The ICM dial

Dara O Kearney
Dara O’Kearney 

Last year I co-authored Poker Satellite Strategy, a title which explained the key adjustments you need to make in satellite tournaments. This year I have released another imaginatively titled book PKO Poker Strategy, the first book written about progressive knockout tournaments.

The strategy in satellites could not be more different to the strategy in PKOs, yet I firmly believe that if you study one format it will improve your game in the other format, and vice versa. Indeed the second book came about in part after my co-author BarryCarter joked that he got better at PKOs accidentally after working on the satellite book.

Satellites are the tightest form of poker and PKOs are the loosest, but they are both two sides of the same coin. Or what I prefer to think of as an ‘ICM dial’. If you think of a dial like on a speaker, ICM and bounties pull the dial in different directions. The start of a regular MTT might see the arrow right in the middle of the dial. The bubble of a satellite would be all the way to the left at the extreme ICM end. A juicy bounty in a PKO might see the dial move all the way in the other direction. ICM at one end of the dial tightens your range, the bounty at the other end of the dial widens your range.

Two sides of the same coin

Dara O Kearney
Is ICM pulling you in one direction, or the bounty pulling you in the other?

In both of our books we advocate you start your decision by thinking of what your standard range would be in a normal ChipEV situation. Then if ICM is a factor, think about how much that tightens your range (moves the dial to the left). If there is a bounty on the line, estimate how much that widens your range (moves the dial to the right). We have on the fly math calculations in both books to show you how to change your ranges. In a PKO tournament in particular you will always have to consistently do this analysis of whether ICM or the bounty has the bigger influence.

To demonstrate the relationship between PKOs and satellites, there are extreme situations where you do not need to look at your cards to make the optimal decision in both formats. In satellites there are bubble spots where you would be correct to fold 100% of your hands, even Pocket Aces, preflop. If you have a seat locked up you don’t get extra prizes for finishing the highest so you should fold everything. In PKOs there are bounties so big that you would be correct to call all-in with 7-2 offsuit to try and win them. The dial is all the way to the left or the right, making your decision very easy.

When I grind online I play with three monitors and I use this concept of the ICM dial quite literally. I put all my satellites on the left monitor, my regular MTTs on the middle monitor and the PKOs on the right monitor. So when I am making quick decisions I know the left tables are likely to have the most ICM weighted decisions and the tables on the right will be the opposite, I should expect to widen my ranges for bounties.

It’s a useful heuristic to keep in your head, to ask yourself where each decision is on the ICM dial. However, the most important thing to make it work is to understand what your baseline ranges would be in a regular tournament spot. It’s no good trying to tighten or widen a range that was flawed in the first place.

To learn more about PKOs you can buy the PKO Poker Strategy on kindle or paperback at Amazon right now. 

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