Prior to online poker, you always had to pay to enter poker tournaments. But internet poker changed this by introducing freerolls. Freeroll tournaments are great from the perspective that they don’t cost anything to enter. Instead, you merely need to be a member of the site that’s hosting the freeroll and register in time.

Many amateur poker players enter freerolls in hopes of winning small payouts that can be used in real money cash games and/or tourneys. Most of these same players, though, don’t realistically expect to turn their prize into a huge bankroll. Amazingly enough, some poker pros have launched their careers through freerolls. One pro even completed a challenge where they went from zero to $10,000 dollars while beginning with freeroll tourneys.

Of course, the internet poker landscape has changed greatly in recent years. The game is not the same, because the average player knows more strategy and has better skills. That said, it’s worth questioning whether you can actually build a large poker bankroll by starting with freerolls today. I’m going to discuss this matter along with examples of players who’ve used freerolls as a launching point for bigger winnings.

Chris Ferguson: The Original Inspiration for Poker Freeroll Bankroll Building

Chris “Jesus” Ferguson undertook an insane challenge in 2006, where he managed to build a $10,000 bankroll after starting with nothing. Considering that he didn’t make a deposit, Ferguson had to earn his original stake through freeroll tournaments. It’s worth stating that Jesus was already a skilled pro by this point. He won the 2000 WSOP Main Event and currently has six gold bracelets overall.

Nevertheless, it was still quite a challenge for Ferguson to go from nothing to $10k. It took several weeks before he made a few dollars. Ferguson calculated that he was only making $0.14 per hour over his first few weeks of play. He dedicated around 10 hours each week to the challenge, so he only made $1.40 per hour in the early going.

He spent days figuring out what to do with the initial winnings so that he didn’t have to go through this again. Ferguson decided to start with micro stakes tournaments. One of the biggest moments in this challenge is when he finished second place in a large $1 multi-table tournament (MTT). This finish earned him $104 and helped Ferguson move into real money games.

He initially set out with the goal of turning zero dollars into $100 within six months. He then planned to turn $100 into $10,000 over the next six months – allowing him to complete the entire challenge in one year. The reality is that it took Ferguson nine months to complete both phases of the challenge, making for a total of 18 months. But once he reached $10k, he quickly increased his bankroll to $28,000.

Ferguson followed a strict bankroll management plan that only allowed him to dedicate 5% of his bankroll to any cash game or sit and go (SNG) buy-in. Furthermore, he could only put 2% of his bankroll into MTTs. His bankroll management model has since been copied by numerous players over the years.


Annette Obrestad Starts with Freerolls – Builds Multimillion Dollar Bankroll

Anette Obrestad didn’t set up a challenge for herself like Ferguson. Instead, she used freerolls to launch her poker career out of necessity. The Norwegian began playing online poker at age 15. Seeing as how she wasn’t yet an adult, she didn’t have a credit card to make a deposit with.

Obrestad asked to use her mother’s credit card to deposit at an internet poker room. By her mom said no, because she didn’t feel comfortable exchanging credit card details with a poker site. This forced Obrestad to begin playing freerolls in order to earn money for cash games and tournaments. Little did she know that this period would serve as a foundation for one of the most-legendary online poker stories ever.

Obrestad first became interested in poker after watching a tournament at a local bowling alley. She quickly caught fever for the game and started playing freerolls religiously. She was able to win $9 over time, which she used to start playing real money games. Obrestad managed to win over $1 million before her 18th birthday.

At one point during her early career, Obrestad played a $4, 180-player tournament without looking at her cards. She later explained that this challenge was about proving that knowing your opponents is more important than your cards. As if Obrestad’s poker career wasn’t already impressive enough, she furthered her fame by winning the 2007 WSOP Europe Main Event along with $2,013,734.

This victory was amazing on multiple accounts, because she was still 18 years old at the time of the victory. She also eclipsed Annie Duke’s$2 million payout, which was previously the largest win for a female player. Obrestad has accumulated$3.9 million in live tournament winnings to date. She’s also earned multiple sponsorships with online poker sites. It’s amazing to think that all of this came out of starting with freeroll tournaments.


Doug Polk Runs Modern Day $100 to $10,000 Challenge

I just covered some poker pros who took their bankroll from zero to $10,000 using only freerolls. Of course, both Ferguson and Obrestad completed their feats in the 2000s when poker was an easier game. Therefore, it’s worth questioning if you can still run a tiny bankroll into a large amount within a reasonable timeframe.

High stakes poker pro Doug Polk took up this challenge in August 2016, when he set a goal of turning $100 into $10,000. “What I am hoping to prove with this challenge is simple,” Polk explained. “I want people to know that even in the tough ecosystem of today’s online poker games, you can still run up a bankroll.”

You’ll notice that Polk chose to start with at least $100, rather than building his money with freerolls. The reason why is because he didn’t want to toil away for months with free tourneys before having a decent bankroll. Nevertheless, this is still an impressive challenge in the modern poker world. I mentioned earlier how players are better these days and have a better grasp of strategy. Polk is proof of this, because – despite his immense skills – it took him a long time to run $100 up to $10,000.

