How to Use ICM Calculators Properly

Date: 2008-10-28
Author: Chris Wallace

The automated ICM calculators or “bubble trainers” listed on our SNG Tools page are incredibly powerful. They provide us with a chance to play poker almost perfectly in many late game situations and that perfection is something that is very rare in poker, where so many situations are subjective. But notice that I said “almost perfectly;” the “almost” is important here. These programs aren’t actually perfect.

We highly recommend that you learn why you should be making the plays these programs recommend so that you actually understand the equity involved. If you are going to be a serious SNG player and beat the $100+9 level and above, then you’ll need more than a few hours of exercise with SNGPT or SNGwiz. You’ll also need to be able to think for yourself about each situation as it occurs.

Let’s start off with what is great about these programs:

1. They give us a chance to play the most important part of a sit and go tournament correctly. The decisions are much more valuable as the blinds increase and the money positions get closer.
2. They teach us quickly and accurately how to make those decisions on our own.
3. Automated ICMs provide us with a new way to look at the game and new tools for testing ideas and theories.
4. These programs have allowed us to come up with a formula for the later stages of a sit and go. The lower buy-in levels can be beaten very easily now without a great deal of attention paid to each table.

Of course, we mentioned that these programs aren’t perfect. They are based on fairly simple math and while the plays they recommend are usually correct, there are times where they are missing some important factors and can actually make terrible recommendations if the circumstances are just right. There is probably an endless list of things these programs don’t understand, but here are a few that you will want to remember:

1. Independent Chip Modeling does not know how anything about your skill level. If you are a very good player at a table full of weak players, you want to gamble a little less than the ICM will recommend because your chips are worth more and you may have time to make your skill level work. As the blinds get higher, this matters less and less.

2. An ICM program does not know anything about table image. You factor in how often people will call your all-in bet this time, but how does each play effect the next time? Only a human can make those decisions and alter their play based on those considerations.

3. There is too much complexity in many poker situations for the program to understand; they are just written to consider the current hand. If the blinds are going to hit you on next hand and take one-third of your stack in the big blind, the computer doesn’t know that. This could cripple you and force your opponents to call any steal attempt from you in the future, but the ICM doesn’t understand that either.

4. The program knows what your opponents will do in relation to you because you tell it how often you think they will call, but it has no idea what they will do in relation to each other. For example, if you are near the bubble and two of your opponents are feuding and calling each other’s all-in bets, then you may want to wait until one of them is knocked out and you can sneak in to the money before you make your stand.

The limitations listed above are just a small sample of things you’ll need to consider. If you understand the concepts of stack equity, fold equity, and the value of aggression, you can make those decisions for yourself and play a very strong game. While these programs may not be perfect, they can help you become very strong player, so get a couple of them and remember to compensate for their flaws. Then, you should be a crushing sit and go tournaments very quickly.

For the serious sit and go player there is a list of our favorite software below.

Prego Bubble Trainer
SAGE Calculator
Bubble Factor Calculator

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