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Bankroll Management for Heads Up Poker Players

Poker bankroll management is an important skill - there is no doubt about that. If you can't properly manage your bankroll, you'll eventually go broke. It might be sooner or it might be later, but it will happen.

But bankroll management strategies or systems aren't created equal. Meaning, you could have a rule of always needing 30 buy-ins to play 18-man turbo sit and gos. This might be an ok system for 18-man turbos, but if you took this system and decided to play 180-man turbo sit and go's, it probably wouldn't work. These games are just too different. Busting a 180-man bankroll with only 30 buy-ins is very possible to do due to the variance in the game while it's not as likely to happen playing 18-mans.

The same idea will apply to those of you that play heads up games. There is a smaller edge in heads up games so you'll experience larger swings. You'll want to have a good system set up according to the type of heads up game you play (cash or SNG) and buy-ins, your winrate or ROI, the amount of discipline you have and your psychological tolerance.

General Heads Up Bankroll Management for Cash Games and SNGs

Giving a guide for how many buy-ins you need to play heads up games is somewhat difficult to do because everyone's situation is going to be different. Some players might need to pay their bills and live off their profits while others have nothing to lose (other than their bankrolls). This player might want to move up as aggressively as possible while learning how to 2-3 table, while you might want to really focus on quality poker and 1-table while moving up only after you have a sample stating you're +EV. Everyone will be different so you'll need to adjust the following to suit your needs.

Cash Games

For cash games, I would suggest having anywhere from 10 to 50 buy-ins. The higher in stakes you climb, the harder it is to replace your roll (this idea came from a article) and the more you rely on your bankroll for bills, the closer to 50 buy-ins you should have.

Gugel, from, made a post showing over 100k hands where he went on two 20+ buy-in downswings. Granted, he does play higher stakes, but you'll find that these downswings aren't impossible to experience at the lower levels. Gugel went on to suggest that players should have a 40 buy-in bankroll.

Sit and Gos

If you play HU SNGs, the idea will be the same. The higher up in stakes you climb and the more money you have in your roll, the bigger your minimum number of buy-ins should be for any stake you wish to play. I don't play HU SNGs myself, so I here is what suggests for bankroll management:

  • $5 - 15 buy-ins
  • $10 - 20 buy-ins
  • $20 - 25 buy-ins
  • $30 - 30 buy-ins
  • $50 - 35 buy-ins

Again, everyone will be different. For myself, I'm more inclined to be aggressive early on with my bankroll when it is small and the competition is soft and practice conservative bankroll management when I get to a level where the games are significantly harder and the swings much bigger.

Heads Up Bankroll Management Depending on Your Winrate or ROI

A big variable in determining your heads up bankroll management guidelines is simply, how good of a player are you? In other words, how big/small is your winrate and/or ROI?

The bigger your winrate or ROI, the more money you win. You could also say that someone with a higher winrate or ROI tends to win more often as well. So, players of a higher caliber will see fewer swings and the swings they do see should be smaller in comparison to losing players. These players can get away with having a smaller bankroll.

On the other hands, losing or breakeven players will win less often. Because of this, their bankroll should be bigger to handle the stress of more frequent and bigger swings.

Heads Up Bankroll Management Based on Psychological Tolerance

Another important variable to consider is how much you can tolerate. How much money can you lose before you start to get uncomfortable?

For example, you might have a 50 buy-in bankroll, lose half of it in one sitting and not care. I, on the other hand, would have a minor panic attack. ZOMG, I just lost half my bankroll.I need to move down, play less tables, study and figure out what I'm doing wrong. As you can see, my tolerance for losing money is much more sensitive. This will likely affect my mood, the volume I put it and I might even adjust to a tighter playing style just to play it safe.

You'll want to adjust your guidelines according to your comfort level. If you can handle losing money, you can probably get by without having as big a bankroll as a player who can't.

Summary of Heads Up Poker Bankroll Management

As it holds true with almost everything poker related, the most accurate answer to the question, how much of a bankroll do I need for HU poker, is that it depends. It's going to depend on the games you play, the buy-ins, your winrate and tolerance for losing money. You can even factor in other variables such as how many tables you play, whether your use software or not, the sites you play on (softer vs tougher sites) and many other things.

The best suggestion I can make is to follow the guidelines above and make any adjustments necessary to better suit your needs. And if you're still having a difficult time, just remember the saying, having more than what you need is better than not having enough.

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