Dan O’Callaghan reveals how you can use the ICM hammer to devastating effect in a hand from the GPPT High Roller
Being a great philosopher, pioneer, and all around boss, it’s surprising that MC Hammer isn’t responsible for many of the staples of modern life. Not only did he not invent the television, innuendo, or the toaster, he also had absolutely nothing to do with triumphs such as penicillin or the internet. That’s not to say he couldn’t have. Not at all. Who knows? Had someone given Hammer a hammer and enough time, perhaps television giant LG would be called MC instead… Or not. Who cares? Because even if it’s more likely that MC would have smoked something he shouldn’t and decided that ‘hammer time’ meant head-butting nails into the floorboards, it wouldn’t change the fact that MC Hammer rejuvenated the late 20th century with his baggy slacks, audaciously luminous fashion, and infamous ‘Running Man’.
By now you’re probably wondering why I’ve spent the last paragraph waffling on about MC Hammer. Well, to clarify (and to make sure I’m not forbidden from writing another article for you next month), let me steer things back on point: It’s a bold claim I know, but I’m just going to come out and say it: MC Hammer’s, U Can’t Touch This offers some great poker advice – albeit accidentally.
In fact, if any of you watched the stream of my GPPT High Roller win last month (shameless brag), you may have wondered why I was sitting there spamming the raise button with my headphones on instead of being my usual, sociable self. Well, this was because I like to listen to certain motivational songs while I’m playing. If I lose a pot, I may whack on a little of Celine Dion’s, It’s All Coming Back to Me Now, if I’m short stacked or a little tilted, I usually call upon Take That to remind me to ‘have a little patience’, and because I had a pretty big chip lead throughout the GPPT final table, I was actually listening to Hammer Time on and off, to encourage me to keep up the momentum. Oh, and before you call the men in white coats, try it yourself, it works. Nothing gives you more motivation to swing the ICM mallet than Sensei Hammer reminding you that on the way ‘to the bank, it’s Hammer go Hammer.’
Ok, so having the motivation to wield the ICM hammer is one thing, but how exactly do we do it? Well, firstly let’s get one thing straight, ICM translates as ‘Independent Chip Model’, not ‘put your tail between your legs and wuss out’. Honestly! I’ve heard the term being thrown around so much lately, and even though it’s true that ICM usually forces you to call your stack off tighter, I get the impression that people only consider it when looking for an excuse to justify passivity.
There’s way more to ICM than this though (and if you aren’t sure what ICM is or how it works, check out a series I wrote called I Crush Monkeys, which should clear things up); it’s a double edged sword, a blind date, an unprotected fondle with someone of ‘questionable sorts’. Understanding it can be a blessing and it can be a curse. Yes, it forces you to make brutal folds, and yes it can be annoying, but ICM can also be your best buddy. With the right dynamics, an ICM hammer can be all you need to manipulate your opponents into folding hands you would usually need a crowbar to part them from. It’s a key part of any tournament toolbox, a poker prerequisite, and here’s a great example from last months GPPT High Roller
Scenario: GPPT final table, ITM, five players left
The stack set up in this hand is vital. We are a runaway chip leader, with about three times as many chips as Nathan Farnaby, who is in second place with a comfortable stack of around 20bbs. We are facing a sizeable pay jump, and there are two smaller stacks and one micro stack, with only four big blinds.
After one of the small stacks fold, we see an open from Nathan, who makes it 53k from the cutoff. As well as being a rather ‘dreamy’ young man (according to Girl Got Game producer Katrina ‘the real lim shady’ Lim), Nathan is a friend of mine and a good, aggressive player. Nathan has a solid understanding of ICM and we’ve seen him make some disciplined folds earlier on in the tournament to support this.
As second in chips, Nathan has good incentive to target the mid-stacked player who is currently on the big blind. Not only was the BB pretty damn tight to start with, it would be a financial disaster for him to go broke before the micro stack either bust or doubled up. Nathan is aware of this dynamic and can expect a blind steal to be successful here, which will almost certainly widen his overall opening range. Nonetheless, since he still has to consider that the 4bb micro stack is likely to get it in pretty wide, we can be confident that Nathan doesn’t have complete trash, and has a hand that has a reasonable chance of winning when all-in. A range of 22+, A2s+, K2s+, Q8s+, J9s+, T9s, 98s, 87s, 76s, A2o+, K9o+, QTo+, Jto+, or around 33% seems reasonable.
The button folds, and we look down at J-6o in the SB. Now of course, folding here is totes fine (am I too old to say totes now?) and in almost any other scenario doing anything other than tossing the J-6o into the muck in this spot would probably be a mistake. However, the context and presence of the smaller stacks makes things interesting. This is a great spot to use the short stacks as leverage, and three-bet to a sizing that is big enough to put Nathan to a shove or fold decision. We three-bet to 135k and Nathan folds pretty quickly.
The ICM and stack dynamics make it incredibly difficult for Nathan to continue with anything other than the top three or four percent of hands. Sure, he may chose to call us sometimes, but even out of position with J-6o, this ain’t no biggy because he still has the same risks of ICM suicide postflop, which means he’ll have to play pretty face up. This is great for us because it means we will both be able to realise the bulk of our equity, and bluff more effectively than usual, should we need to. Our three-bet basically puts Nathan in a situation in which there is nothing he can do but fold the vast majority of the time.
Without going too much into the maths, this is great from our perspective. We’re risking 123k more to win the 109k already in the middle, meaning we need Nathan to fold a little more than half of the time to make our bluff profitable (around 53% to be precise). Assuming the 33% range I did earlier, we force him to fold about 85-90% of his opening range, which gives us an insanely profitable three-bet. The beauty of this spot is that there is literally nothing Nathan can do about it. Ordinarily he’d be able to move in wider for value (or as a bluff if he suspected we were light), but here the stack dynamic make this financially suicidal. He simply has to stand there, let us pull his trousers down and smile while we tickle his gooseberries.
This hand’s a great example of how you can manipulate your opponents’ understanding of ICM. If you’d like to see a few more examples of how effective leveraging ICM can be, you can watch the whole final table here.
ICM isn’t your enemy, embrace it. Oh and the next time you’re stacked, deep in a tournament, whack on a little, U Can’t Touch This, keep your eyes peeled for situations in which you can wield that ICM hammer, and then make your opponents squirm. Trust me, there’s nothing more satisfying than throwing out an un-callable bet while singing to yourself that ‘this is a beat, uh, you can’t touch.’
Watch Dan O’Callaghan play at Twitch.tv/danshreddies. Dan streams Mondays and Wednesdays, and other random times – follow him for notifications!