ICM Poker Step by Step Guide for Tournament Players (2023)

ICM Calculations is short for Independent Chip Model Calculations - which every poker tournament player inevitably does sooner or later.

Arved Klöhn from PokerOlymp explains what this term means, how ICM calculations are used in poker and why you should be familiar with them. Let's start with a very simple question:How much is a chip worth in a poker tournament? This answer is the purpose of the ICM itself.

Why should you become an ICM Calculator?

Knowing the value of your chips at various stages of a tournament is very important. Let's say you're in a poker tournament, you have a comfortable stack and thebubble is coming.Wouldn't you like to know how much money you can expect to make in the long run?

How about folding? Is it worth risking your healthy stack right before the bubble? And how much would it hurt your prospect to lose half of their stack?

the specificpayment structureof poker tournaments makes all these questions quite difficult. Double the chips is not always twice the value. Sometimes it's much more important to just survive the bubble (or the next payout jump) than to accumulate more chips. Simply counting your chips will rarely help you accurately assess the state of your tournament.

What is the value of a chip in a poker tournament?

Let's take a very simple example. Let's say you're playing sit-and-go:

  • Buy tickets:$ 10
  • Number of players:10
  • Payments:1st - $50, 2nd - $30, 3rd - $20
  • Starting stack:1,000 tokens

Right at the start of this tournament, 1,000 chips are apparently worth $10. But as the tournament progresses, their value will change dramatically.

Let's say you're just cashing in and after seven players have gone bankrupt, you still have 1,000 chips left. You are now guaranteed at least third place cash. So your 1,000 chips are worth at least $20. Even if you somehow made money off a single chip, that chip would still be worth at least $20.

The value of chips can increase enormously during a tournament. But its value can also decrease. Let's say you managed to beat the sit-n-go. So you'll have all 10,000 chips, but you'll only get a payout of $50. So now 1,000 of your chips are only worth $5.

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The poker community came toIndependent Chip Modelto append exact monetary values ​​to token counts. Every professional tournament player is familiar with this model and you should be familiar with it too.

Related reading:

  • Poker Mathematics: What Are Sklansky Dollars and G-Bucks?

How ICM works in poker

OIndependent Chip Modelit condenses the following two things into one price per player:

  • The payment structure
  • The stack sizes of all other players

Based on the size of the stacks, the ICM calculates for each player the probability of finishing 1st, 2nd, etc. and multiplies those odds by the payouts for each position.

To calculate the probability of a given player finishing first, he simply divides his chip count by the total amount of chips in play. The odds of finishing 2nd or lower are calculated in a similar way, but a little more complicated.

The calculations are really so complicated that you usually need a computer. For 4 players, more than 20 calculation steps need to be done. For 10 players you already need millions.

Fortunately, many decent ICM calculators are available online for free.

An easy example of calculating ICM

Let's go back to our previous sit-and-go example:

  • Buy tickets:$ 10
  • Number of players:10
  • Payments:1st - $50, 2nd - $30, 3rd - $20
  • Starting stack:1,000 tokens

Now suppose after a while there are only 4 players left and these are their stack sizes:

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  • Player 1: 5,000 chips
  • Player 2: 2,000 chips
  • Player 3: 2,000 chips
  • Player 4: 1,000 chips

Now, what is the value of these chips? Just plug the stack sizes and payouts into an ICM calculator and you'll get the following results:

  • Player 1: 5,000 chips ≅ $37.18
  • Player 2: 2,000 chips ≅ $24.33
  • Player 3: 2,000 chips ≅ $24.33
  • Player 4: 1,000 chips ≅ $14.17

Assuming all players are equally skilled, they can expect to gain just as much in the long run.

Player 1, who holds 50% of all chips, will win significantly more money than second place. Players 2 and 3 can expect to win a little more money than third place. Even player 4 with a short stack can expect to win some money.

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How to make good decisions based on ICM

We now know how much brands are worth in the long run, but how does this knowledge help us make better decisions in the moment?

Let's go back to our example and, for simplicity's sake, assume there are no blinds or antes in the game and you are player 3. The following situation occurs:

  • Player 1 (BU): 5,000 chips
  • Player 2 (SB): 2,000 chips
  • Player 3, you (BB): 2,000 chips
  • Player 4 (UTG): 1,000 chips

Player 4 and Player 1 both fold and Player 2 goes all-in for 2000 chips.Are you holding Ace-Nine (inappropriate) and…?

