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Poker Tournaments & SNG's

Leverage at the Poker Tables - Using ICM to Crush Monkeys (Part 3)

9,876 Views on 14/2/15
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We are all hindered by our pokerimage circumstances; we can't buy a jet if we have no money as much as we have to  throw porn stars off roofs if we're Dan Bilzerian. We can however, chose how we respond to the situations we find ourselves in, and do our upmost to thrive as best we can.

Remember, the most successful of us do not allow ourselves to be victims of circumstances, as E.W. Howe observed: 

Every successful man [...] has done the best he could with conditions as he found them, and not waited until the next year for better.

Ultimately, using ICM as leverage is all about using your current situation to manipulate your opponents' circumstances, and although we can't control whether our aces will hold, we do have complete autonomy over whether or not we seize a good 3 or 4-betting spot.

As tournament players we are able to leverage an opponents' understanding of ICM to create uncomfortable situations from seemingly nothing, and in turn, thrust difficult decisions upon our opponents’. Napoleon understood the importance of making your opponents uncomfortable, so much so that the master strategist once famously exclaimed:

Circumstances-what are circumstances? I make circumstances.

I love this quote, and playing with it in mind can change how you approach final tables.

In the last couple of articles we've talked about when and why we can manipulate other players by using their understanding of the principals of ICM as leverage, and I think it's about time we looked at an example or two of how to do it. Have a look at the following spot in the final 4 of a tournament (we're already in the money)


With a suited Ace blocker, this looks like a really good spot to 4bet, and I think it is. We are likely to be opening a lot from the button and it's perfectly feasible to assume that the small blind is attacking our wide opening range expecting us to fold a lot.  Nonetheless, I think this would be a great spot to exert some ICM based pressure with pretty much any hand, because our opponent is in a bit of an ICM lock.

He is sitting in a comfortable 2nd place, with two very short stacks, meaning he can expect to make top 2 or 3 a high percentage of the time. Because of this, going broke here next would be a disaster for him financially, which means that we can use the presence of the short stacks as leverage to multiply our fold equity immeasurably.

I’ve seen people fold hands as strong as AQ face up in this kind of situation, and even though 3bet/folding AQ here might be questionable, it's certainly not unfeasible given the ICM implications and how well his hand would do against the range he would get it in against.
Another great reason to 4bet here stems from the fact that if we get our sizing right, our opponent is not able to close the action with any reasonable 5bet sizing, he is simply too deep to shove. I think this makes him far less likely to get out of line with a 5bet bluff (assuming he has that in his arsenal) and far more capable of folding parts of the top of his 3betting range given he'd be turning chunks of it into a bluff if he 5bets.

Let's say we 4bet to 26,555 and Villain does have a hand like AQ; from his perspective, everything sucks when we 4bet. 5betting and calling a 6bet shove fells pretty bad given that most people aren't capable of 6bet bluffing (especially on a final table) and because of how poorly AQ does against the super strength of a reasonable 6bet value range.

Ok, so simply 5bet shoving might seem ok, but upon inspection it seems equally as unappealing because he's so deep that he would fold out everything worse than him when shoving (and few better hands).

If we were to say we were opening 100% of buttons here and only 4betting about 10% of this range, we would be 4betting around 126 combinations of hands. If we were to fold everything except AK and Tens to Aces to his 5bet shove, we would be continuing with 36 hand combinations, which is around 28.57% of the time (given our opponent has an Ace and Queen blocker).

AQo would have 30.61% when we call with this range, and if you punch these numbers into an ICM calculator (assuming a standard pay structure) the EV of the shove would look something like this:


It's probably worth pointing out that the profitability of this shove with AQ would differ with different payout structures and wider ranges, but I'm merely trying to show that we can afford to be super wide here when we 4bet small because our opponent is too deep to profitably 5bet shove a hand like AQ here, especially against a nit like me!

Intuitively, it might not seem totally ridiculous to expect our opponent to call a small 4bet here a decent percentage of the time, but there are vital ICM implications that make calling difficult for our villain. The short stacks haven't gone anywhere, and just as their presence forced him to play tighter preflop, our opponent will be inclined to play as cautiously post flop.

AQ doesn't do that great against a 4bet value range and as well as reverse implied odds and the cost of calling the 3bet, our opponent has to worry about losing TEQ by committing large chunks of his stack and then later being forced to fold, especially when he's facing a much larger stack that can put insane pressure on him when in position.

Here's how the hand played out:

Preflop: Hero is BTN with Ac 7c
CO folds, Hero raises to 6,000, SB raises to 14,500, BB folds, Hero raises to 26,555, SB folds
Results: 33,200 pot
Hero mucked Ac 7c and won 33,200 (18,400 net)

Ultimately, our opponent is handcuffed by the presence of both short stacks and that makes this a great spot to use the principals of ICM, and our opponent’s likely desire to win as much money as possible, as leverage.

Although we have a good hand to make a 4bet bluff in this instance (we have a hand with some playability and a blocker), we are putting our opponent in a position where he is forced to fold so often that our hand doesn't matter, and we might as well be holding two scratch cards! 


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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