Free Poker Tournaments Tips for Intermediate and Aspiring Advanced Players
Hi guys, Gloves here again with another article! I know it’s been an absurdly long time – I had my first semester of college and with all that I had going on writing these articles (and even playing poker) took a back seat. But the semester is over now and I’m on summer break (and back to playing poker!) so I figure it’s time that I write my last “From the Ground Up” article (for now) and see if I can get started on a new series focusing on adjusting to real money online play.
Should be exciting. I warn you guys now, if you do not remember the previous articles, go back and read them again. Read them until you fully understand them. At least parts 5 and 6, but preferably all of them. I honestly can’t stress this enough – this article is going beyond the basics and firmly into intermediate tournament theory.
Understanding the ICM concept is the sort of thing that separates the players who win at $2 games from the players who win at $30s, and most if not all of the best sng and mtt players (both online and live) are winning simply because they understand this stuff better than their opponents.
The concepts in this article are that important. But you need to be firmly grounded in the basics discussed thus far and you need to understand how to think like a poker player.
This stuff is not easy – it took me many months to learn and I’m still getting better at applying it everyday.
This article will be content-dense and much more difficult than anything I have presented you with thus far.
For those who are satisfied with being a decent player, focus on understanding free poker tournaments articles 1-6 and building your play around that.
For those truly serious about poker, those who are looking to get into real money play and to take their tournament game to the next level – this article is for you. Let’s get started.
There are two key elements that separate tournament early game from tournament endgame.
First, stack sizes decrease.
While tournaments tend to start somewhere between 75 and 150bbs deep (online) and some are even deeper, by the time you’re at the final table of a tournament or down to the final few players of a sng stacks are typically under 30bb (depending on the blind structure and speed of the game in question) and are often under 20.
In fact, some sites spread hyperturbo sngs that start 25 bbs deep (other sites even spread games that start 10! deep) and by the time they play down to 2 each player may only have 5 or so bbs left. These games are effectively “endgame” all the time.
A second difference is the payouts.
Take a 1000 player mtt. Whether you bust 900th, 500th, or even 150th really doesn’t matter – you walk away with nothing no matter which of these places you get. But the difference between busting 4th and busting 3rd in the same tournament could be a gigantic sum of money.
The effects of multiple major tournament factors have been discussed between parts 5 and 6 of this series. As stacks decrease in size, we should play more aggressively. As the table shrinks, we should play more aggressively.
Basically as the tournament moves on we should play more aggressively.
Here we are looking at how the payout structure changes how we should play things, which is the most important tournament endgame concept.
This is called ICM, or Independent Chip Model.
Essentially, what we do using ICM is convert the value of our stack in tournament chips to cash.
We then use this information to make better decisions. How we do this and how it helps us isn’t directly obvious, but hopefully by the end of this article it will make some sense.
I’m choosing to gloss over some specifics here, but the essence of the ICM model is that we look at the prize pool, at our chip stack, and at the chip stacks of any remaining opponents to calculate how much our chips are “worth” monetarily.
The ICM calculations make a few assumptions which make it imperfect (assuming equal skill, not accounting for blind rises) but for this article those effects can be considered negligible.
A good example of a free ICM calculator can be found here (http://www.icmpoker.com/Calculator.aspx).
Essentially, this calculator converts everyone’s chip stack into their chance to finish in each place. Then it multiplies these chances by the prize money offered in each place, sums the numbers, and finds the “value” of each stack.
With the default input, each stack is seen to be worth $25 as the total prize pool is $100 and there are 4 equal stacks. The easiest way to explain these calculations in a manner which makes more sense is (as usual) a heads-up example, because ICM doesn’t effect hu play (I will explain why).
In a husng, one player gets all the money and the other player gets nothing. This makes ICM calculations very easy.
Let’s say we’re playing a husng where the winner gets $100 and the loser gets $0. Each player has 500 chips to start, which equates to (% chance to win, 50% = .50) .50x $100 = $50 per stack.
Let’s say player A has 900 chips and player B has 100 chips. Player A’s stack is then worth .90 x $100 = $90 while player B’s is worth .10 x $100 = $10.
In regular tournaments, this calculation is many more steps (and requires an automated calculator like the one linked above), but the concept is the same.
The calculator will find the % chance of each player to finish in each place (based on stack size) and then multiply the chances by the respective payouts at each spot. Then it sums the numbers and averages the values.
The values of stacks changes based on the payout structure of the game being played.
In a husng, the payouts are 100/0 so this calculation doesn’t matter.
In a double-or-nothing (10 player sng that pays the top 5 the same amount), it can be found that a stack of 5000 chips and a stack of 6000 chips (assuming 1500 chip starting stacks) with 6 players left are worth virtually the same thing because whether you have 5000 chips or 6000 you’re very unlikely to bust, and once one more player busts you all get paid the same amount.
In a mtt with a big pay jump from 3rd place to 2nd place and another big jump to 1st, a short stack will be worth significantly less than a medium stack which will be worth way less than a big stack.
This is because nobody can bust the big stack so he has a very low chance of getting 3rd place.
Most of the medium stack’s value comes from their chance of getting second place, so they need to be careful against the big stack but can play against the short stack.
The short stack in this spot just has to stick it in with a decent hand and hope to win a few flips.
In husngs, all the value of the chip stack comes from the value of winning, so ICM calculations are just taking the % of total chips in play you have and multiplying that by the prize pool.
Hopefully this gives at least a rudimentary understanding of how the monetary values of chip stacks are found and how payout structures can change ICM values of stacks.
Play around with the ICM calculator and see how the values change in different scenarios if this is still hard to grasp.