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Call or fold?

Let's further assume that you know Player 2 very well because you play him very often and you know that he bluffs quite often in these situations. In short, I think you'll win the match six times out of 10 if you call his all-in.

So you are the favorite to win if you call, but in tournaments sometimes just being the favorite is not enough. Let's analyze the situation using ICM. Three things can happen after player 2 enters:

  1. Fold (stack sizes remain the same)
  2. You call and win (you now have 4,000 chips and Player 2 is losing)
  3. You get called and lose (now you're busted and Player 2 has 4,000 chips)

For all 3 cases, we can now calculate the ICM values:

Stacks after bendingICM-EVStacks after call and winICM-EVStacks after call and lossICM-EV
Player 15.00037,18 $5.00038,89 $5.00038,89 $
player 22.00024,33 $0$ 04.00036,44 $
Player 3 (you)2.00024,33 $4.00036,44 $0$ 0
player 41.00014,17 $1.00024,67 $1.00024,67 $

This means that if you call and win, you have 4,000 chips and those chips will net you $36.44 in the long run. But if you call and miss, you'll have zero chips and you'll earn $0 in the long run.

We've already established that you win the match 60% of the time. So we can easily calculate your expected value (EV) for the call:

  • EV = 60% * 36,44 $ + 40% * 0 $ = 21,86 $

On average, you can expect to win $21.86 if you call all-in. Now, let's compare that number to the expected price if you just give up: $24.33 - that's over $2 more!

This means that, in this example, the ICM advises folding as the best long-term play, even if you are a 60% favorite to win the hand! But why is the pass the best option?

Simply put:Player 4, the short stack, forces you to fold even though he's not even in the hand. It's much better to wait for it to bust than to risk all your chips.

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If you wait patiently, it will likely go down before you, and you'll be guaranteed money for third place. But if you call all-in, there's a very good chance you'll bust first.

ICM takes these considerations into account and advises you to opt out properly.

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Related reading:

  • 10 Most Basic Holding Moves: Push/Fold Strategy

Five easy-to-use ICM instructions

  1. Tighter in tournaments:ICM always advises calling a smaller range in tournaments than in cash games.
  2. The first tab:Your first mark is always the most valuable. Doubling your stack never doubles the value of your chips (it's always less).
  3. Correct ICM during bubbles:With a medium sized stack on the bubble, you should avoid flipping coins (or 60/40 all-in) and folding.
  4. Track your Shoves:Proper ICM play generally advises you to avoid tight all-ins if there are players with less chips than you.
  5. Big Stack Bullies:Big stacks can often threaten mid-stack players during the bubble because they will only have to call with narrow ranges.

The limitations of the ICM

Currently, the Independent Chip Model is the most popular method for chip estimation and tournament status assessment.

But while widely used and recognized, ICM is not perfect. Some of the disadvantages are:

  • ICM does not consider thispoker player position(a 4BB stack on the button is usually much more valuable than the same stack in the first place)
  • ICM does not take skill differences into account
  • ICM does not consider possible future situations (sometimes it is better to take small extremes and hope for a bigger advantage).

Using ICM to improve general tournament play

Obviously, you can't perform calculations like the one we just did instantly at the table. You are not going to calculate your expected ICM value during a poker game. But knowing the ICM helps you immensely in working on your game and developing the right instincts on how to act and react to certain situations at the table.

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Several ICM calculators are available online (unfortunately the good ones aren't free), which guide you through many different tournament situations, advising you on the best play.

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What is the formula for ICM in poker? ›

The calculation using the ICM can be elaborated as below: Every player's chance of finishing 1st is proportional to its chip count. If player i did not finish 1st, given player k finished 1st, player i chance of finishing 2nd is P(Xi,2|Xk,1) = xi/(1-xk)

How do you play good poker on a tournament? ›

Daniel Negreanu's 9 Winning Tournament Poker Strategy Tips
  1. Start slow. ...
  2. Consider the potential of your hand. ...
  3. Be patient. ...
  4. Protect your stack. ...
  5. Ride out the “danger zone.” The middle stages are when the “danger zone” comes into play. ...
  6. Manage expectations in the bubble stage. ...
  7. Understand your own position.
Dec 15, 2021

What are the tournament stages in poker? ›

In theory, poker tournaments are divided into three sections; The early stage, the middle stage and the end stage. To best navigate big field events, you need to know what you should be doing in each section of the tournament.

