Hey guys, decided to write an article about ICM since I think a lot of players aren’t completely aware how important it can be. Especially in bubble situations and  on final tables with steep payouts you should really consider making tight folds or pressure guys who can’t call light due to ICM.

What is ICM?

In its simplest form the Independant Chip Model (ICM) in Poker is a way of representing your current equity in a tournament prize pool based on the stack sizes of the remaining players and the payout structure. That is to say, given your chip stack and the payouts – then running the tournament 100’s of times (so that chance factors even out), how much would you win on average?

Once you know how much equity you have in a prize pool you can compare the amount risked by making a play to the potential gain. This gives a whole new perspective on your decisions – and invariably makes them more profitable in the bubble situation. Even if you choose not to use this model yourself it is important that you understand it, since you will then know what is driving the decisions of many of your opponents at the bubble, and can adjust accordingly.

Okay, let’s give an extreme example first why ICM is important for most of us.

We are four handed in the Sunday Million, $4 Million GTD special edition and the pay-outs/chip counts look like this.

1. $1.2M
2. $800K
3. $500K
4. $350K

Hero (T$ 20.000.000)

Player A (T$ 50.000.000)

Player B (T$ 1.000.000)

Player C (T$ 400.000)

The blinds are 125K/250K with a 25K ante.

We are in the BB and the CO and BTN both fold. We are HU against the CLer (player A) and he raises to 750K. We look at AA and 3bet to 2.1M and have 17.9M behind. The SB instant shoves all-in!

What do we do? We have the nuts so we have to call? right?

Let’s take a look at ICM first
Let’s assume villain isn’t solid/good enough to understand that he would apply huge pressure to us by putting us all-in with any two cards. He would be playing a normal range that would shove All-in on us. Let’s assume his range would be TT+, AQs+.

Against this range we have 81% equity.

If we win, we double up to ~40K and he drops down to ~30K. This would mean our stack would be worth: $1.017.221 dollars.

81% we double and our stack value would be worth $1.017.221.

19% we loose and we go home with $350.000.

$EV of a call = 81% * 1017221 + 19% * 350000 = $890.449,01


If we fold, we loose 2,1M and our stack would become 17,9M and would be worth $879.682.

So a fold would earn us $879.682 and a call would earn us $890.449.

Every time we call we earn ~$10.000.

$10K is a lot of money but only a very small percentage compare to what we could win. It would be a very high variance call, not getting that much in return and risking a lot in a huge fase of the tournament.
What looks like an extreme easy call is actually a tough high variance call. If you final table tournaments like this every week and I’m a multi millionaire I wouldn’t sweat for a moment, but if it’s life changing money for you and you can win 300-400K more by just waiting for someone to bust, things can be a little different 😉
Let’s say we are against the same range, but we have QQ. Our equity in this spot would be 51,5%.

$EV of a call = 51,5% * 1017221 + 48,5% * 350000 = $523.869,30

We now loose ~ $355.000 every time we call.
QQ and also KK would be a very easy fold ICM wise here in this spot.



How to work with ICM

The above math is a bit complicated for most and luckily there are a lot of tools who do the math for you. (I love to be lazy!)

You can use sitngowizard or http://www.holdemresources.net/hr/sngs/icmcalculator.html and I’m sure there are a lot of other icm calculators out on the web. Google is your friend I guess.

Final words/thoughts:

ICM is only a tool to estimate your current equity. <- This and only this. You don’t always need to play according to ICM. Sometimes it’s worth taking a risk and possibly bust in 9th place or have a big stack and dominate the final table. Sometimes it’s better to stay quiet and move up in pay-jumps. Adjust to your table and decide every final table again what would be the best strategy.


Good luck at the tables