One self-imposed rule of his challenge included starting out with micro stakes cash games, SNGs, and MTTs. Additionally, he had to follow strict bankroll management rules and only play on Nevada. The latter stipulation is due to the fact that is the only legal poker site in Nevada, where Polk lives.

He started out slowly with the challenge, earning only $900 after 27 sessions. He struggled mightily to increase his bankroll by any measurable amount. 2017 brought much of the same, as he only won around $350 over 14 sessions. It’s at this point when Polk began struggling to stick with the challenge and stopped playing for a while.

However, he returned to the challenge with a vengeance in August 2018. Polk won over $1,000 on August 12, which pushed his bankroll to $2,300. He continued building his roll and moving up the stakes. By the time he reached 200NL and 500NL cash games, he had a considerable amount of money in his bankroll. But it still took a huge final day to push this amount over the hump and reach $10k.

Polk started August 22 with a bankroll of around $3,000.He quickly accelerated this amount to $6,000 before moving up to 500NL. It’s at these stakes when he was able to win the remaining $4K to complete his bankroll challenge. Not long afterward, Polk announced that he was retiring from professional poker. While he still plays the game sporadically, he’s moved on to other pursuits after years of success.

Can You Repeat Ferguson’s Bankroll Challenge Today?

You can see that it’s possible to take a small bankroll and win thousands of dollars based on Polk’s experiences. But could you complete the even tougher task of doing what Ferguson did? It’s still theoretically possible to use freerolls as you’re launching pad for generating a bankroll worth $10,000 or more. But I emphasize the word “theoretical.”

Ferguson – who’s a very skilled player – took nine months just to move his bankroll from zero to $100. Without any considerable amount of luck, you’d need much more time to accomplish the same feat these days. You also have to worry about the chances of busting your bankroll and having to start over. Imagine being several months into your bankroll challenge, winning a small amount, and then going through a downswing that drains your bankroll.

This is exactly why Polk deposited $100 before undertaking his challenge. But even with a $100 deposit and years of successful cash game play, Polk still needed two years to pull off this feat. Nothing is impossible. However, I won’t say it’s worth your time to use freerolls in an effort to build a large bankroll. You’re better off simply making a small deposit and going from there.

Advantages to Freerolls

Again, I don’t recommend starting out with freerolls if you have big poker ambitions. But that’s not to say you can’t enjoy some benefits from these tournaments. Freerolls are fun if you’re new to poker, because they give you a chance to win money without risking anything. If you’re not confident in your play to start with, then you can at least use free tourneys to build your confidence and experience.

Perhaps you’re simply a recreational player who doesn’t want to risk much money in poker. In this case, you’ll especially love freerolls since they still give you an opportunity to win cash while enjoying the game. You can also use freerolls to test out new tournament strategies. This is preferable to trying new things in a real money event, where you stand to lose money if unsuccessful.

Drawbacks to Freerolls

The biggest drawback to freerolls is that they offer low prize pools compared to the amount of entrants. Considering that there are no barriers to entry, many recreational players like taking their shot at freeroll events. Sure, this gives you a chance to earn real money. But you’ll often see $50 freerolls that draw thousands of players.

If you’re even semi-serious about poker, you’ll likely find that freeroll tourneys are a waste of your time. The return on investment (ROI) is so small compared to what you could make by depositing and winning in larger cash games and tournaments.

Even if you do experience success with freerolls, the amount of money that you stand to win usually isn’t enough to accumulate a serious bankroll. Winning $2 and parlaying this amount into bigger earnings through cash games and tournaments is a very tough grind.

Freerolls also don’t make the greatest training grounds for new players. Most of your opponents will be screwing around and making crazy moves that they wouldn’t otherwise with their own money on the line. Your best chance of becoming a better player and eventually making money is to deposit right away and try moving up the stakes.


I’ll reiterate that it’s technically possible to build a sizable bankroll when starting out with freerolls. Ferguson and Obrestad are evidence that one can generate a reasonable bankroll after beginning with free tournaments. But just because something is possible doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea. This is especially the case when trying to use freerolls as a vehicle to launch a poker career. I have no problem with anybody playing these tournaments for fun. However, I emphasize that you shouldn’t spend much time with freerolls if you’re serious about the game.

Of course, not everybody has a lot of money to start with in poker. But as Polk showed, it’s at least possible to turn $100 into something meaningful with enough dedication. It’s better to deposit even more in the beginning if you can afford it. You can use strict bankroll management principles to protect your funds while playing for bigger stakes.

If you want to play $1/$2 NL holdem cash games ($200 buy-in), for example, then you should have at least $4,000 (200 x 20). Ferguson established these principles when he suggested that you should have at least 20 cash game buy-ins for the level you play. You’ll also want to study plenty of strategy on the side. The goal is to use your experiences on the cyber felt in conjunction with strategy sessions to quickly improve.

Combining both experience and studying can help you quickly become a breakeven player. Then, as you continue learning more strategy, you can become a winner at your level and move up the stakes. In summary, the more money you begin with,the better. If you don’t have enough funds to start a reasonable bankroll, I suggest that you play micro stakes for fun until you save up enough for a serious run at the game.

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