What constitutes a poker bankroll? For a professional gambler this term can mean their net. A more risk averse individual may wish to limit the amount of their net worth which can be devoted to gambling and delineate a particular portion of their wealth to the task of gambling. Whichever definition you choose managing your bankroll wisely is an important part of success in the poker world.
The precise limits you should be playing depends not only on the amount of money you have for gambling but also your own particular skill set. Even if you are quite wealthy if you cannot beat a $10 buy in game it is unwise to advance to the $25 level. Thus to advance in limits you need both the bankroll to sustain the variance at the higher limits and proof in the form of a statistically significant sample size that you are beating your current limit. But how much money is enough?
One particularly aggressive approach to bankroll management is to play with at least 300 big bets (for fixed limit games) and 20 buy ins (for big bet games such as NLHE or PLO). This approach is reasonable and can lead to rapid advancement through the ranks and is well suited for smaller bankrolls. As your bankroll grows however you should protect it more cautiously and use a more conservative approach. So while $1000 may be enough to play $50 NLHE you could require $2500 (25 buy ins) for a $100 game and $6000 (30 buy ins) for a $200 game. It is important to recognize that as you advance in limits the games get significantly harder and you will be faced with more professional players and professional players of a higher caliber. Since the games become more marginal you will experience sharper downswings and should be prepared both mentally and financially to weather the swings.
It is precisely because of this phenomenon of tougher games at higher levels that you should be prepared to play between levels. If you are at the $100 level, for example, but have won enough that you are ready to move up to the $200 level, you should continue playing mostly $100 games and taking shots at the $200 level only when the game looks particularly soft. You should actually want the $200 game to be softer than the average $100 game you are playing, since you are risking more money and hence in need of greater upside. Since the games at the higher level are generally tougher than the games at the lower level this means the majority of your play will be at games of the lower level. By expanding your online poker business across different levels and different poker sites you can prosper by playing in only the best games against the worst players.
Recreational players, even the more serious ones who perhaps aspire to become professionals or at least to play at a professional level, need not follow such strict rules of bankroll management. They can, of course, and it may be in their interest to do so, but they can also view poker as an entertainment expense or utilize the concept of a replenishable bankroll. The idea of a replenishable bankroll is that your poker funds consist of say $300 off every paycheque over a 12 month period or 7200. So even though you may only have $1000 in your pocket, you can play as if you have a $7000 bankroll and buy into a $200 game, content in your knowledge that if you lose your buy in you can try again in two weekends. In fact the forced stop loss from having a minimal triproll (the amount of money you bring with you to the casino) can be beneficial since it will force a break when things are not going well, which is generally a good idea anyway.
One particularly poor form of bankroll management is chasing losses or moving up to win back money you have lost. While in the short term this reckless approach may help you manufacture a string of small wins it is also a surefire path to devastating downswings that can cripple your bankroll and send you back to the micros.