Poker Chip Stack

Best Chip Management In Tournaments | How to Play Poker

I don’t care what anyone says. I don’t care if they have $8 million in poker tournament winnings because they might have spent $8.5 million in buy-ins to get there. Don’t care if they are “feared on the felt.” And I don’t care if they are a self-proclaimed poker pro.

If you want to go deep in more poker tournaments, then you need to manage your chips. And the only way you’re going to manage your chips is by tightening up.


This DOES NOT mean that you should be a NIT. If you’re a NIT, then other players are going to steamroll you. Including me. Even if you’re a “NIT With A Twist”, I won’t have any fear attacking you because I know when something will seem off and I should back off.

Even if you’re a TAG player, I will pick up on your betting patterns and know when to back off. It’s the LAG players that are unpredictable. It’s much tougher to put them on hands because they play so many kinds of hands.

All of this might lead you to believe that you should play LAG instead of TAG. You wouldn’t want to be predictable and not look cool at the table, right? This is where the twist comes in.

The LAG players might be more unpredictable, but they simply will not last as long as TAG players in tournaments over the long haul because they will be getting themselves into too many marginal and dangerous spots. Forget Ego. Who cares if others see you as predictable? Do you want to be viewed as cool and dangerous OR do you want to win?

If you’re smart, then you know your reputation at the poker table. You can then use that reputation to your advantage. I’m a decent example. I’m not known for bluffing often, but I bluff way more than people think. The reason I’m not known for bluffing often is because I use my image to my advantage.

My bluffs are only shown about 5% of the time. Tops! Since players view me as tight, I do my best to pick the right spots where I’m highly confident I will get away with my bluff. If I were to bluff all the time, how the hell would my bluffs be effective? Bluffing all the time might look cool, but it’s going to lead to you getting called more often, which is poor chip management.

There is another way to look at this. Some players want to bluff early. Believe it or not, they also want to get caught in those bluffs early if it’s a small pot. This lets other players know that they’re unpredictable, and if they run good later, they’re going to get more calls.

If you’re going to ship a tourney, you need to run good. By establishing that you’re capable of bluffs early, you will get more calls later. If you need to run good to ship it, you might as well set the stage to get paid more in the event that you actually do run good.


I get that approach, and it makes a lot of sense. The only problem is that you usually don’t run good. If you play the tight side in a tournament, you can go deep more often, even if you’re not running good. You can establish a tight image the entire tournament and then open up at the final table. I did this yesterday in a small online poker tournament and shipped it.

Went from a vpip (Voluntary Put Money In Pot) of 19% to opening up at the final table with hands like JTo, 97o, and 76s. I had already established a tight image, and everyone tightens up at the final table. With the blinds and antes now very high, I was getting folds almost every time. This allowed me to get the chip lead without seeing many flops.

My heads-up opponent in this tournament would jam about 25% of the time. I figured out that if I limped and he had a premium hand, he would jam it. If I min-raised, he would usually jam it. If I raised 3x the Big Blind, he would call or fold. I must have limp-folded at least 50% of the time. But I would then win those chips back with a 3x BB raise.

This was all part of the long-term plan. I wanted to keep an even chip stack until I found the right spot. Ideally, it would have been nice to limp with a monster and call his jam, but I needed a backup plan. You always need a backup plan.

When I had K3o, I raised 3x the BB. This battle had been going on for an hour and I needed to do something out of the ordinary. I knew if I hit my hand, he wouldn’t see it coming. It was a strange play, but when the flop came 363, I could use my previous betting patterns to my advantage.

I had been betting half the pot whenever I was trying to steal the pot or had a marginal hand. So, I bet half the pot. He called. This player would only call if he hit the flop or had two overs on a low board. It was highly unlikely he had the other 3, and if he had the 6, that was good news. It was most likely he had two high cards. When the turn was a J, I had to hope he hit that J and jammed. He tank-called and tabled KJ. Game over.

I managed my chips when heads-up by setting up a long-term trap while stealing enough blinds to keep the stacks even, then using my own betting pattern as deception. But how did I get to the final table in this small event?

To tell you the truth, I didn’t want to waste time because I had been bubbling so often in these events. So, on Level 1, when UTG raised 3x the BB, I sensed AK or AQ. Most players in this field will raise more than 3x the BB UTG if they have AA, KK, or QQ. That’s how I knew it was AK or AQ. I had 33 and jammed it. This is a crazy play.

But either I bust and have time to do other things or I have the chip lead very quickly. She called and tabled AK. I won the hand. This isn’t a play expected from a tight player, but this also shows you that a tight player can be unpredictable.


Once I had that chip lead, it was all about chip management. I had an excellent conversation the other night with another poker player. Realized that I was donk betting too much. I fell into this habit because of its effectiveness in the fields I’m currently playing in. However, the other player made a key comment: “You need to care about your chips too.”

