Strategy: Line up with ICM at Cristian Stiva’s final table

Strategy: Line up with ICM at Cristian Stiva's fin...

In his first strategy article, Cristian Stival from Argentina talks about adapting to ICM at a tournament final table. The player-turned-coach has an illustrious record on tour, winning the CAP Finals in 2015, finishing second at the 2018 BSOP Iguazu and graduating and winning the Bata in 2019 Konia Star Race.

Introduction to his first article:

Matching the ICM at the tournament final table.

If you are unfamiliar with the concept of ICM and its impact on MTT (Multiple Table Poker Tournament) time to start. Mastering ICM is as crucial to long-term poker success as your ability to pick good 3-bet highlights, pick the right boards to c-bet, or define a pre-flop all-in range.

If you don’t understand ICM, or know the concept but just ignore it (a surprising number of players do), then you’re losing (or missing) a lot of money.

What is ICM?

ICM stands for “Independent Chip Model”, simply put, it is a model where each player makes his chips a certain percentage of the total prize pool based on the chips and bonus time in any given tournament .

This reinforces the concept that the goal of a poker tournament is not to make the most chips, but to win the most money. So the nature of ICM can turn many profitable games into horrendous losers once the impact of the model is accounted for.

Its most important effect is heavily skewing final table momentum to enhance the value of progressing through the tournament. If you own 1% of the chips at the Final Table (FT), you have at least a minimum stake in the remaining prize pool. If you are eliminated, you have already won the corresponding prize money, but your interest in the remaining prize pool is 0%.

The ICM does not take into account each player’s skill advantage, but instead provides a very accurate view of each player’s share of the tournament prize pool based on the current stack. This forces players to stop thinking about ChipEV decisions and instead think about $EV, which are often very different.


  • The short stack has to wait for everyone else to get busted.
  • The winning chips must wait for the shorts to be eliminated.
  • The big stacks are free to punish and abuse anyone.

The more short stacks there are on the table, the greater the gap between the chips, the more pronounced the ICM effect, and you should be prepared to wait for the next knockout before you face yourself in a tournament prepared to risk their lives.

So what key factors need to be considered when adapting to ICM? How can we use ICM on FT to our advantage? Here are some basics to help you better understand the concept and customize our game.

1) Study ICM, but don’t try to calculate it in real time.

It is impossible to study the ICM and the time to perform the ICM calculation. It’s important to look back at your past final tables and the life-threatening decisions you’ve made in tournaments, and use tools like Texas Hold’em resources to learn more about the concept. The reason why analyzing your previously played hands is so important is because ICM is such a complex concept that no one can do it in their head during a tournament, or in real time with a calculator. This is because you need to know the exact size of each stack and the exact prize pool remaining in the tournament, as well as the specific ranges of each player involved in the hand you are analyzing.

So, learning ICM is not done at the table, but manually, scenario by scenario, eventually developing an intuition or “feel” for the application and understanding which factors most influence ICM decisions. Try simulating the same scenario with different calling ranges or different stack sizes, and you’ll see that the same play can turn out to be hugely profitable or horribly poor.

2) Consider the tournament structure and future benefits.

If you are sitting at the main table and thinking about the impact of ICM on your stack size and play; Other players’ “skill levels or playing styles” such as the likelihood of winning a tournament, tournament structure, average chip size, or any other adjustment of a similar nature.

This means that in well-structured, high-stacked tournaments where you have a big edge, you should give more thought to ICM than usual, as this can lead to big ICM errors that not only make You pay for pure ICM, but also for your “future edge”. Matches are played as 3-player matches or heads-up (HU) matches.

If you play 3-player, if you’re a good HU player when you’re in a tournament and think you have a 60% chance of winning heads-up. If you’re playing against either of the other two players, you should be more willing to fold tight or just give them the best heads-up chance. On the other hand, if you get to the final table of a turbo tournament, where the odds are smaller and the stacks are more evenly spread, the ICM’s decisions will be very good anyway (maybe the decisions are within 1% or 2% of each other). ) and you can’t be sure: you have to accept that there’s a lot of variance in each of your decisions, and that you’re more likely to make an ICM error if you pay that shot with A-7o rather than A-8s+.

This is one of the main reasons why many turbo tournaments with jackpots end up being traded between four or five players: the variance is so large that it forces players to make ICM decisions, they get 1% . Or 2% wrong, which could actually cost them thousands of dollars in EV.

