Luke Haward is back on the podcast for a discussion about the independent chip model (ICM) and how it relates to final table dynamics. The value of our tournament stack varies based on the size of the pay jumps and our stack size relative to the other players at the table. Understanding how this affects how you should approach strategy at the final table will give you a much better shot at taking the whole tournament down.

Featuring: Shaw & Haward

Based on one of your pro videos, you used hold’em resources and calculators to look at ICM and various stack size configurations. It is very abstract until you can actually run the numbers and see the math, can you explain?

Haward: The ICM PRO video is more of a theory video of what ICM is all about, giving examples of misconceptions players could have about ICM. Hold’em Resources Calculator is one of the basic tools used to illustrate a lot of spots. In HRC you can jump in and study, in Chip EV or ICM, and it creates simulations of the same hand and runs it over and over again for the same spot until a “balance” is reached, also called the equilibrium. With running certain spots over and over, you will build up an intuition, giving you that slight edge for certain situations.

Before reaching the Final Table what other spots do you really have to keep ICM in mind as part of your general gameplay?

The most extreme examples of ICM come from satellites, because there is a flat pay-out structure. Here, the emphasis is more on survival than trying to accumulate all the chips and finish first, especially when on the bubble and when you are lying mid-table and there are a lot of players with one or two big blinds left.

In the video a lot of myths is being debunked that don’t understand ICM, one of it is when our opponents have to call tighter around the Final Table, we can push a bit wider, why is that the case?

Sometimes it’s the case, although there are plenty of exceptions to it for example if you have a lot of chips you can push wider into mid stacks, seeing that the mid stacks can ladder up the pay and they are aware of the shorter stacks, thus they can wait it out longer. It all depends on where you are with respect to the other stacks at the table.

It’s important to develop an awareness of stack depth at the Final Table, stack depth can be very imbalanced depending on the structure as well as the pay jumps can also be great. So how do these two things relate to making ICM and important concept at the final table?

It’s about distribution — when you have a couple of players on a few big blinds each, then there is huge ICM pressure on everyone remaining at the table not to bust before them. What it comes down to is to translate your value in chips to the true value in money, in terms of your chance of finishing in each finishing position.

Maybe it’s also too much to rely on the equilibrium aspect seeing that we are human and also make imperfect decisions — so how do you use that information to temper your GTO advice?

There is a lot of ways you can adjust around the GTO approach to ICM. One of the problems is that people don’t actually play Nash Equilibrium ranges, so you sometimes need to adjust your range to what they are actually doing in the real world. The other reason is that all this software is designed for when you are getting it all in pre-flop, which is not always the case. One approach at the final table can be to make an exploitive play, by opening or 3-betting with a certain sizing, rather than open or 3-bet jamming. Some spots may not be GTO-long-term-profitable against regulars, but in the spots you are in, you can get away with it by going bigger and getting extra folds, thus not risking your whole stack.

In terms of the push/fold status, it changes as well, because a lot of below-par players don’t have a very good knowledge of ICM. They will call too wide when they are under pressure and maybe not even realize it. In the process committing ICM suicide, making a play that is not justifiable and because they are calling wider than they should, your shove needs to be tighter.

Another fascinating idea that you mentioned in your video is future EV, what is future EV?

For me it is still a mysterious concept, in the software it’s modeled for final tables, you can simulate stack sizes and what happens with a particular hand depending on all the possibilities. It will then model the next hand as well, stack distribution and how that will affect the previous hand. Because the spot where you end up in the next hand has a value, taking in account stack sizes etc. makes it difficult to model more than 2 or 3 hands into the future.

Do you have any advice for our Red Chippers that want to know more about ICM and how to apply it to their own game?

For ICM I would get the free trial of Hold’em Resources Calculator or ICMIZER 2 to get started, full hand histories can be imported as well as running it from the start. You can also contact me regarding a specific topic or even hand to hand coaching.