How do you prepare for a live poker tournament? ›

7 Poker Tournament Tips for Running Deep More Often
  1. Poker Tournament Tip 1: Steal a Lot, But Don't Go Overboard.
  2. Tip 2: Defend Your Big Blind A Lot.
  3. Tip 3: Be Wary of 4-Bet Shoves When 25-40BBs Deep.
  4. Tip 4: Deep Stacks? ...
  5. Tip 5: Don't Continuation Bet Every Hand.
  6. Tip 6: Have a Plan for Future Streets.

What is ICM strategy? ›

Integrated marketing communications (IMC) is the strategy that takes your marketing department from disparate functions to one interconnected approach. IMC takes your various marketing collateral and channels — from digital, to social media, to PR, to direct mail — and merges them with one dependable message.

How do you calculate ICM spots? ›

Based on the stack sizes the ICM calculates for each player the probability of finishing 1st, 2nd, etc. and multiplies those probabilities with the payouts for each position. To calculate the probability of a certain player finishing first it simply divides the number of his chips by the total amount of chips in play.

What is the best payout structure for poker tournaments? ›

For a full single-table tourney (8-10 people), the most common payout structure is to pay the top 3 players with 50% / 30% / 20%. For a short-handed (6 people) tourney, the most common payout is 60% / 40% to the top 2 people.

Are poker tournaments luck or skill? ›

The answer is simple: it's skill. Therefore, poker has to be classed as a game of skill overall, as it's skill, and not luck, that leads to players making money over the months and years they play the game.

Is it better to enter poker tournament early or late? ›

This means that by registering early, you generally get to play deeper-stacked poker against worse players, on average. The later you register, the stronger the field is likely to be because many of the weaker players will have busted already.

How is a poker tournament structured? ›

The most common poker variant, Texas Hold'em tournament rules see players dealt two hole cards each, followed by five community cards placed face up on the table. The winner is the player with the strongest 5-card hand, made up of any combination of hole and community cards.

When should you add on in a poker tournament? ›

Add-on Strategy

Basically, any time the percentage of your buy-in add-on costs is less than the percentage increase in your stack it provides, you should take the add-on.

Can you talk during poker tournaments? ›

Within the ordinary social bounds of decency, nothing is off-limits as a topic of friendly chat at the poker table — with one exception: you may not talk about the hand in progress.

How many hours a day is a poker tournament? ›

Most major tournaments play around 12 hours of poker per day, and length of the tournament in days should always be made clear to players.

What are the four key ICM factors? ›

... this study, the reflection on both context and management was based on elements of four principles currently guiding ICM practices, namely: (i) incorporation of international instruments' principles in national legal and policy frameworks, (ii) participation, (iii) sustainability and (iv) monitoring.

What is ICM chop poker? ›

ICM Chop - The most complex of the methods. It calculates the chance of each possible final ranking (based on current chip distribution) and weights it accordingly to estimate the expected return for each player (assuming players each possess an equal amount of skill).

Why is ICM important? ›

ICM essentially tells you what the real (monetary) value of your chips are while giving you a better understanding of the risk and reward in all stages of a tournament and is determined by two factors: The chip stacks of the players left. Payouts.

How do you use ICM in final table? ›

ICM is calculated by using the stack sizes of everybody at a final table and then comparing them to the remaining prize pool. This works out to a real dollar value of how much each stack is worth. This math can be quite complicated and it is very rare somebody would be able to work it out on the fly at the table.

What is ICM value poker? ›

Simply put, ICM is, as most poker terms are, an acronym. Standing for Independent Chip Model is a mathematical model or calculation that enables anyone to convert a tournament chip stack into a monetary value of their equity based on the remaining prize pool.

What is GTO in poker? ›

The term GTO poker strategy comes from “game theory optimal,” the full name of the strategy that was invented over the last decade. Game theory optimal, or GTO poker strategy, is a strategy that seeks complete balance in the game, making your plays 100% unexploitable by your opponents.

What is the strongest hand in poker? ›

Royal flush

The royal flush is the best hand available in poker. It features five consecutive cards, all of the same suit, in order of value from 10 through to ace.

What are the best to worst hands in poker? ›

What is the order of poker hands? As shown in the poker hand rankings chart, the order of poker rankings (from the highest to the lowest) is: Royal Flush, Straight Flush, Four-of-a-Kind, Full House, Flush, Straight, Three-of-a-Kind, Two Pair, One Pair, High Card.

