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Poker ICM - I Crush Monkeys part 1

8,067 Views on 20/5/14

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I Crush Monkeys. Some of you may have heard the term ICM being tossed around forums or videos so I thought I'd spend some timepokerimage clarifying it and showing it in practice. As you may already be aware, ICM is an acronym for “I Crush Monkeys” and is basically a concept that aims to improve a players psychological approach to poker by removing the fear factor that can prevent you from playing your A-game. Playing with the mindset that your opponents are crushable “monkeys” is paramount during final tables where people are often scared of busting due to high pay jumps, but you can also utilise ICM when playing against a player that you feel is better than you to help remove the intimidation factor this player has, and enable you to think clearly.

You got me - I made that up! But if you've made it this far without scrunching your face up in disbelief, then you probably have no concept of what ICM actually is - don't worry, help is at hand. ICM actually refers to the Independent Chip Model, which is a way of expressing your equity in the tournament based on the current chip stacks. I know there are a bunch of articles kicking around the internet on ICM, but they are usually pretty maths heavy and I know this puts a lot of people off, so I'm hoping to offer an explanation of ICM that will even benefit those with the craziest maths anxiety.

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In a nutshell, the Independent Chip Model calculates the chances of each of your finishing positions based on your current stack size and assigns a value know as Tournament Equity (which can then be assigned a monetary value) based on this. Lots of people's knowledge of ICM extends as far as knowing that it is often used to calculate deals during final tables but an understanding of ICM is much more useful than that. Over the next couple of articles I'll arm you with a practical understanding of ICM, a deeper knowledge of how it relates to poker, and also identify how you can manipulate ICM to improve your game.

A good place to start would be pointing out that ICM only relates to non-heads-up tournament poker. This is because in a cash game your chip stack equals its worth, if you have $100 in your stack, your stack is worth $100. If you double up, your stack's value doubles to $200. This isn't the case in a tournament, where a double up doesn't double the value of your stack. I know this doesn't seem intuitive and I remember struggling to get my head around this myself, so I’ll break it down now:

Imagine there are 6 players in a $20, 6max SNG tournament:

Based on chip stacks alone (ICM doesn’t take into account skill level), everyone has the same share of the prize-pool (1 in 6, or 16.67% Tournament Equity). Let's say you're on the big blind with aces first hand (must be nice) and Chimpanzee goes Ape crazy and shoves 62o first hand doubling you up, the tournament now looks like this:

Notice that the value of each chip decreases and your 1000 chip stack doesn’t double in value when you double up. This is because although we win all of the chips when when we ship the tournament, we don't win the entire prize pool (there is more than one prize). To quantify it, your equity in the tournament increases from 16.76% to 30.67% because busting Chimpanzee also makes everyone else more likely to cash as there are fewer players remaining. In fact, by busting Chimpanzee, you have increased your opponents Tournament Equity from 16.67% to 17.33% (what a guy!).

Don't worry too much about the poker maths here as you'll never really work it out by hand; not only is it impractical to do so in game, there are copious amounts of programs that do it for you nowadays anyway. I don't want to regurgitate huge chunks of what's already out there, so if you would like a full in depth breakdown of how to calculate ICM, you can find it here.

The key thing to take away from this article is that unlike in a cash game, where a double up doubles your money, this is not the case in a tournament and we need to make sure that the plays we make compensate for this inconsistency.

Not only can studying ICM lead to some interesting results and identify areas that you might be burning money, you can use its principals to put insane pressure on people that you know are familiar with it. We'll look at this in a later article.

GG, Dan O'Callaghan


Dan O'Callaghan

Primarily an MTT grinder, Dan began playing poker over curry and Kopperberg whilst at university about 4 years ago.   He exists as several aliases but is best know as 'danshreddies'. His biggest score came earlier in the year when ... Read More

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