Monday, November 15, 2010

The Independent Chip Model, Chat Box Commentaries, and Sea Monkeys

What is ICM?Over the last few weeks I have spent a few late nights helping cover some of the big online tournaments. In my recaps I generally try to include some information about the story leading up to the final table, but my primary duty is usually to report how the final table goes. That includes chronicling all of the final table bustouts, as well as giving some indication of the general ebb and flow at tourney’s end (changes to chip stacks, lead changes, etc.).

As you might imagine, some of these final tables are more interesting than others, both in terms of the play and the “personalities” involved, the latter primarily indicated by contributions to the chat box.

What I most often encounter -- the “default” final table, you could say -- is a tournament ending with relatively short-stacked players taking turns open-shoving all in before the flop, getting called, then getting busted, with zero chit-chat other than perhaps a conversation to discuss a deal once the sucker gets down to two- or three-handed.

Sometimes, though, I’ll see a genuinely interesting hand play out and/or some dialogue that makes everything a bit more attention-grabbing, perhaps even helping to make the tourney write-up a little more fun to compose.

Last week came one such instance. It was the “Super Tuesday” on PokerStars, a $1,050 buy-in event that attracted 349 players. Dan “Lenny” Heimiller actually ended up winning the thing, with Greg “DuckU” Hobson -- who had won the same tournament just a week before -- coming in third. Here’s the full recap, if you’re at all curious. And here’s Heimiller’s excellent website, if you’ve never seen it before (and are looking for a few grins).

Was actually a fairly riveting final table from start to finish, with some creative play and a lot of chatter from several players. One in particular, after losing a coin flip to DuckU, got very hot in the chatbox, directing a few insults toward his opponent. Hobson was quite cool about it all, though. “Cmon man,” he typed, “it’s frustrating to lose a huge key flip, but no reason to talk trash...... step up the class.” To which his opponent typed “ok,” and let it go.

Another interesting moment arose when they were seven-handed. Actually, it was a fairly routine situation as far as these MTTs go. I found it intriguing, though, perhaps mostly because of the chat that came afterwards.

The blinds were 3,200/6,400, with an ante of 800, meaning with seven left there was 15,200 in the middle at the start of each hand. The table folded around to the players in the blinds who, as it happened, were sixth and seventh in chips, respectively. The SB, down to 92,572 (a little less than 15 big blinds), open-shoved all in. That left the BB, who had but 58,439 left (just over 9 big blinds), with a decision. He took a few seconds, then made the call.

Push or fold?Not at all an unusual turn of events. “Standard,” as they say.

The SB showed 7d7h while the BB turned over Qc4h. I remember thinking the small blind’s hand was perhaps a little better than I’d necessarily expected to see, while the big blind’s hand might’ve been a tad worse. But really they each could’ve turned up just about anything there, given the stack sizes and situation.

As it happened, the flop brought a queen, and the shorter-stacked of the two ended up doubling up. The other, crippled to about four big blinds after that one, would soon go out in seventh place. Before he did, though, he took to the chat box.

“icm noooooooooooooooooo,” he typed, referring to those “independent chip model” calculations some players make when facing decisions such as the “push-or-fold” ones he and his opponent in the blinds had just made.

The suggestion, it seemed, was that he didn’t think his opponent’s call with Q-4-offsuit was justified mathematically -- a complaint one imagines he probably would be less likely to make had he won the hand.

I don’t pretend to understand ICM, though I do get how it involves accounting for a number of variables (some known, some assumed) to help one make a calculation that helps dictate what sort of action to take -- e.g., whether to call the SB’s shove or fold and wait for a better spot.

Looking beyond the actual situation, what I found most interesting here was the losing player explicitly citing ICM as a kind of supporting witness testifying on his behalf. It was a bad call, he appeared to be insisting, because ICM says so!

Also interesting was the winning player’s response. Incidentally, having watched the last few tables play down, my impression had been this player was a solid, smart player. Such is usually the case for almost everyone who makes it deep in these big MTTs, although sometimes it will happen that a less tutored player will win some big hands and sneak through to fill one of the final seats.

“It’s called i’m shortest,” explained the BB. “And getting over 2-1,” he added. “icm bad shove for you actually... because I know math!”

Kind of salt in the wound, there, but the player -- perhaps self-conscious about the having slipped into lecture-mode as he had -- quickly added one last postscript to his commentary:

“and know what....MATH IS STUPID,” he typed, giving his opponent one last thing to think about as he hit the rail in seventh.

Like I say, I’m not going to begin to judge either player’s play or pretend to talk as though I know what ICM truly dictates in this situation. (If anyone wants to spell it out in layman’s terms in the comments, please do.) But I did find it a fascinating little exchange, highlighting how tourneys can instantly create situations fraught with highly complicated dynamics made all the more so by players’ differing strategic approaches.

Sea monkeysThen again, I also find Dan Heimiller’s website fascinating, too. And awesome.

Sea monkeys! X-Ray glasses! Strategies for fighting the man!

Check it out.

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Blogger Zerbet said...

Others may explain this better, but ICM isn't really all that complicated - it is merely a way of determining the true value of your chips, expressed as a percentage of the remaining prize pool.

In order to intelligently decide to make or call a bet, one must know what one is betting, and what one may win. ICM tells you both, which reduces such decisions to a simple risk/reward, our range v. their range calculation.

11/15/2010 11:11 AM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Thanks, Zerbet. Perhaps I should've mentioned the payouts here, if anyone wants to crunch the numbers on the hand above:

1st: $67,531.50
2nd: $50,605
3rd: $38,390
4th: $28,792
5th: $19,893
6th: $15,356
7th: $11,866

11/15/2010 11:27 AM  
Blogger Cardgrrl said...

I'm sure you know that the "Math is stupid" comment is a riff on Barry Greenstein having famously said that in an episode of High Stakes Poker.

Why did BG, of all people, say "Math is stupid?" It was a prop-bet set-up from a thread on 2+2.

So there were several layers of inside baseball being played in the chat box.

11/15/2010 2:11 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Haha, yes I do, Cardgrrl. The line -- "math is idiotic" -- was something Joe Sebok had thrown out on PokerRoad Radio, actually.

In fact, I actually asked the Bear about the line once in an interview (no shinola!) ~~>

11/15/2010 2:24 PM  

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