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What Are Poker Buy-Ins? Tips on Choosing the Right Poker Buy-In

Shane C

Jan 1, 2024

Red and White Poker Chips

If you play poker frequently and you can see that you are good at it, it can be a good idea to take part in a poker tournament or a serious cash game. However, you need to keep in mind all the requirements associated with entering a cash game or tournament play, including poker buy-ins.

For a recreational player who has never participated in such events, it can be difficult to understand all the peculiarities, but we are here to help you. Keep on reading to learn more about a poker buy-in and how to set it correctly!

Poker Cards with Chips on a Green Table

What Is a Buy-In in Poker?

A buy-in in poker is the initial amount of money required to exchange for chips when you want to enter a particular poker game. Tournament buy-ins are exchanged for a specific amount of tournament chips that cannot be redeemed for cash. 

When it comes to cash games (also called ring games), the chips you exchange for money keep their cash value, and it is possible to trade them back.

In land-based casino cash games, you can pay your poker buy-in at the dealer and get your chips. Typically, they will have to verify each transaction with the floor manager before you receive the chips and then safely deposit your cash in a drop box underneath the table.

So as not to waste the dealer's time, it happens that casinos ask the players to cover their poker buy-ins at the cashier. Nevertheless, they are still allowed to rebuy from the dealer in smaller cardrooms. In bigger rooms, you can usually find chip runners who take this duty from the dealers.

To know how exactly a buy-in works in a particular poker game, be sure to read the rules set by your chosen casino or ask their staff in case of any doubts.

Poker Chips

How Does the Poker Buy-In Affect the Prize Pool?

The poker buy-in amounts have a huge impact on the total winning prize pool. However, they do not entirely go for the prize as a certain amount of money needs to be treated as a fee (in poker terms, usually referred to as the rake) and paid to the casino.

For instance, if there is a tournament for 50 players and the poker buy-in is set at $66, it will be presented as "$60+$6". It means that $60 boosts the prize pool that will be paid to the eventual winners, while $6 (10%) is the rake for the casino. In this case, the winning poker player would get the prize of $3000, while the house would earn $300 (i.e. 10%).

What Poker Terms Should I Know Regarding the Buy-Ins?

There are quite many significant terms associated with poker buy-ins that you need to know if you want to clearly understand all the rules of your chosen casino. To make it easier for you, we have explained the most frequently used ones below.

Minimum and Maximum Buy-Ins

No matter if you are playing a poker game in a land-based or online casino, there will typically be caps setting the minimum and maximum number of chips you are allowed to use at a particular table when you either first buy-in or rebuy.

Normally, these amounts will stay the same from one stake to another and will be counted considering a given number of big blinds.

In most poker rooms, it works like this:

  • A minimum buy-in is set somewhere between 20 and 40 big blinds.

  • A maximum buy-in tends to have a cap of 100 big blinds, but in deep stack games, they can be increased to 250 big blinds or even more.

It happens that a casino sets no restrictions on the poker buy-in amounts - in such a case, it is crucial to follow the most recommended practices for setting it yourself.

Stacks of Chips on A Green Table

Short Stack and Deep Stack

When it comes to poker buy-in amounts, you should know the difference between a deeper and a shorter stack.

  • A short stack typically includes a maximum of 50 big blinds, which means you are not very likely to win a big pot. It is because poker players with this kind of stack will already put all their funds in before someone uses the last community card.

  • A deep stack often includes as many big blinds as 100 or more, and it brings about significantly more skill-dependent action post-flop, boosting the potential for bigger winnings in the process. However, players with a deep stack face the risk of losing more chips than those with a shorter stack, so it's essential to make sure it is the best option for you.

Limit, No Limit and Pot Limit

Poker buy-ins are the most important in No Limit and Pot Limit games. It is because, in these poker games, the pot can significantly increase in a moment and reach an incredible amount of money in the middle by showdown.

On the other hand, a buy-in in poker Limit games doesn't matter that much as the player is limited to the amount of money they can bet during every round. Because of this, many rooms set the poker buy-ins as unlimited for Limit games.

