An elevated neutrophil-to-lymphocyte ratio (NLR) has received attention as a prognostic surrogate across chronic liver diseases. However, an exact threshold has not been fully elucidated. A total number of 589 patients with cirrhosis (LC) were included. The value of NLR was calculated and its optimal cut-off was initially determined by X-tile program. Independent predictors of 90-day mortality were identified with Cox regression model. The Kaplan-Meier method was used to generate survival curves. To reduce influences of selection bias and possible confounders, a 1:2 propensity score matching (PSM) was performed. The X-tile indicated that the difference in survival was most significant for NLR more than 8.9. Serum NLR > 8.9 was an independent indicator in the entire cohort and PSM subset (HR 4.268, 95% CI 2.211-8.238, P < .001; HR 4.209, 95% CI 1.448-12.238, P = .008 respectively). Subgroup analysis showed that NLR > 8.9 was an independent risk factor of 90-day mortality regardless of age, gender, CTP or MELD score. The value of NLR more than 8.9 is a feasible cut-off across clinical settings among applicable population. The adding of NLR to other conventional predictive systems has the potential to provide incremental value without extra economic cost. © 2019 John Wiley & Sons A/S. Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.