Now that we’ve converted stack values to cash, it’s time to discuss how and why this should shape the way we play.
Our goal in poker as a whole is to make the most money possible.
In cash, chips are directly money. In tournaments, the amount of cash we get is based solely off our finishing position.
As such, the goal in tournament poker is not to maximize the amount of chips we win, but to maximize the amount of money we win.
ICM is a tool which allows us to make this distinction, and it’s incredibly important.
Let’s consider a double-or-nothing scenario where we have 5000 chips, one player has 6000 chips, and 4 other players have 500 chips.
Only 1 player has to bust before the game ends and when this occurs we all receive the same amount of money, regardless of chip count.
- > We get dealt AA, and behind us the big stack pushes all-in
- > In this spot, AA is a fold preflop.
- > Let’s assume our AA wins 85% of the time. 85% of the time we leave 4 players with 500 chips and 1 player with 1000 chips.
- > We have 10000 chips in this scenario.
- > 15% of the time we bust and the game ends.
But let’s say we fold.
Discounting blinds and antes, we’re in the same spot as before the hand – one player has 6000 chips, we have 5000 chips, and 4 others have 500 chips.
In this scenario, there is 0% chance of busting. In fact, according to the ICM calculator we have a 99.903% chance to finish in the top 5.
Remember, all spots pay the same amount! Sure, if we call with the AA and win we’re even more likely to finish in the top 5 – slightly.
But we bust out 15% of the time! So calling here is actually terrible – we lose an extra 14.9% of the time when we call, even though we have the best starting hand in poker!
You can see this for yourself – plug in the stack sizes and make finish positions 1-5 all be the same number in the calculator. Then change the bottom from prize pool % to place %.
So calling here is clearly awful, though this may seem shocking to some.
This is why (as mentioned in a previous article) if we have a big stack in a satellite of some kind (or a tournament with a very flat payout structure) we should really tighten up.
There’s little if any value gained in making plays, while if we lose chips we put ourselves at huge risk.
In heads up (or any tournament that only pays the winner) this doesn’t play any factor because if we don’t win we get nothing.
In these cases, the equity from our chips is directly equivalent to the monetary value of our stack (while in satellites after a certain point gaining more chips effectively becomes worthless).
In regular tournaments and sit-n-goes that pay different percentages to multiple places, the effect is somewhere in the middle.
We can abuse this knowledge to make extremely profitable plays against our opponents.
For example, let’s say we’re 3 handed at the final table of a tournament with a steep payout scale.
We have 100000 chips, player B has 50000 chips, and player C has 30000 chips.
This is an absolutely incredible spot for us. Why?
Player B is in a real pinch. Most of the value from player B’s stack comes from his chance of finishing second.
Because of this, we can play extremely aggressively against player B! It doesn’t really matter if we have hands – player B has to play very tight against us or else he might bust and give up all the value his stack has!
By the same token, in this spot player B can’t play too aggressively against player C because if C doubles through B, B becomes extremely likely to finish third.
So we should actually tighten up a bit against player C just so we can abuse player B hand after hand!
If our 2 opponents’ stacks are about equal (say 100000 for us, 30000 for each of them) we should just be raising hand after hand because their best chance at making money is waiting for the other to bust!
So while they have to play really tight to try and finish second, we can scoop blinds repeatedly and have a massive chip lead when we get hu.
Of course, it can suck to be player B in this situation, but now you’re better equipped to make the play which maximizes the money we win.
We need to play very tight against the big stack, but can play aggressively against the other short stack – they shouldn’t risk busting without a very strong hand because they should be playing for second as well!
This type of thought process can and should be used in every spot where significant payscale jumps are in place – typically on the bubble of mtts, at the final table of mtts, and anytime in the money in sngs.
ICM affects the decisions we should be making if we want to maximize our expectations in tournaments. Just take the DoN example – typically we would get it all in extremely quickly in this spot, but on a satellite bubble you can snapfold and smile!
This is ICM in a nutshell.
I understand that it can be hard to grasp, so there are a number of things I will suggest.
First, play around with the ICM calculator linked before so you can see how differing stack sizes and payout scales affect shares of the prize pool and the values of stacks.
Second, here (http://www.pokerstrategy.com/software/7/) is a link to a free ICM trainer.
You can choose the gametype (for payout structures) and some parameters and it will spit out examples (you’ll be given a hand in a random position with random stack sizes against random villains and asked whether spots are a shove or fold, or if you’ve been shoved into whether spots are a call or fold).
Then it will show you the “correct” ranges with which you should be making each action. You can use this to practice applying ICM to real game situations.
When starting out, if you feel you understand the theory I would advise doing maybe 100 of these per day (on one payout structure).
Keep doing this everyday (or as much as possible) until you have a handle on how your ranges should change based on different game conditions.
At first, stick with a single payout structure. Keep practicing until you can consistently get above 90% accuracy, though don’t be discouraged if you make a lot of mistakes at first!
The first few hundred may be rough, but you should really start to get a feel of just how wide (and how tight!) you should be playing in some spots!
Also, as always, if you have any questions for me about this article feel free to leave a comment on the NPP comments page, on the facebook comment chain, find me (gloves22) in NPP chat, leave me a message there or on my NPP blog, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I realize this is complex, dense stuff to comprehend and apply – I fear this article isn’t as clear as it should be, but I hope at least that those who have made an effort to get this far aren’t afraid to contact me with any questions, whether they’re for clarification, expansion on a given idea, or on a completely different poker topic.
It’s tough stuff, but if you can understand ICM you’re well on your way to becoming a solid tournament player, capable of beating decent stake real money online games.
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