10/11/2008

Equity and ICM in SNG's

Carl Sampson 'The Dean'

It was only a few years ago when you could do very well in online poker doing basic things. Having good sound poker knowledge or in depth knowledge of a certain game basically meant that you would win money. In fact I know several players who were making a decent living online back in the first year or so of this decade who were no longer winning players just two or three years later.

The constantly evolving online poker landscape dictates that you either evolve with it or you die and it’s that simple. I started playing SNG’s a few years back and once again I started with a basic system that worked. But as players evolved then I needed to as well and so did my understanding of equity and the ICM calculations.

Your equity in an SNG is basically your share of the overall prize pool at any particular point in time. Your equity is based on several factors which are the size of your stack and the tournament pay out structure along with your hand (which often is irrelevant).

The basic premise with these calculations is that it assumes equal skill on behalf of you and our opponents which of course is far from the case. This is one of the underlying flaws in ICM calculations in that it is very difficult to adjust your equity based on skill differences.

It is a very involved process to convert a particular chip count into a true cash value as tournament chips do not have the same value as chips in a cash game. If an SNG is down to three players and you are sitting on 75% of the chips then you are not sitting on 75% of the price pool as the prize for winning is only 50%.

ICM calculates this for you and is a very important tool to have at your disposal and one that you will definitely need at the higher levels at $55 and above and in fact you may even need to know ICM at limits lower than this. The true value in ICM comes when you need to consider when to shove, fold and call shoves in mid to high blind situations.

As I stated last week, understanding SNG’s strategically can lead to you making many correct decisions automatically. Plus the conclusions arrived at by ICM calculators can often be flawed anyway as the true ranges of your opponent may be something that is difficult to pin down based on not having sufficient information at hand.

But the difference in making the wrong equity decision in most cases is actually very tiny but it is the cumulative effect of these tiny percentages which over time really do add up. But one of the underlying problems with SNG’s which has been pointed out on the forum is that they are easily learnable.

Actually I will reword that and just say that they are “more easily learnable” which is probably a better description. The dynamics of deep stacked play and playing street by street like you do in cash games is absent from SNG’s. Most players do not have to comprehend deep stack poker except at the very beginning.

In fact in most SNG’s, you can easily start off with only 75BB which is a little on the short side to be classified as a deep stack. I started a procedure a few years ago never to stay active on any one site for more than two to three weeks. The way that I saw it at that time was that it made sense to avoid players taking data on you and sharing data with other players.

The downside to doing this is that you never get to really know the players on any one particular site and if you don’t know them then it makes it difficult to ascertain what their ranges are in what is a very small window. You really must tune in to what your opponents ranges are in SNG’s because this makes the use of ICM far more powerful.

When you have a pretty accurate fix on a certain players hand ranges to push and call a push then you can figure out the equity included in each outcome and the same applies when it is you who is contemplating doing the shoving or the calling. You need to study ICM for the simple reason that many of the decisions will at first seem counter intuitive.

As always, experience is a great teacher and once you have done a few hundred hand examples on some good SNG simulation software then you will develop a feel of when to shove and call a shove in certain situations.

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