In the world of poker, the term ICM is short for Independent Chip Model, and who better to walk us through to this topic than an accomplished poker pro himself, Dominik Nitsche!
An ambassador of 888poker, Dominik Nitsche currently has almost $19 million in lifetime earnings plus four WSOP bracelets. He has happily shared some of his thoughts regarding ICM.
ICM - What is it?
Nitsche says, "Simply put it's a model that helps us make better tournament decisions by assigning a $ value to everyone's stack." In cash games, it's very easy to understand that the most important thing that matters is accumulating more chips.
"In tournaments that's far from the truth."
The idea is pretty simple, says Nitsche. Don't play like you are in a cash game.
"It's about passing up those marginal spots and overall trying not to bust. Busting tournaments is what really hurts you."
That is because if you're out, you're out! You have no chance of winning any money. However in a tournament, as long as you're still in, you always have a chance.
Do you have to be a Math Genius?
Many people make the assumption that to be able to fully understand ICM, you need to be a math whizz to impressively process lots of numbers in your head. Nitsche says that's not true.
"It's all about practice. Like with everything it's practice that makes perfect and since the math is best figured out away from the tables you don't need to be a genius! No one is running precise ICM calculations on the fly!"
It's considered a crucial concept in poker, and it becomes even more so around the bubble. It doesn't matter much at all early on in the tournaments, but during the bubble, your short stack could potentially morph into a guaranteed min-cash in a jiffy!
ICM on the Final Table
When it comes to it, Nitsche says final tables are "all about ICM", but warns that it is not perfect.
"It's the best model we have, but at final tables it gets tricky because ICM isn't perfect. According to ICM, tons of professionals make crazy mistakes on final tables. Sometimes there can be reasons to slightly deviate but usually, it's best to follow ICM guidelines and not go crazy! ICM really influences all decisions. At a final table I simply don't play my usual ‘win all the chips style' and rather focus on playing the tournament."
Final Table Example
Below is a scenario that requires some ICM knowledge.
Nitsche says, "There are two short stacks at the final table, and you are second place in chips to a chip leader who has just shoved on you. This is a situation where you do not want to bust. Yet I always see inexperienced players call off too loose."
So what is the right move - should you call? Nitsche answered it depends on the payout structure and stack sizes, but gives one final piece of advice: "People call all ins too happily. That's the definition of ICM suicide."
Learn More about ICM
What to do to improve your knowledge of ICM? Nitsche recommends checking out holdemresources.net.
"They have a free calculator that can convert final table stacks to ICM $ value. I would recommend running a couple stack size and payout distributions to get a feel for how much each stack is worth. Once you've mastered this you can start by practicing icm push/fold on icmizer."