Dang! It couldn’t be said any better. So, I slowed down on the donk bets. In other words, I slowed down my out-of-position bets with air when I wasn’t the pre-flop aggressor. Even though I was only saving a little at a time, those savings added up!

I still use this play against the right heads-up opponent at the right time, but it really is about picking your spots. If you only pick up one thing from this article, it’s to chill out on the donk bets. It will save you a lot of chips. Just remember that you never want to establish a pattern. So you still want to throw those donk bets in there from time to time.


There are many other ways to manage your chips. I’ll list a few…

1. Don’t limp with marginal hands out of position.

2. Don’t raise with marginal hands out of position.

3. Don’t play marginal hands out of position.

That short list will help you save many chips throughout your poker career. You might be wondering how you’re supposed to increase your chip stack. Let’s see. Keep the game simple!

Let’s say you have A5s in middle position and there are passive players to your left. In that situation, put in a standard raise. You might win the blinds and antes uncontested. It’s more likely you will get a caller or two. If that happens, play the hand to the best of your ability. If you’re raised by one of the players behind you, fold. You’re behind. Keep the game simple.


Speaking of Ah 5h, I had that situation in the poker tournament yesterday when it was three-handed.

I 3-bet Keith and he called.

Flop: A96 with two spades.

I bet half the pot.

Keith raised three times my bet.

That was interesting. If he had a strong Ace, he likely would have re-raised pre-flop. I tanked and analyzed this hand. He could have flopped a set and wanted to protect against a straight or flush draw. Or he could have flopped two pair. The only thing here is that Keith is more on the trap side and usually wouldn’t raise like that with a monster. However, he would raise like that to protect top pair with a strong kicker. But that didn’t add up because he didn’t raise me back pre-flop.

In this situation, I knew that this pot could get very big if I remained involved. I ultimately decided to push Ego to the side and let it go. I folded. Keith showed JJ. It was a good move by Keith. At the same time, I wasn’t at least 90% I was ahead. So it had nothing to do with what Keith did. It had everything to do with me pushing Ego to the side, managing my chips, and playing the long game.

This was just one hand. There would be no sense in making a stand for a large portion of my chips when I have a marginal hand or I’m unsure. As I said in my last article: Poker players have lost more chips by calling bets when they’re not sure than any other method of losing chips.

For the record, Keith wasn’t the heads-up opponent I was referring to before. He was trying to trap the all-in player and eventually called with a marginal hand. The all-in player had a slightly better marginal hand and held. Keith lost most of his chips there and ended up finishing third.

But this is a good time to point out that while Keith is a tight player, he is very capable of making moves. And despite being a tight player, he goes deep in poker tournaments all the time. He manages his chips well and doesn’t care about Ego (most of the time). He is living proof that you can go deep often by being a tight player.


Now I’m going to write something that some people might find incorrect. That’s fine. I respect it. I will just say that I have lived both poker lives with this, and I have found that one is much more effective than the other. The poker life that is more effective than the other is buying-in late. This pertains to live events (once those start running again).

Let’s say it’s a poker tournament where you begin with 20,000 chips. And let’s say you buy-in late when the chip average is 26,500. Is that really a big deal? If you wait for the right spot, you can make that up in one hand. It’s not like the blinds are going to crush you at that level. Also remember that the theory that you won’t get paid because you’re a tight player is somewhat overrated.

The player with a second-best hand is still going to call you. The player who likes to jam with a flush draw when you have top pair/top kicker (you’re ahead) is still going to jam with that flush draw. Players who likes to chase gut-shots are still going to chase gut-shots. And the player who thinks you’re weak when you flat because you’re a tight player is still going to think you’re weak when you flat, so use that information to your advantage.

When you want to play it a little more high risk/high reward, you can find a spot to get it all-in pre-flop. If you win a flip, you’re at 40,000 chips in one hand. If you don’t, it’s okay. You have to realize that by taking that chance, it’s much better than playing it standard every time and constantly having to grind to 40,000 while dodging many landmines. If you can dodge one big landmine, you’re in the driver’s seat.

What I’m trying to say is that those times you win those flips, double-up, and are way ahead of the chip average make up for all the times you bust in that same spot. Most of my 1st place poker tournament wins have come from taking one big risk at some point in that tournament. A bunch of smaller risks, sure, but one big risk. When I don’t take that big risk, I either bust or min-cash. That is not exciting and fun.

Other advantages to buying-in late include no risk of losing all your chips on the first few levels, entering closer to the money, saving energy, opponents not picking up on your patterns, and most important of all, saving buy-ins.


In conclusion, limit your donk bets, push Ego to the side, and don’t play marginal hands out of position, but don’t be afraid to take a shot at doubling your stack. If you pull it off, you’re now in a good position and you will find it easier to manage your chips because you’re in the driver’s seat.

Also remember that tight will get you deep more often in poker tournaments. And remember to use that tight image to your advantage when it really counts. See at the WSOP!

♠ pokerjournal.org | Tyler Nals