Tournament poker players have to think differently about the game than cash game players. In a cash game, a $1 chip has a $1 value. Tournament poker players need to use ICM to find out the value of their chips.
There’s a mathematical concept called ICM, meaning Independent Chip Model. This is how a player in an MTT can see the true value of their chips.
What is ICM in poker?
ICM calculators use the prize pool and the chips in the tournament to assign a value to your chip stack.
How ICM Works in Poker Tournaments [Example]
Here’s a simplified example of how ICM works.
You have just entered a $10 tournament with a $100 prize pool. Each of the 10 players gets 100 poker chips to start the tournament with.
At the moment, your chips are worth $0.10 each ($10 buy-in and 100 chips = $0.10 per chip). In total, your stack is worth $10.
The prize pool is $100 and will be divided between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place.
- 1st = $50
- 2nd = $30
- 3rd = $20
The poker tournament gets underway and before long, 5 players are eliminated.
To make things simple, let's imagine that each player now has doubled their stack, from 100 chips to 200 chips.
How much are each player’s chips worth now?
With 200 chips, each player has 20% of the chips in play, meaning 20% of the prize pool.
The answer is:
Each player’s stack of 200 chips is now worth $20 or $0.20 per chip
This example is very simplified, but you can see how the ICM strategy is used to find the value of chips.
Have You Found a Busy Poker Site for MTTs?
MTT players should always be looking for the highest-traffic sites to find events with large buy-in-to-prize ratios.
The weekends are always the busiest days for tournament poker players. At partypoker, the new Sunday Party has a $125,000 prize pool for a $109 buy-in. If you want something a little smaller, join the $22 Sunday Carnival with a $35,000 guaranteed prize pool.
These Sunday events are likely to run long-term, but new MTTs are always popping up.
How to Calculate ICM in Your Poker MTT
An ICM calculator, like our free-to-use ICM tool, needs a bit of information to get started.
- The number of players still in the MTT
- Stack sizes for the players
- Prize pool structure
You can drag the slider to increase or decrease the number of players in your tournament. After that, input the stack sizes and the prize pool structure.
Click on Get the result and wait for the tool to finish.
Why is ICM Important for MTT Players?
Players in MTTs can use an online ICM calculator to find out exactly how much their stack is worth in real money.
With constantly changing chip values, the impact of our decisions changes. If a poker player isn’t aware of the true value of his chip stack, they might underestimate or overestimate it.
We need to make pay jumps in MTT tournaments to make a profit, which is why sometimes it’s the correct ICM strategy to hold on to your chips rather than risk them.
Linus Loeliger, also known as Linus Love, eliminates a player in the Triton series and doubles up, plus some. He increases his equity and ICM value by winning this pot, but all of the remaining players also get an ICM boost.
Leikkonen puts himself in a tough spot here by engaging in a multi-way all-in with his pair of 7s. He’s lost around half of his stack and a considerable amount of equity in the tournament. That being said, he hasn’t lost exactly half of his ICM value, since a player has been eliminated.
One of the most difficult concepts about ICM to understand is that it’s more valuable for you to hold on to your stack than to go out of your way to gain more chips. Doubling up in a poker tournament does not double your chip stack’s value and other players get an ICM boost if you knock out another player.
Practice Making ICM Calculations
If you want to get more comfortable using the ICM strategy, here’s our recommendation. Head over to our online ICM calculator, which is completely free to use.
Enter a freeroll poker tournament or real money MTT and start playing. Don’t start calculating the ICM in the short term, just play through until you have the final table in sight. That’s easier said than done in real-money MTTs, especially if you don’t play multiple events at the same time.
Some MTTs will have fewer entrants and these will be much easier to calculate ICM for. If you try a freeroll, you’re sure to be up against a larger player pool.
Once you get down to 20 or 30 players, it might be time to check the ICM value of your chip stack. Input the players’ stack sizes, the prize pool, and the number of players remaining. If you’ve entered everything correctly, you should get a value for your chip stack.
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