ICM stands for “Independent Chip Model”. This concept is fundamental when you start playing poker. ICM tries to create a relationship between poker chip size and cash in poker tournaments. The calculation is done by means of complex programs, as it is very difficult to find out without certain specific tools.

Knowing this concept can help you to make strategic decisions, as you have to take into account the risk of being eliminated. In other games you can reload and leave the table whenever you want, but in tournaments you try to get as far as possible.

So, the ICM is a mathematical formula that helps you understand and calculate the real value of your chips in a tournament, that is, with this formula you can calculate the monetary value of the stacks, the amount of money you have to play with.

The number of chips you have is not always directly related to their economic value. For example, the value of a big blind in a tournament is higher for a short stack than for the chip leader.

How do I do the ICM calculation?

It is very complicated to calculate the monetary value of your chips when you are playing. Therefore, it is very important to know how to react to each BCI and to study possibilities before they occur. There are calculation programs such as ICMizer with which you can calculate the ICM model.

ICM calculators are programs that allow you to enter data such as the player’s stack and the prize for the winning positions. The software, performing some complex algorithms, solves the problem by providing the monetary value of the stack of each player. They are not easy to use, although practice makes perfect. By practicing you can memorize or develop facilities to use it during tournaments and, with that approach, you can develop strategies during the game.

When to use ICM in a poker tournament?

There are two crucial moments in a poker tournament in which you will have to take into account the MSI: the bubble and the final table.


The prize bubble in a poker tournament is a very important moment, because you can run out of anything. You must play patiently to secure the prize. Good poker players with giant stacks will try to attack those most likely to lose. You should not be satisfied with reaching the bubble with a good stack, it is important to keep accumulating chips that will serve you when the bubble is over.

Also, you should take into account the real economic value of your chips to know what equity you need to be in an all in situation. For example, when you double up on the bubble, you get double the chips but, in monetary value, the only difference is whether you are in or out of prizes, the money worth your stack is not doubled.

Final Table

The final table is where the prize jumps are most important, so it is crucial to know what your chips are worth in order to establish the strategy to be used.

The strategy with ICM

In general, the BWI formula encourages us to play tighter when we are in preflop. Postflop is also important to play with a less risky strategy.

When there are players with fewer chips, BWI helps us to avoid all-ins where the decision is doubtful. This way, you have to wait until the short-stacks are eliminated before we do, or if you have a medium stack, try to keep your chips in good position. The bigger stacks will be the ones that play more aggressively.

What to keep in mind when calculating the ICM?

The ICM formula is not perfect. A player’s chips may be worth more or less depending on his position. Also, this formula does not take into account the players’ skill. Also, it is possible to decide to risk the future reward of being in a good position if you win.

Despite these considerations, it is interesting to consider how the ICM works to get help to win more easily. The ICM model tells you what the correlation is between the chips you have and their monetary value. Knowing the ICM model, you can propose prize deals in tournaments and evaluate the risk and reward options during a tournament.

In poker tournaments, each hand is not independent, so you must know the effect of the chip stacks in order to make the right decision. Using a poker software will allow you to know better this concept and to practice with it.