Poker bankroll management (BRM) is one of the easiest concepts to learn and apply when you’re at the tables. Chances are you’re familiar with the basics of BRM when it comes to playing poker cash games at Ignition: Keep your poker money separate from the rest of your money, and only buy in for a fraction of your bankroll (5% or less is a rule of thumb). This will lower your risk of ruin and make it more likely to come out ahead in the long run.

Bankroll management for online poker tournaments is a little different, but not by much. Since tournaments naturally introduce more variance to your results than poker cash games, the recommended buy-in level for beginners drops to 1%, giving you more room to wait for those larger (and less frequent) prizes to replenish your bankroll. But there’s more to tournament BRM than putting a cap on your buy-in size. With the following poker tournament strategies, you can tame that nasty variance even more, giving you a bigger chance of success when the chips are down.




The key to conquering online poker tournaments is to understand why those chips don’t have the same value from beginning to end. You can’t cash them in for face value in the middle of a tournament, and except for special “re-buy” events, you can’t simply reload when you lose your stack. Because of this, in most tournament situations, the chips you gain aren’t worth as much as the chips you lose.

This concept is even more important when it comes to poker bankroll management for online tournaments. The more you emphasize survival over chip accumulation, the more variance you can trim from your results – up to a point, at least. This guide will show you how to nurse your stack from beginning to end, using a slightly more conservative poker strategy to extend your tournament life as long as possible and increase your “in the money” (ITM) percentage.


How to Manage Your Stack at the Beginning

There’s a standard set of poker tournament tips for the early levels, and the theme is pretty simple: You can play these levels the same way you’d play at a cash game. That’s because everyone starts off with an identical stack, and unless you’re playing a Hyper Turbo or some other short-stacked tournament, everyone will be deep enough (say, 75 big blinds or more) to make the same moves you can at the cash tables.

However, if you want to use smart tournament BRM and lower your variance, you’ll have to give up some of the expected value you might realize with your more marginal hands. That means folding more often, both pre-flop and after the flop. For example, a hand like King-Jack offsuit might be perfectly fine to open from the lojack (with five players left to act) in a typical No-Limit Hold’em cash game; in a tournament, it’s probably not worth the risk.

Pumping your brakes after the flop means two things: Going for less value when you have a good hand, and bluffing less often when you don’t. As a rough guide, Top Pair-Good Kicker (TPGK) is a hand you can usually bet for two streets of value in a cash game; you might want to settle for one street when it’s early on in a tournament. You’ll also want to continuation bet less often with your trash hands, and bluff-raise less often with hands like gutshots. Always make these adjustments incrementally from the margins – abandon the hands that would give you the lowest expected return first, and save those chips for later.


How to Play With a Short Stack

In a way, poker tournaments actually become easier to play when you’re running low on chips. You no longer have enough leverage with under 40 big blinds to run the same kind of plays you might at a cash game, like multiple raises pre-flop or sick multi-street bluffs post-flop. And once you’re down to 10-15bb, it’s time to go all-in or fold.

Managing these tricky stack sizes is an art when you’re focused on bankroll management. Many players get too passive when they start running low on chips; then, when their stacks are down to the nubbins, they cave and go all-in when they shouldn’t. Here’s how to avoid falling into either of those two traps:


1. Defend the Big Blind Effectively

This is the position where so many poker tournament players – even experts – get too conservative. Generally speaking, when you’re short-stacked, a speculative hand with low-value cards like Seven-Six suited isn’t worth as much as a hand with more “hot-and-cold” all-in equity like King-Four offsuit. That’s because you don’t have enough stack depth to play those multiple streets and try to realize your equity with those small suited connectors.

Playing from the big blind gives you a little more legroom. If you’re in a single-raised pot, you’re getting the right odds to call with a much wider range of hands – even when you’re short-stacked. You still want to take it more conservatively here than the math might suggest, but don’t auto-fold those smaller cards just because you’re running low on chips when you play online poker.


2. Avoid Limping

Open-limping is not encouraged in Texas Hold’em, although there are some situations where it can make sense with a speculative hand when you’re down to around 40 bigs. Those situations disappear when you’re playing a lower-variance tournament strategy – especially when your stack gets down to push/fold territory. Calling a single raise from the big blind is one thing; willingly forgoing the chance to get your opponents to fold pre-flop when you open-raise is quite another.


3. Be Patient

You’ll naturally feel the pressure to get that chip stack moving up again as the tournament progresses and you get shorter relative to the blinds. But don’t forget: Chips lost are usually worth more than chips gained. It can be profitable to play more aggressively when you dip below 40bb, hoping to collect the extra few chips you need to regain the leverage you used to have. But once you get even more shallow, maybe 25-30bb, it’s time to conserve those precious chips. You’ll need them to wait out the other short-stacks at the bubble and get yourself in the money. Never underestimate the value of a “min-cash” when you’re at the tournament tables.


How to Play With a Big Stack

Tournament poker is always better when you’ve got a big stack sitting in front of you. There’s less pressure to use BRM tactics to lower your variance; instead, a healthy dose of “selective aggression” should be more profitable in the long run. Here are three tips that will help you select when and how to hit people with your stack:


1. Widen Your Hand Range

Now that you have all those chips, you can put other people’s tournament lives at risk, giving them more incentive to fold. This allows you to open and 3-bet a wider range of hands; again, you should do this with your marginal hands first, the ones that just barely miss the grade in normal situations. Add weaker and weaker hands as you get more aggressive – there will even be some spots where it makes sense to open any two cards.


2. Pressure the Medium-Short Stacks

Don’t point that aggression at the wrong people. As the big stack, you don’t want to spoil your advantage by getting into a big pot while holding a marginal hand. You also have less incentive to knock out the very short stacks, especially near the money bubble. Instead, use your stack to put pressure on the medium and medium-short stacks, who are already more inclined to fold as the bubble approaches. Keeping the shortest stacks alive will help extend this favorable bubble dynamic.


3. Don’t Go Too Crazy

The amount of pressure you can put on your opponents will depend on your respective stack sizes, as well as their style of play, the bubble situation, and a number of other factors. Going in there willy-nilly and throwing your chips around just because you can will only push your variance beyond the breaking point. Resist this temptation, especially if you have one of those personalities that already leaves you prone to playing too aggressively at the tables.

Not only will the low-variance tournament tactics we’ve mentioned here help you manage your bankroll, they’ll also be easier to execute than a more complicated strategy. Pruning your decision tree will help you avoid getting in sticky situations that only offer a small amount of expected value in return. To find out more about navigating the tournament waters here at Ignition, make sure to check out our entire vault of poker strategy articles. Then take what you’ve learned and put it to good use on the felt. We’ll see you at the tournament tables.