Under the Gun: Using the ICM hammer

Dan O’Callaghan reveals how you can use the ICM hammer to devastating effect. Find out how and test yourself over the page…

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, I had a pretty big chip lead throughout the final table and I was actually listening to MC Hammer’s Hammer Time to encourage me to keep up the momentum. Believe me, nothing gives you more motivation to swing the ICM mallet!

ICM – or the independent chip model – usually forces you to call your stack off tighter, but 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 – it can be a blessing andacurse.Yes,itforcesyouto make brutal folds and 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. Here’s a great example from last month’s GPPT final table with blinds at 12k/24k/4k.

The stack set ups in this hand are vital. We are the 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 three smaller stacks, one with only four big blinds left.

After one of the small stacks folds, Nathan raises it to 53k from the cut-off. Nathan is a good, aggressive player and has a solid understanding of ICM. I’ve seen him make some disciplined folds earlier on in the tourney to support this.

As he is currently second in chips, Nathan has a good incentive to target the mid-stacked player who is currently on the big blind. Not only is the BB pretty damn tight to start with, it would be a financial disaster for him to go broke before the micro stack either busts or doubles 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 he doesn’t have complete trash and has a hand that has a reasonable chance of winning when all-in. A range of 22+, A2o+, K2s+, Q8s+, J9s+, T9s, 98s, 87s, 76s, A2o+, K9o+, QTo+, JTo+, or around 33% seems about right.

The micro stack folds and we look down at J-6o in the SB. Now of course, folding here is fine 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 small stacks things more interesting. This is a great spot to use them as leverage, and three-bet of 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.

Hammer time

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 choose 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 into the maths too much, 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 thereisliterallynothingNathan can do about it. Ordinarily he’d be able to move in wider for value (or as a bluff if he suspects we’re light), but here the stack dynamic makes 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 opponent’s understanding of ICM. If you’d like to see a few more, you can watch the whole final table of my High Roller win here:

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