What Should I Take Into Account When Setting Poker Buy-Ins?

If you can decide how high your poker buy-in should be, you need to consider several factors. Here are some of the most important ones:

Your Bankroll

Your bankroll size is a crucial factor for setting the amount of your poker buy-in. It usually works this way: players with deeper pockets usually go for deeper stacks - meaning a maximum buy-in or at least close to that. In the case of a smaller bankroll, it is more recommended to choose a minimum buy-in.

A Pair of Hands Shuffling Cards in Front of Poker Chips on a Green Felt TableTake into account that even though poker buy-ins in tournaments and cash games can differ, you wouldn't want to lose more money than you've decided to set as your poker table budget.

One of the common practices used by even the most experienced players is to have a dedicated poker bankroll to quantify which stakes you can afford in the game and to assess when they should move up or down the stake ladder.

Your Comfort Level

Remember to never play poker with more money than you can afford to lose or at least be comfortable with losing. For example, if you play for the money you need for your bills next month, it would be better if you dropped down to remarkably lower stakes.

Keep in mind that any table stakes you have in front of you are always in play and can be included in the pot anytime during a hand. So, for your comfort, set the right budget before you start a poker game to prevent losing the money you need to survive.

Your Playing Style

To set the right poker buy-in, you also need to take into consideration what your forte is. If you are more experienced as a tournament player and you are playing a cash game, it may be a good idea to buy in poker as a shorter stack. It is because, in poker tournaments, you usually play with a short stack, so that is something you are more used to and are more likely to benefit from.

It works the other way as well - if you usually play cash games with significant poker buy-ins and deep stacks, you shouldn't feel obliged to provide a maximum buy-in. Adjust it to your playing style and increase the chances of actually making a profit from the game.

Your Skill Level

Your skills and experience are crucial to picking the right poker buy-in. If you think you are more skillful than other players in the game and you have a high chance of winning, you should increase your poker buy-in because it will contribute to increasing your potential profits. You may notice at some point that many poker "sharks" tend to buy in for the typical maximum of 100 big blinds or at least try to cover all the other players in a particular poker game.

On the other hand, if you think other players may be better than you, it would be a good idea to buy in as a short stack. Don't forget that you can always go for a smaller poker buy-in first and then check how you feel at a particular table and top up to the maximum if you see it can be beneficial for you.

A person shuffling cards

Additional Tips on Poker Buy-Ins

Here are some more tips on how to decide on the best poker buy-in for you:

  • Make your initial poker buy-in from the cashier rather than at the poker table.

  • Never forget to take the rake into account when you are trying to choose between a short and deep stack.

  • Be sure you fully understand how the tournament pay prizes work in your chosen poker table.

  • Do your best to identify who is the whale (the most excellent player or a veteran) and who is the fish (weak player) and analyse their chip stacks.

  • Try not to pocket your chips and go back to the same poker table (what is called "going south") - many players do it to avoid losing the money in their future hands, but it is against the proper etiquette, and sometimes it is even forbidden by the casino rules.

The Exception to a Minimum Buy-In

In most cases, any new player at a poker table is required to get at least the minimum poker buy-in to join the game. However, if it happens that a player joins because they were in a broken game of similar stakes, they may be let in only by carrying over the chips they had at the table before. Interestingly, it works even if that amount is less than the required minimum poker buy-in or over the maximum one.

Nevertheless, if it is a voluntary table change, the player needs to follow the standard poker buy-in rules.

The Bottom Line

As you can see, it is not that easy to choose the most suitable poker buy-in. It is the initial amount of money you need to pay to enter the game, no matter if you play in a land-based casino or a video poker or live poker online. The recommended sum depends on various factors, such as the type of game (tournaments or cash games), your comfort level, your playing style, the bankroll size, or your skill level.

Here at Natural8, we offer multiple tables and tournaments suitable for different skill levels and requiring various poker buy-ins so that everyone can find something suitable for them. 

You can start with something smaller to practise and find your favourite playing style and then gradually challenge yourself with more profitable games. The floor is yours, so choose your game and buy in - poker tables are waiting for you!

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