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Tournament poker can be very exciting. Both recreational players, as well as poker veterans, like to dabble in the occasional sit'n'go or multi-table tournament even if they don't play tournament poker very often or they don't know much about it. Since poker goes hand in hand with curiosity and competitive spirit it usually doesn't take that long for an average player to learn about the three mysterious letters - ICM
. So what excatly is ICM or better yet, what is the independent chip model? In this article, you'll learn what ICM is and why it can be useful in the tournament poker context.
What is ICM?
ICM or Independent Chip Model is the way of calculating the value of a chip stack in a tournament based on the prize pool and the number of total chips in play.
When playing a tournament, the value of your stack isn't determined only by its absolute size. 1 million chips sound impressive but doesn't matter much when the average stack is equal to 30 million. The value of tournament chips isn't linear, 1bb is worth more to the short stack player
than it is to the chip leader and the exact value will differ based on the number of chips in play and number of places paid.
In short your stack in a tournament is worth as much to you as it is likely to win you money. ICM allows you to determine the value of your stack in cold, hard cash.
Prize Pool Equity and ICM
We can use ICM to calculate our prize pool equity share.
Let's consider a simple 10+1$, 9-man sit'n'go example with a starting stack of 1500 chips and the standard payout structure of 45$ for the 1st place, 27$ for the second place and 18$ for the third place. Lastly, let's assume there are four players still left in the game:
- Player 1 - 6000 chips
- Player 2 - 4000 chips
- Player 3 - 2500 chips
- Player 4 - 1000 chips
All we have to do is use one of the numerous ICM calculators and put in the values to get our prize pool equity
- Player 1 - 32.02$
- Player 2 - 27.06$
- Player 3 - 21.24$
- Player 4 - 9.68$
As you can see 1000 chip stack still represents a considerable amount of money and the difference between 6000 and 4000 stacks isn't as big as we could think. While ICM doesn't adjust for the factors like skill level or luck
it's often used when discussing tournament deals and many players consider it to be more accurate than the chip chop method
which splits the remaining prize pool based on the % of chips in play that players currently possess.
ICM Calculator is Your Friend
At this point, you probably realized that ICM is fairly complicated and you're wondering when will those pesky math equations show up? Fear not, ICM calculations can get really tedious really fast so there's no point in ever calculating them the hard way.
ICM calculators greatly simplify the process and there's really no reason not to use them. You don't have to know exactly how the internet works to use it effectively and you're proving that by reading this article.
Same goes for ICM, the inability to calculate it 'by hand' doesn't have to impair your ability of actually using it.
In fact, many pros don't bother learning the equations and instead choose to spend their precious time with ICM calculators and ICM simulators to get the most bang for their mental buck.
cEV vs $EV
Cash game players would naturally lean towards calculating EV in tournament spots based on the amount of chips alone. This value is called chip EV or cEV for short and the fundamental problem with using it in a tournament poker context
is that it's simply less accurate than what ICM can offer us.
If you calculate that a certain play will net you 1000 chips, in the long run, you don't really learn much. Fortunately, we can use something called money EV ($EV)
which basically represents how much extra money we can expect to gain in the prize pool equity
when we make a certain play. If that amount is higher than the prize pool equity we'd retain if we decided to fold, we should make the play.
Why ICM?ICM is basically the answer to the age-old tournament poker question: "should we risk our chips in this spot?"
which becomes especially important as we approach the money bubble. ICM can greatly improve your results in crucial stages of any tournament.
Since ICM is basically impossible to calculate on the fly, if you want to gain a deeper understanding of the subject you have to study using a software that can work as an ICM calculator and quiz you on the subject. ICM Trainer is one of the many options
and you can read the review of this program on our site. If you're a Poker Tracker 4
user you can use the built-in ICM Calculator and ICM Quiz features of the software. There's also a program called ICMIZER 2
used by many tournament players. So there you have it, you should now have a better answer to the question 'what is the independent chip model' and how to use ICM.
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