ICM & Sit N Go Tournaments

ICM (Independent Chip Model) is a formula we use to determine the dollar value of our stack (tournament equity) at a given moment in a tournament.  Knowing this value can help us determine what hands to play when it comes to push/fold strategy later in the tourney when we’re near or on the bubble (OTB).  I introduced this a bit in the previous SNG Strategy Series post called SNG Middle Stage Strategy, but it’s so important that it deserves its own post.  This is the 4th post in the series, and you can read the others here.

What is ICM?

It basically tells you the value of your tourney chips in real $$$ (tourney equity).  As you know, in cash games your $1,000 on the table is worth $1,000, and if you double-up it’s now worth $2,000.  But tournament chips don’t work this way, as doubling-up in a tourney gives you less than double the equity.

An Example

To illustrate this, let’s take a simple example of a 6 max game, $100 prize pool, OTB, pays out 2 players and only 3 players left.  I use ICMIZER for ICM calculations (a free online program, just click the link to try it out).  Example:

ICM example

So the two equal stacks have equal equity (real $ value) of $29 in the tourney, and the big stack has an equity of $41.  Now, if one of the shorties doubled-up to 5,000 chips through the chip leader, some might expect the equity of his stack to double, but that’s not the case as seen here:

ICM example 2

His equity increased, but doubling the stack only gave him $19 more in equity (from $29 to $48), or an increase in equity of about 66%.  Also interesting to note is that the other player w/ 2,500 chips actually gained some equity without doing anything.

And the big stack?  While losing 63% of his stack only lost $22 in equity (a drop of 54%).


There are some important observations from this example:

  1. Doing nothing while others KO each other increases your tourney equity
  2. Doubling-up, while giving you a better chance to take it down, doesn’t equate to a doubling of equity
  3. Each new chip added to your stack is theoretically worth less than the previous chip in equity
  4. Even after taking a big hit to your stack, you’ve still got equity so DON’T GIVE UP!!!

The BIG IDEA from learning all of this is that TIGHT IS RIGHT IN EARLY STAGES SNG PLAY.  Don’t put your tourney life at risk in marginal spots.  This just gives your opponents free equity, something that you’re actually trying to capitalize on from their bad play.

If you’re willing to get it in early, make sure you’ve got a stronger range and plenty of hand equity (your hand has potential to improve).  Remember that each player’s tourney equity added together = 100%, so if someone busts it just gives everyone else tourney equity.  Don’t be the one getting busted with a weak hand/range.

How to Study ICM and Apply What You’ve Learned In-game

In the previous post called SNG Middle Stage Strategy, I introduced you to a program called SNG EGT and how to get it for free.  (here’s the video I demonstrated this in)  I showed you how to use it to break down a hand to figure out what to push with or call a push with when the stacks get shorter (sub 15bb’s).

Now that you know how to use SNG EGT, the next question you might ask yourself is, “How does this help my game?”  Here’s how:

Step 1 – Daily ICM Calculations

The most important thing you can do is run SNG EGT calculations every day in each tough OTB spot you encountered in your previous session.  The more of these you do, the better feel you will have for push/fold spots.  If you rarely see J7s as a profitable shoving hand after you’ve run 100 simulations, then you quickly realize it’s not a good hand when you’re holding it at 12bb’s.

And sometimes, AJs will be within the cut-off shoving range at 12bb’s, or it could be AKs or AQs.  Running lots of these calcs will give you an intuitive feel for when it’s a profitable shove.  Trust me on this, as you’ve got to experience it to really know what I’m talking about.

Step 2 – Record Your ICM Observations

You can’t use SNG EGT while you’re playing your session (you don’t have the time and it’s against the terms of service), so how do we get past these two obstacles?

By recording our observations.

Here’s a snapshot of how I record my SNG EGT observations in Excel:

This is OTB play in 6max games. You could follow this same format for HU and 4way OTB play.

Now that I’ve got this spreadsheet, I can use it in-play.  When I come to a decision, I first think about whether it’s a profitable push/fold spot.  If I’m unsure, I’ll refer to a similar situation on my spreadsheet and make a decision based on what I’ve found in the past.  Referring to this sheet sometimes changes my mind, and I’m good with that.

If you have any questions on ICM, please leave it in the comments below.

Until next time, study smart, play hard and make your next session the best one yet!

Sky Matsuhashi