Read about Chris Ferguson’s ‘Bankroll Challenge’ and you could turn $0 into $10,000

Chris Ferguson turned $ 0 into $ 10,000 in his bankroll challenge – can you?

Back in 2006 I came up with a personal challenge. The idea was that I’d start with zero dollars on Full Tilt Poker with the intention of building it into a $ 10,000 bankroll. I really wanted to demonstrate to people the power of good bankroll management and what you can accomplish with it, because I know far too many poker players who don’t have it. They can be amazingly good players but a lot of them are broke, which is a real pity.

The fact of the matter is that there are no shortcuts to winning and rising through the ranks at poker. If a lot of the broke poker players had moved down levels before they’d lost everything, they’d still be playing with their own money. But for many players ego can get in the way of sensible decisions. I’m going to teach you that with hard work you can rise up through the levels – and the harder you work, the higher the level you’ll be able to reach.

Ground zero

The first problem to address is the hardest: how do you get anywhere starting with zero in your poker account? Luckily, you don’t have to pay to play online and Full Tilt offers an array of freerolls that enable you to play for free and win real money. Back when I started my challenge, Full Tilt was running a couple every day and I’d try to play them, at least once every other day. There would be around 900 players in each tournament and the top 18 spots got paid – first place would get $ 5, second $ 3, and third to 18th $ 2 apiece. If you didn’t sign up within the first 90 seconds of registration opening, the tournament would fill up and you’d have to wait until the next one, so I’d set an alarm clock to remind me. I didn’t want to use my connections to get registered into a tournament, as I wanted to demonstrate how anyone could do the same thing.

One of the funny things about the challenge is that people would see me playing a freeroll and think I was fooling around. Are you kidding me? I was taking those freerolls dead seriously, because getting money out of them was an essential part of the challenge. I was sweating on the other side praying, ‘Please fold, please fold!’ and really playing my heart out for that $ 2. A lot of people don’t take freerolls seriously, but if they were on my table they did – ‘Ooh, I’m playing with Chris Ferguson. I’m not going to move all-in every hand like I usually do. I’m going to try and play, because this is kind of fun.’

The grind

I remember winning my first $ 2 a couple of weeks into the challenge, and I strategised for three days, deliberating over what game to play with it. In the end I decided to play the $ 0.05/$ 0.10 no-limit Hold’em game, which is the lowest game on Full Tilt. The minimum buy-in is $ 2 and it only gave me 20 big blinds to play with. Unfortunately it didn’t work out and within one round I went broke when I lost a coin-flip with A-Q against a pair of tens.

It was terrible but it wasn’t that much of a setback – I always knew the challenge was going to be hard. My punishment was that when I went broke I had to drop back down to the freerolls, which really motivated me to play my A-game whenever I had any cash. You have to beat those low levels to move up to the next level, and what you’ll find is that being forced to play by these rules really motivates you to play well, even when you’re playing low.

Once I built my bankroll up to $ 50 I started to get strict and put a series of rules in place. The rules form the basis for good bankroll management and should be adhered to by any poker player, no matter what level you play at. It didn’t make it easy to build up though. I was playing a lot of low stakes cash games and sit-and-gos, but I didn’t really make any money from them. I basically broke even on them and made about $ 22 from freerolls. I cashed in about one in ten, at about an hour and a half for each, which works out at $ 0.14 an hour or something stupid, but that wasn’t the point.


Getting to the $ 100 mark was the real key moment for me and that happened when I came second in a $ 1 tournament for $ 104. After that I played a variety of different games and multiple tables. I didn’t play too many tournaments though – despite the fact I’m primarily a tournament player. I enjoy them, but they can be brutal to the bankroll.

I thought it would take me six months to get to this point and then another six months to get to $ 10,000. As it turns out it actually took me nine months to get to $ 100 and then another nine to $ 10,000, moving slowly through the levels. It took a year and a half in total, and I had to spend about ten hours a week to get there, so I wasn’t doing it full-time but it did take up a good chunk of time. You might think it sounds like a lot of work for little return, but for me it’s all about the challenge and I cared a great deal about that. I even took the play money games and freerolls very seriously because I wanted to move up. When I was playing the freerolls I wanted to get into the $ 0.05/$ 0.10 game, and I played hard there because I wanted to get into the $ 0.25/$ 0.50 game. It was a continually motivating force.

If you think playing in the $ 25/$ 50 game makes you a better poker player, you’re wrong. Learning how to beat the $ 0.25/$ 0.50 games makes you a better poker player. Okay, learning how to beat the $ 25/$ 50 does too, but there’s a right and wrong way to do that. Follow the rules I set out in this challenge, play the bigger games when you can, and you’ll succeed.