What is the 10 rule of poker? ›

With this notion in mind, the ten-to-one rule suggests that if you find yourself deep in a tournament and have at least 10 times the amount of chips that your opponent has, you should set your opponent all in with any two cards. This is a recommended strategy for two different reasons.

What is a good cash percentage in poker tournaments? ›

Live Cash Games - 0-30bb/100 hands with 30+ being considered exceptional in most games. Online Tournaments ROI - 0-30% with 30%+ being considered exceptional in most games. Live Tournaments ROI- 0-100% with 100%+ being considered exceptional in most games.

How many buy ins should you have for tournament poker? ›

A good rule of thumb for cash players is a bankroll of at least 20 buy-ins (some players prefer as many as 40-50). That means if you are going to play NL10 (blind of $0.05/0.10) and the maximum buy-in for the table is $10, then you would ideally have at least $200 in your account.

How often do good poker players cash in tournaments? ›

Top pros are only cashing about 13% of the time. This means they lose money 87% of the time they play! In fact, amateurs cash more often than pros. The difference is that when pros do cash, they cash deep more often.

Should you ever show in poker? ›

Do I Have to Show My Cards in Poker? There is generally no requirement to ever show your cards in poker. You can fold or “muck” your hand anytime during play. In fact, the only time you are required to show your hand is in order to win the hand at showdown .

Why is poker good for the brain? ›

It strengthens your brain and shields your nerve cells. Playing poker can help to rewire your brain and help to create myelin for a longer run. When we perform any activity consistently, it leads to the creation of new neural pathways. The nerve fibers are surrounded by a myelin sheath.

What percentage of hands should you play in poker? ›

What percentage of poker starting hands should I play in Texas Hold'em? Whether or not to play a hand depends on various factors, but as a general rule playing more than 15-20% of hands at a full-ring table (9-10 players), over a significant time period, would usually be considered too loose.

Who should show first in poker? ›

Robert's Rules of Poker state that the last player to take aggressive action by a bet or raise is the first to show the hand—unless everyone checks (or is all-in) on the last round of betting, then the first player to the left of the dealer button is the first to show the hand.

What time of day is best to play poker? ›

Most live poker pros agree that the best time of day for live casino poker is at night, largely due to the: Average age of the recreational players: The night attracts younger players who can be a lot more willing to gamble.

What day of the week is best to play poker? ›

Play Less on Weekdays, More on the Weekends

The absolute worst thing you can do is sit down on a Monday or Tuesday and expect there to be tons of great action going on. The reason why is simple. People aren't in a gambling mood on these days of the week.

How often should blinds go up in poker? ›

Typically, they are increased at a smooth rate of between 25% and 50% per round over the previous round. As the blinds increase, players need to increase their chip counts (or "stacks") to stay in the game. The blinds will eventually consume all of a player's stack if he or she does not play to win more.

How many chips should you start with in poker? ›

Generally speaking, it is reasonable for each player to have about 50 chips to start with. A standard chip set usually contains about 300 chips, which come with 4 color variations: 100 pieces for white, 50 pieces for each of the other colors.

How many big blinds should you start with in poker? ›

Most tournaments start with 50-100 big blinds. Anything around 200 big blinds is considered a "deep stack" tournament. Deep stack tournaments are considered to be full of skillful poker play and not just pushing your money all in before the flop.

How often should you go all in in poker? ›

Any time you're sitting with around 15 big blinds or less, it might be time to consider going all in. This situation usually applies to tournaments more than cash games, as cash games allow you to top-up your stack after each hand.

What is the 8 or better rule in poker? ›

Omaha 8 or Better (frequently written shorthand as O8) is a Hi-Low split the pot version of Omaha poker played fixed-limit, meaning you can only bet in fixed increments. The low hand must be five cards of 8 or less, including Aces.

What is the 7 2 rule in poker? ›

The 7-2 Game is a side game in cash games where everyone agrees to pay a player if they successfully bluff with, then show, 7-2 offsuit. If you actually make a hand with 7-2 offsuit and win at showdown or have a bluff called you don't win, but if you can show a bluff you can collect a nice side pot.

What not to do in poker? ›

Poker Habits: 13 Bad Ones to Avoid
  • Prematurely getting ready to fold. ...
  • Looking to the right when you know you're going to fold. ...
  • Counting chips in anticipation of betting. ...
  • Slow playing strong flops. ...
  • Talking when you hit your hand. ...
  • Glancing at chips on a strong flop. ...
  • Staring at the board on the flop.
Oct 10, 2017

How many hands should you play an hour in poker? ›

A typical live, full ring poker game will deal around 25-30 hands per hour.

