icm at final tables

How ICM Should Impact Your Play at Final Tables

You don’t want to be the person who blows a huge opportunity because of one avoidable decision at a final table.

joe cheong all-in with a-7 with three left in wsop main event

One of the most ambitious WSOP final table plays of all time (video).

Because of the drastic pay jumps at final tables, your decisions in these spots will greatly impact your ROI.

One of the most important factors to consider at a final table is ICM, which stands for Independent Chip Model. If you want to learn how ICM should impact your play in the final stages of a tournament, then this article is for you.

In this article we are going to cover:

  1. What is ICM?
  2. chipEV vs $EV
  3. How ICM Should Impact Your Play at Final Tables with Different Stack Sizes
  4. Example #1: How ICM Affects Open-Shoving Ranges
  5. Example #2: How ICM Affects Calling Ranges vs Shoves

Let’s dive in.

What is ICM?

ICM is used to determine how much a chip stack is worth in real dollars. Unlike in cash games, where chips correspond 1-to-1 to their dollar value, the formula for translating chips to dollars in tournaments is quite complex. In fact, software is required for precise ICM calculations.

ICM can be used at any stage in the tournament to determine whether to push / fold / call, but it is largely used at final tables due to the big pay jumps that come in the final stages of the tournament.

How is ICM Calculated?

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. This is why studying with programs that can calculate ICM for you (ICMizer) outside of the game is essential.

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chipEV vs $EV

You should be familiar with these two key terms before moving on.

chipEV

ChipEV is short for expected value in chips. ChipEV refers to the net amount of tournament chips that a particular play profits or loses in the long run. The output of a chipEV calculation is in big blinds.

$EV

$EV is short for expected value in real dollars. $EV refers to the net amount of dollars that a particular play profits or loses in the long run. The output of a $EV calculation is in dollars, Euros, or whatever other currency you’re playing for.

In tournaments, and particularly at final tables, certain plays can be +chipEV while also being -$EV. In other words, the play will win chips, but lose dollars in the long run. Such plays should be avoided because winning real money — not temporary chips — is your goal as a tournament player.

How ICM Should Impact Your Play at Final Tables with Different Stack Sizes

There are 3 types of positions you are going to be in, in relation to your stack:

The Big Stack

As the big stack, you can use all of those sweet chips to bully shorter-stacked players who are just trying to survive. You can also leverage your chip position against good players who are forced to play tighter due to ICM considerations.

When you’re fortunate enough to be in this position, you can widen your opening, 3-betting, and shoving ranges to force middling stacks to fold their bottom/bottom-middle parts of their ranges.

The Medium Stack

Being the middle stack sucks. Even though Upswing generally advocates playing aggressively at final tables, you don’t have much of a choice as a middling stack.

With a middling stack, it is disastrous for you to bust before the short stacks bust. That would mean you miss out on a pay jump (or two or three), so you are forced to play super tight and straight forward.

Medium stacks have the most to lose at final tables. If they are currently 4th/9 or 5th/9 and bust before the short stacks, this equates to a lot of real dollars being lost.

The Short Stack

As the short stack, you face the least amount of ICM pressure because you have the least to lose. You are essentially expected to bust soon, so you get to play fairly aggressively to try to run up your stack.

When you’re in this position, you can pretty much shove with all +chipEV hands, barring a few ‘marginal hands’ in some spots.

Example #1: How ICM Affects Open-Shoving Ranges

Let’s compare two 15 big blind (bb) shoving ranges from middle position. One is a pure chipEV calculation with no ICM conditions, the other is a $EV calculation with ICM conditions at a typical Sunday Million final table.

chipev vs dollar ev shoving ranges

As you can see from these ICMizer screen grabs, the 15bb shoving range for middle position is quite a bit tighter when ICM conditions are introduced. For example, A8/A7/A5 are quite profitable shoving hands in chipEV, but they actually lose money in the ICM calculation.

There are a lot of variables when it comes to ICM calculations and it is basically impossible to work it out at the tables. Putting in work off the felt with programs such as ICMizer will help you get a feel for how you should adjust, which will allow you to take your final table game to the next level!

Example #2: How ICM Affects Calling Ranges vs Shoves

When it comes to calling versus shoves, you have to tighten up dramatically when big money is on the line.

Let’s compare two 15bb calling ranges from the big blind versus a hijack shove. Again, one is a pure chipEV calculation and the other is a $EV calculation with ICM conditions at a typical Sunday Million final table.

big blind call vs hijack 15bb shove chipev vs $ev

As you can see, you should generally be calling tighter and folding more marginal hands when ICM conditions are introduced. A couple of hands that stand out:

  • Calling 44 with no ICM implications = +0.90bb (absolutely crushing)
  • Calling 44 with ICM implications = -$77.80 (absolutely punting)
  • Calling KTs with no ICM implications = +0.35bb (a fairly profitable call)
  • Calling KTs with ICM implications = -$123 (massive spew)

Final Thoughts

I hope this article will help you cruise to victory at your next final table!

Want to learn how to build big stacks right before the final table? Read How to Make Big Money on the Final Table Bubble.

If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment in the section below. I will answer them as soon as possible!

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Home > How ICM Should Impact Your Play at Final Tables
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About the Author

Josh Jones

Just an MTT player trying to get to the long term #variance

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