Tournament Strategy – the Independent Chip Model (part 2)

This article was posted on April 1, 2014

In the first part of our Independent Chip Model article we discussed the basics of this tournament strategy approach, but we stopped short of detailing its actual application. The time to delve deeper into the ICM is now.

As said in our previous article, the ICM calculates the probability of a given player finishing 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc, based on the number of chips he has in his stack. It then multiplies the resulting probability with the payout for each position.

Calculating the probability of a given player finishing first is easy: all one has to do is to take his total chips and divide the number by the number of chips in play. Calculating the probabilities associated with a given player finishing second is more difficult. The more players one considers for the ICM, the more calculations there are and the entire process becomes more and more intricate. The bottom line is that in order to put the ICM to effective use, one needs to use a computer. Fortunately, there are many reliable ICM calculators out there, which are available for a nominal fee and which are indeed extremely helpful in determining the exact value each player’s chips hold at the table.


To use such an ICM calculator, all one needs to do is to enter the stack-sizes and the payouts and the software will spit out the results, which basically describe how much money the players around the table stand to win.

Using an ICM calculator is one thing. Actually putting its results to use in one’s decision-making is quite another though.

While the ICM itself involves some pretty intricate mathematics, things only get more complicated on this front when it comes to making actual decisions based on the ICM.

In any actual tournament scenario, the player would first have to do the ICM calculus as presented above. Then, he would have to take a look at his cards, the reads he has on his opponents, the positions, and a variety of other variables in order to determine a set of potential outcomes for every action he may end up taking. For every one of these situations, he will then have to calculate his ICM EV (Independent Chip Model Expected Value), which he can do by calculating the ICM in the wake of every one of the potential outcomes, with the stack-sizes resulting from these outcomes.


Using the ICM EV, he will then be able to determine the actual EV for calling, folding, or betting. He should then obviously stick with the action that carries the better EV.

How practical is ICM-based strategy at the actual table? After all, no one is really able to run all those calculations at the live tables, and one can’t really hold up the action by tinkering around on a mobile phone or a tablet for minutes on end every time the chip-status-quo changes a bit.

According to experts though, those who have a basic grasp of ICM will be able to improve their games tremendously based on this knowledge.

There are ICM trainers available out there, which allow players to master various tournament situations based on this strategy without having to go through all the above mentioned calculations.


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