3) Pay attention to your opponent’s ICM knowledge.

When entering at a large final table, it is equally important to have reliable information on other people.It’s also important to understand exactly who understands ICM, who doesn’t, and how players who understand ICM adapt. Of course, someone else’s lack of ICM awareness can turn your good play into a bad play, although that’s a bit frustrating.

Example: You are in SB, you have 20 BBs, and you have 7 players left in FT. The UTG player has 2 BBs left in his stack (the next hand could be an all-in), and you are in an unsealed pot on the turn with 8 BBs still in BB’s stack. Going all-in with any two cards is definitely a profitable play in this situation, as the big blind can hardly call because such a small stack is about to be wiped out. You need to fold a lot of A-x hands, and of course all weak K-x hands.

Clarification: This is just a fictional scenario, as it’s nearly impossible to know if my statement about BB is profitable. The range is right or wrong without knowing the price tick and remaining stack size.

However, if the big blind decides to call quickly with K-4o, this would make our strategy all-in for Any-two less profitable because our fold equity is not as high as we estimated many. This is the start of an infinite escalation loop as our pushing range is based on his calling range based on the perception of the short stack at the table, just as his actual calling range is based on our perception based on what he knows we know we have a short stack All-in range is the same. The table is full of…

Did I let you lose? In other words, if you have to call short stacks with K-4o, you can’t go all-in with a hand. So when our opponents don’t consider (or know) ICM and choose to make marginal plays that unnecessarily jeopardize their tournament, it negates our ability to make correct ICM plays because they assume opponents based on it Not doing so is risking chips unnecessarily.

This does not necessarily mean that casual players (disregarding ICM) don’t fold as often as we think. Instead, many of these players will be so eager to climb the paytable that they end up folding more than they should. This means that, as in any poker situation, we adapt our strategy (and application of theoretical concepts) to the tendencies, styles and skill levels of other players and must adjust.

4) Play unconventional

ICM can sometimes lead to tricky situations. In some cases, larger stacks may exploit you mercilessly, or in other cases, you are completely “locked in” by smaller stacks or the structure of the tournament. In these cases, you need to think “outside the box” (consider different shapes).

Let’s look at an example: There is a small pile on the table and you start with A-Q. If the larger stack 3-bets you, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a small 4-bet to make the move, because if your opponent 5-bets you with a pair of fives and it hits you and forces you to fold or flip your hand, that’s a big deal. It will be a nightmare for you. Race life. In these situations, it may be perfectly acceptable to push a larger stack than usual, or call a 3-bet when it normally wouldn’t.

These strategies can help you adapt to situations where players are trying to exploit your “ICM holes” in less random ways. Likewise, you may want to consider folding some hands from the CO, BU, or SB, or defend against a raise from the big blind with hands you would normally use.

Sometimes you have to be willing to do it and get kicked: in some cases you need to raise/fold stronger hands than usual, or when you know an aggressive chip leader will try to Just resist the temptation to open a lot of middle cards when you’re knocked out. Sometimes the best way to take advantage of other players for ICM is to fold more cards.

5) “I don’t care about ICM, I’m always going for number one.”

5) “I don’t care about ICM, I’m always going for number one One.”

In short, the above statement is probably one of the worst thoughts one can think of as a poker tournament player. It’s the equivalent of asking, “If one card is better than the other, what does it matter? How much equity do they have…I always play 9-7s!”

Understand ICM and get used to it It’s a very important question. An inevitable and crucial aspect of playing MTT profitably, the more correct and fine-tuned your ICM management is, the more money you will make in the long run. “Play to win” is a short stack pacifist mentality, usually perpetuated by players who think they are too cool to make the right play when it comes to folding, and I can imagine many players adopting this mentality Would be surprised how unprofitable some of their early decisions were. I’ve even seen some ICM-minded players perform well in poker tournaments, only to get emotionally upset at the final table. Or blisters at the final table because you risked a lot of chips when you didn’t have to.

ICM is here to help. Your task: understand it, adapt to it, master it and practice it. Then you’ll see your ROI skyrocket.

Strategy: Line up with ICM at Cristian Stiva's fin...


  • Schmidt.tessie

    This text provides valuable insights into the concept of ICM in poker tournament final tables. It emphasizes the importance of understanding and adapting to ICM to increase long-term profitability in MTTs. The author discusses key factors to consider when dealing with ICM and provides practical advice for players to improve their game.

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