The concept of ICM

Written by Ben Blaschke

For anyone with aspirations of becoming a world class tournament poker player, the concept of ICM – Independent Chip Model – is a vital piece of knowledge.


Poker is a great game to play. Whether you enjoy having a few friends around on a weekend for a quiet game or prefer heading down to the casino for some cash games, there is something on offer for everyone.

But if you have ambitions of becoming a top-quality tournament player you must be prepared to put some work in – and a vital piece of knowledge for any good tournament player is something called Independent Chip Model or ICM.

What is ICM? To put it simply, ICM is a mathematical equation that calculates your equity in a tournament at any given time based on the chip stacks of all players, the amount of chips in play and the prize pool allocation.

At the start of a tournament it is irrelevant because all players have the same amount of chips and therefore the same equity – ie. the amount of money they can expect to win at that point of the tournament on average. However, as the bubble approaches and at all points beyond that, ICM can be a very valuable piece of knowledge to have.

Why? Because by understanding our equity in a tournament and how that equity is likely to change should we find ourselves in a push or fold situation, we can learn to make better long term decisions when it comes to our tournament life.

Of course, being quite a complex mathematical calculation, nobody expects you to do these sums in your head or even to know how to do them. Fortunately there are a number of programs available to do these sums for you and most of these will summarize situations for you with a simple piece of advice such as “Push”, “Fold” or “Call”. Over time, these decisions will start to become second nature and once that happens you will have built a huge advantage over the majority of your opponents. You might even say you just gained some bonus equity!