a few ways that you can protect your bankroll. When playing online, avoid rebuy tournaments and auto top-ups. A rebuy tournament might look enticing with their low buy-in and high prize, but it will cost you more than you might think. The rebuy and add-on options come in the heat of the game, and their convenience is sometimes too difficult to resist. You’ll end up spending five times the amount you initially planned when you saw the buy-in price.

The auto top-up feature allows for your bankroll to be topped up automatically once it dips below a certain point. While this could keep you in a game with the ability to bet big, it can also make you lose track of how much money you have put into your bankroll. If you’re applying a strategy, this could make your results difficult to interpret. In the heat of the moment, another $5 might not seem like much, but they all add up.

In blackjack, try to avoid spending your winnings. This will allow your bankroll to remain strong, and you will be able to give yourself time to learn your game in more detail. After going to the casino or playing online, reassess your bankroll and try to keep it between 150 – 200 units.

Apps to manage your bankroll

To truly manage your bankroll it is important to keep track of your performances. You might think that you can rely on memory, but after a few sessions, it can start to get a little hazy. Measuring your performances will help you to reflect objectively on your strategy and find a winning formula for your style of betting and gambling. It will also help you to understand the game better by seeing what the results have been and why the odds are what they are.

For sports betting, the websites that you use might offer the ability to track your past bets and their results. Whether it is accumulator bets or one-offs. You might see trends that you often back the underdog, only to realize that you’re betting with your heart and not your head. It might give you a greater respect for the bookmakers’ odds, which could make you lower your predictions and the overlay in your Kelly formula.

For poker, the rise of so many online casinos has brought with it some great innovation. While many sites have an online poker bankroll, many players still track their insights in their own spreadsheets. If you enjoy working with Excel, there are online templates that you can use to create your own poker spreadsheet. If Excel is not for you, then there are a host of apps that you can use.

You should have a poker bankroll tracker whether you play in the casino, online or both. The purpose is to understand your strategy and how your bankroll has performed over your allocated duration of time.

If you prefer to play poker live in casinos, apps like Poker Bankroll Tracker, the My Poker Bankroll, and Poker Charts will make you understand the value that tracking your online poker bankroll can bring. Some of these are paid services, but it is worth taking a trial to experience the benefit of comprehensive bankroll tracking. For the online poker enthusiasts, Poker Tracker and Holdem Manager are two easy to use apps.

The world of sports betting and online poker games is an exciting space if you are strategic and informed. Managing your bankroll is the only way to ensure that you can enjoy it for years on end while making money. Finding a leading casino that provides excellent services for both, with a brilliant sign-up bonus, will ensure that you can feel at ease that the games will be good, and the odds forever in your favor.