NLHE 6-max: Bankroll Management

In 6-max no-limit hold'em we're exposed to a very high variance due to the large number of hands played and the increased, aggressive pressure exerted by our opponents and by our own need to play even marginal hands from time to time. This can easily be minimized in a full ring game by restricting ourselves to playing only premium hands, i.e. pairs and strong aces.

The inevitable variance in 6-max games can however do a considerable amount of damage to our bankroll, despite making correct plays and decisions. Paired with a couple of bad decisions - something we as poker players cannot claim to avoid completely - and the occasional emotional blackouts (tilt), an insufficient bankroll on shorthanded tables can mean going broke quickly. Especially when things are going really badly, we tend to change our playing style unconsciously. We perhaps play more tight than we should in some situations because we're worried about losing even more, or we do exactly the opposite and overplay some hands in the hope of winning our money back as fast as possible. All these factors have to be taken into consideration when it comes to solid bankroll management.

Stack management

We want to counteract the pressure of variance by increasing our bankroll in order to have a very big conservative buffer. The bankroll management recommendation for full ring is 25 stacks (= buy-ins). But for an average player in shorthanded games, that's not enough. A phase like the one described above, together with several bad or wrong decisions and respectively bad calls or all-ins can easily lead to a downswing of up to 20 stacks in a 6-max game. We therefore want a minimum of 40 stacks as a buffer before we enter the world of shorthanded NLHE. This results in the following requirements for moving up in limits:  



- NL2 -

Blinds: $0.01/$0.02


- NL5 -

Blinds: $0.02/$0.05 


- NL10 -

Blinds: $0.05/$0.10


- NL25 -

Blinds: $0.10/$0.25


- NL50 -

Blinds: $0.25/$0.50


Climbing the limit ladder

This stack management should not exert any pressure at all to move up in limits as soon as our bankroll permits moving to the next level. Fundamentally, the following applies: whoever beats his comfort limit and is happy with it shouldn't feel under pressure to go up a limit just because he has the bankroll for it. As soon as the bigger pots and bets in the higher limit games clearly influence our decisions, going up is not yet advisable. Instead, we continue playing at our regular limit together with a single carefully selected table of the next higher limit. By restricting ourselves to a single table we have more time for decisions, and can also analyze whether the size of the bets has a big influence on our play. In this way we can slowly get used to the higher limit. As soon as we can answer the question about whether the size of the bets has an influence with "No", we're ready to play exclusively at the higher level. This is in general the conservative approach and we recommend it to every player wanting to try out 6-max NLHE.

Aggressive shot-taking

This is another concept for climbing the limit ladder, aimed principally at players who can emancipate themselves from thinking in amounts of money and who have no problems with going down the limits again without delay when their bankrolls drop to the lowest level permissible for their current limits.

Let's assume that we do well at our NL25 limit and our bankroll is already $1,200. We feel strong and are convinced that we could make a big profit at our current limit. But we really want to move up a limit right now and see if we are able to compete. This should, however, only be done after careful thought and with a well-planned concept. What aggressive shot-taking means is illustrated in the following example:

  • We set aside $200, the exact equivalent of four stacks of NL50, and keep back a complete bankroll of 40 stacks for NL25. With these four stacks we then play NL50 exclusively, but only as long as we still have some of the $200 left over. If we lose the $200, we go back to NL25 immediately and stay there, until we either feel ready to invest another bankroll "surplus" won at NL25 in an aggressive shot, or we reach the $2,000 needed for NL50.

It is mandatory to return to the old limit if we lose our shot bankroll!

Going down the limit ladder

It's not easy for any of us to go down to move down a limit if we have already played that limit successfully or very successfully. But the sign of a good poker player is that he doesn't just understand good, solid bankroll management but that he also permanently applies it. Variance forces us to make decisions that go against our own ego. We just have to accept these setbacks and try and take the positives from them. Going down a level gives us new opportunities to analyze our own game and to examine why we weren't able to beat the higher level. This is precisely what our main focus should be on when changing limits. The aggressive, fast-moving nature of the shorthanded game prevents us from taking the time needed to give the necessary thought to certain hands.

As soon our bankroll is at the minimum of what is required for the limit we're currently playing, we change without delay. In concrete terms: if we're playing NL5 with $120 and lose $40, we should go down to NL2 again.

Climbing to the upper limits

Because the aggression of the players increases proportionately to the size of the blinds, in NL100 games and higher we'll find ourselves in games that are affected even more by variance. Here, hands are largely defined before the flop; in concrete terms, we will see  a lot of pre-flop raises, re-raises and all-ins before the first community card is actually dealt.  This increases the pressure that variance exerts on our bankroll. We often have to accept coin flips with hands like QQ or AK against certain types of opponents, because in the long term they will be profitable when we're able to determine the corresponding hand range of our opponent. At the same time, we must also be able to withstand losing in many of these situations due to variance. Accordingly, our bankroll must be a little more "hard-wearing". Post-flop play in NL100+ is also considerably more aggressive. Although it is still possible to apply the 40-stack rule, a 50-stack bankroll management is recommended here. This puts us on the safe side, thus reducing the danger of tilting when variance occurs.

Let's take a coin flip as an example. Holding AK, we invested a lot of money in the pot pre-flop and determine that our opponent has a wide range of possible hands, many of them weaker than our AK. Our opponent now goes all-in on the flop and our estimate of the situation is that we have to call, because in the long term this would be profitable. Unfortunately, though, we lose, and then we lose again in similar decisions, all due to variance, say, ten times in a row. With an extra buffer we can avoid being thrown off track, psychologically speaking, by those losses. Because despite making the correct decisions, although we now have ten stacks less, but we still have a healthy bankroll for this limit and we don't have to worry about moving down again soon. The recommendations for small-stakes shorthanded NLHE games are therefore:

- NL100 -

Blinds $0.5/$1


- NL200 -

Blinds $1/$2


- NL400 -

Blinds $2/$4


- NL600-

Blinds $3/$6



Conservative bankroll management is a fundamental recommendation for every player. It often prevents emotions from influencing our decisions, it takes away the fear that we will soon have to go down in limits again, and in this way it creates a relatively relaxed attitude at our current limit.

Players who can handle losses well and who are confident in their own playing abilities can apply aggressive bankroll management by putting aside small shot bankrolls. They can then use these to play the higher limit exclusively until their shot bankrolls are exhausted or until they have acquired a proper bankroll for this limit. If we want to avoid to go broke, it is mandatory to go down to the next-lower limit as soon as we have exhausted our shot bankrolls or reached the lower end of our bankrolls for the current limit.