Dropping down

The hardest point in poker comes when you have to move down in stakes. Once I’d finished this challenge I built the bankroll up to $ 28,000 and then went on a big losing streak. At $ 28,000 I was able to play $ 25/$ 50 no-limit, and I lost down to $ 20,000, $ 15,000, then $ 10,000 and I actually went below $ 10,000. At that level, according to my rules, I could only play the $ 5/$ 10 games, and then when my bankroll dipped below $ 8,000 I could only play the $ 2/$ 4 game.

In fact when I began to play the $ 2/$ 4 games again I did start to lose focus, because I’d had the excitement of playing a lot higher. When that started happening I had to take a break, as I knew I wasn’t focused on the game anymore. This is the same no matter what level you’re playing at. It’s always hard to feel motivated when you have to move down, but if you aren’t motivated and can’t stick to the rules at any point you absolutely need to take a break and only come back when you’re feeling refreshed and focused. Funnily enough, the real strength of bankroll management is that it forces you down the levels if you lose. That’s what’s so powerful about the system and it will change the way you look at the game.

How do you not lose heart if you go bust? You’re going to go bust – it’s just something you have to face. Building a bankroll from scratch isn’t easy and there are lots of hurdles. The only way you can start again is to win a freeroll, or cash in a freeroll and start again from there. Not everyone will to get up to $ 10,000 but what’s beyond question is that by using this system properly you’ll rise to the level you should, or the level you’re able to. It’s the right way to play poker and it will improve your game in the long run.

Getting started

You can try the bankroll challenge on any site that offers regular freerolls, but Ferguson completed it at Full Tilt and shows how you can follow in his footsteps

$ 0 From zero the only way to build your bankroll is via freerolls. Full Tilt offers ten $ 100 freerolls a day that are open to everyone. They start at 40 minutes past the hour and registration starts on the hour, with the field capped at 2,700. The top 27 players get paid ($ 15 for first down to $ 2 for 10th-27th). There are also daily region-specific $ 100 freerolls that are restricted to players from that particular area.

Play chips If you’ve built up some play chips you can also play in the daily $ 40 freeroll, which costs 500,000 play chips to enter. The beauty of these is that they only attract 40-50 players, giving you a serious chance to score your first cash. Another plus is that if you’re grinding at the play money tables for a long time you can actually learn a lot, but you have to take it seriously. Yes, the small play money games are horrendously bad, but move up to the $ 1k/$ 2k blinds and higher and the games are pretty tough.

$ 2 Once you get some cash, there are seven $ 1 tourneys each day including ‘The Ferguson’ – a small guaranteed tournament at 6.30am (GMT) – created during my run to $ 10,000. Full Tilt has also added a daily $ 1,000 guaranteed $ 0.10 buy-in tournament with $ 0.50 rebuys. You can also play $ 1 sit-and-gos, and the lowest level cash games are at $ 0.05/$ 0.10 with a $ 2 minimum buy-in. When your bankroll gets going, there are usually two to four $ 2 and $ 3 MTTs every hour and plenty of $ 2 SNGs running round the clock, as well as micro stakes ring games.

Take the challenge

Once you’ve got your bankroll to $ 50 you can start to implement Ferguson’s golden rules. Don’t break them and $ 10,000 is yours for the taking…

1 You can never risk more than 5% of your bankroll in sit-and-gos and cash games. If you’re playing MTTs you can’t buy in for more than 2% of your bankroll, or 0.5% in rebuy tournaments. The only exceptions are for tournaments that cost $ 2.50 or less. In my challenge I also stopped myself from playing satellites unless I could afford the buy-in of the event I was satelliting into. I would change that rule now because Full Tilt gives you the option to take your winnings as ‘T’ dollars, to use in any tournament. If you can’t afford the buy-in, take the ‘T’ dollars and enter a tournament within the guidelines.

2 If you’re playing pot-limit or no-limit cash games you should get out before the blinds reach you if you have more than 10% of your bankroll on the table at any one time. You can move up a level as soon as you have enough money to buy into the game.

3 If you have to drop down a level, or you’ve had a few tough sessions and it’s affecting your motivation, take a break. Come back when you’re rested and able to play in the small games with 100% focus. It’s not easy. I don’t tilt, which is fortunate, but if you feel yourself tilting, you’ve got to take a break. These rules are supposed to motivate you to know to take that important break.

4 If you see an easy game for more money, don’t join in – it’s not an excuse to play in that game. However, if you spot a lower stakes game featuring a much easier field, by all means play it. You can actually make more money overall in a soft $ 2/$ 4 game than in a tough $ 5/$ 10 game.

5 You must never break any of the above rules and you need to focus 100%. If you’re going to break these rules, you won’t make the challenge.

If you like the bankroll challenge then read PokerPlayer each month for more challenges like this

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