ICM stands for Independent Chip Model. How to explain what is ICM in poker? Well, it would be something like a term that only relates to high-level poker games to establish a relationship between the size of poker chips and the money in effect that can be won in poker tournaments and sit and go poker games.

Normally, the complexity of the term is such that it can only be calculated by very advanced poker players, or by authorized software capable of making the calculation in real time.

What is ICM in poker?

To understand the importance of the ICM in poker and its true meaning, we have to understand the role played by itself during tournaments, in order to know what is exactly the ICM in poker. It is necessary to understand how poker tournaments work, and where we get the needed data from so calculate that value. First thing of all: the ICM arises from the need to know the value of each chip at a given time in the tournament.

Just as some strategies only work under certain circumstances in a poker game, and just as the calculation of some elements such as odds have to be redone when the circumstances of the game change, something similar happens with the ICM.

The ICM can be applied to answer specific questions such as:

  • The range of hands with which a player can bet all-in, considering the action so far and the size of the other players’ stacks still in the hand.
  • The range of hands with which a player can call another player’s all-in, and recommends calling or moving all-in over the top, considering all stacks remaining in the hand.

The calculations establish a relationship between the chips, their value and the moment of the game. To understand this, let’s take an example: let’s imagine that we enter a sit and go tournament and we pay a 10 euro buy-in and have 1,000 starting chips. When we sit down at the table, each of the chips will have a specific value that we calculate by dividing the buy-in price by the number of chips. 10 / 1.000 = 0,01 €.

How to calculate ICM in poker?

To calculate the ICM, we have only taken some essential data. We will always have to pay attention to:

  • The price of the buy-in that we will have to pay to access the tournament.
  • The number of players in the game.
  • The amount of chips we will have at the beginning.
  • The value per chip, which will be the result of calculating the ICM and on the basis of which we will make the decisions that most interest us.

Now, the next question is: can calculating the ICM, with the dance of numbers involved, really help us to make a good decision in the most complicated moments of the tournament? Actually, yes, because knowing the value of the chips at each moment can let us know when it is better for us to try to expand our stack, and when to assume that we will have to pass up the opportunity to fight for the reward.

Let’s take a very standardized example that you may already know to try to understand the scope of knowing the value of the ICM in a poker tournament.

If player A is facing player B, and the former knows the range with which the latter is making his calculations, he can extract valuable information to try to get the equity of his hand compared to that range.

Calculating the equity can be useful to know how much the average is in case of winning the all-in, which is very useful when it comes to fight for the pot.

In summary: everything you need to know about the ICM

Although the ICM is a very difficult element of poker to calculate accurately, it has several advantages to be aware of in order to know how it can really influence a tournament’s performance and a player’s decision making. Broadly speaking, what to keep in mind is:

  • The value obtained in the ICM is approximate, and it always tends to advise playing in tighter ranges than you should. Being flexible in placing them is elementary to make good decisions.
  • Higher stacks tend to use the ICM in poker plays to put pressure on lower stacks, a dynamic that is repeated in almost every tournament.
  • Identifying who is calculating the ICM gives an important strategic advantage, since it is a sample of the player’s level and the variables, he is considering to base his game on.
  • The ICM tends to never advise you to get involved in an all-in, especially when there are players with lower stacks. However, you should not rule out this possibility.
  • The ICM is just another tool, and its result should be taken as such. Moreover, it ignores such important elements as position, so you will have to work with your variables including this factor.
  • Experience and skill are also not taken into account in the calculations, and they are variables that can have a lot of weight in a play.

All in all, the ICM calculation should always be taken as a mere reference, and never as something that dictates all decision making. It is a very useful guide in tournaments where advanced play and the presence of expert players are the most important, but we must not forget the human component that goes unnoticed by many softwares, which is a mistake.