How many poker hands can you play an hour live? ›

A typical live poker game will deal 25-30 per hour.

This is assuming the game is a nine-handed, full ring game.

What is the most common poker tournament? ›

1. Texas Hold'em. Texas Hold'em is the most popular poker game in the world.

Why do I keep losing poker tournaments? ›

One of the reasons why players lose often at poker is due to the inability to plan ahead. A lack of a tested and trusted strategy results in a poor play that leads to loss. Inability to plan causes players to make pie choices that all lead to a quick loss of liquidity hence reducing their time and chances at the table.

What are the stages of poker tournament? ›

In theory, poker tournaments are divided into three sections; The early stage, the middle stage and the end stage. To best navigate big field events, you need to know what you should be doing in each section of the tournament.

What is an example of ICM in poker? ›

ICM Pressure in Poker

The idea behind this term is to determine what possible difference a single hand could make to the value of your stack. For example, when you are close to the bubble, losing a hand and going out of the tournament will cost all of your value. This is where the ICM pressure is at its highest point.

What is ICM in math? ›

The International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM) is the largest conference for the topic of mathematics. It meets once every four years, hosted by the International Mathematical Union (IMU).

What is the difference between ICM and chip chop? ›

Like with the "chip chop" method, the ICM method also assigns cash value to the chips in play. However, ICM does not consider each chip to be of equal value, but rather accommodates for the fact that chips change in value as a tournament goes along.

How do you calculate break even percentage in poker? ›

Poker Math: Calculating the break-even % for a bluff
  1. BE% = Risk / (Risk + Current Pot)
  2. BE% = .5 / (.5 + 1) = .5/1.5 = 33%
  3. BE% = $50 / ($50 + $100) = $50/$150 = 33%
Jun 25, 2015

Is there an algorithm for poker? ›

The algorithm is a numerical approach to quantify the strength of a poker hand where its result expresses the strength of a particular hand in percentile (i.e. ranging from 0 to 1), compared to all other possible hands.

How important is ICM? ›

ICM essentially tells you what the real (monetary) value of your chips are while giving you a better understanding of the risk and reward in all stages of a tournament and is determined by two factors: The chip stacks of the players left. Payouts.

What is the ICM chop in poker? ›

Fair payouts (chop) in a tournament

Each player's payout computed using the Independent Chip Model (ICM), recognized as mathematically the most fair prize chop. Each player's payout computed assuming each chip is worth the same value (chip chop).

What is the full form of ICM? ›

The International Confederation of Midwives (ICM)

What is the difference between ICM and MCM? ›

The Interdisciplinary Contest in Modeling (ICM), is an extension of the Mathematical Contest in Modeling (MCM). It is designed to develop and advance interdisciplinary problem-solving skills as well as competence in written communication.

Should you chop a poker tournament? ›

In short: while it may make short-term financial sense to chop when deep in a tournament, you may very well be costing yourself in the long-run by doing so. Gaining final table experience is extremely valuable, and that experience may help you bring home a life-changing score in the future.

When was ICM invented poker? ›

The Independent Chip Model (ICM) was invented in 1987 by M. Malmuth and is one of the most important formulas for understanding tournament poker strategy!

What is MTT in poker? ›

MTTs, or multi-table tournaments, are popular poker tournaments and are played all across the globe. These tournaments are known for their huge payouts and exhilarating poker action. MTTs are comprised of many different tables, each with 9 to 10 players who are all competing for a seat at the final table.

What is the 50% rule in poker? ›

43: Raise Amounts

If a player raises 50% or more of the largest prior bet but less than a minimum raise, he must make a full minimum raise. If less than 50% it is a call unless “raise” is first declared. Declaring an amount or pushing out the same amount of chips is the same (See Rule 37-C).

What is the 4 2 rule in poker? ›

The 4-2 Rule is a way to turn the number of drawing outs you have into your odds of hitting them. It's times 4 on the flop to hit on the turn or river, and times 2 on the turn to hit your draw on the river. Example: a flopped flush draw is 9 outs.

What is the 10% rule in poker? ›

To quote directly from the book: "When contemplating calling a raise because your position is good, you have a clear call if the raise is less than 5% of your stack, and a clear fold if it is more than 10%. In between those numbers, use your judgement."


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