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A new approach to learning push/fold in ICMIZER 2

by Q.

Thanks to your comments on ICMIZER, we've been able to figure out its functional gaps and tweak it for noticeable improvement.

There have been so many questions about what will and won't be included in the new version that before the long-awaited release I want to share some ideas that went into its making and ask a small favor that'll help me optimize the product in the remaining days before it's released.

Here are some of the most popular themes from your many comments on ICMIZER:

  • Can I complete a training or quiz "like in Sng Wizard?"

  • What's the best way to work on my game after getting ICMIZER? How can I learn more quickly and effectively?

  • It's a great product, but I'm a "lazy ass" and I don't have much time for studying

Based on these comments, I've figured out some tasks and requirements for the new version:

  • Make up a good coach mode (quiz). What makes a good coach as opposed to a bad one? See below.

  • Create the ideal preflop calculator, which will make learning more convenient, understandable and interactive.

  • Organize the learning process in such a way that you're always focusing on key moments in the game. Add a function to the program that will keep you motivated to learn and develop your game, one that works for even the laziest and busiest individuals.

There was another bunch of questions about personal learning:

  • How can I get your personal coaching and become a SNE, like your ex student?

Unfortunately, I just don't have time for personal coaching right now, so I:

  • decided to share my personal experience of learning ICM and to share an effective work strategy for preparing for SNE. It's possible this could be extremely useful for some of you even now.

  • broke our study course down into parts and thought of how to embed it directly into ICMIZER 2. That's how the ICMIZER SNG Coach automated learning mode came about.

A good or bad coach

Let's see exactly what makes a good trainer or coach as opposed to bad one.

A good trainer or coach always gives you a load that matches your level, instead of accidentally assigning you a tough task from the entire range of available weights to lift. A bad training might ask you a question that's any level of difficulty, the same as randomly having you lift any amount from 40 to 400 pounds.

A good coach sees your weaknesses and focuses on them to provide you with all-around development. For example, after arms, you do legs, then back. In terms of tournament poker, there are a few different groups of situation types for preflop which require different actions. Some of them are easier than others. For example, a big stack game on the bubble is a lot easier than a mid-sized stack game. If you don't know about peculiarities such as these, and if the situation is selected randomly and you don't have great feedback, it's possible both you and your trainer could fail to notice the hole in your strategy.

A good coach will also get you in a state of "flow." That's what you call it when you surrender to the learning process so completely that everything else fades to the background and you're totally focused on studying. "Flow" is an interesting state, and there are certain conditions in which it happens most often. These conditions create the delicate balance between level of difficulty and your skill level, resulting in the optimal level for you.

Being in flow means you're at the right level of difficulty

Despite all the benefits, many people can't force themselves to exercise. Paying for classes with a trainer is frequently the only motivation that leads to serious commitment and great achievements. The coach oversees the process and only he or she can get the most out of the student's capabilities. It's hard to overestimate the effect of "external" motivation from a good coach.

A good coach objectively evaluates the student's progress.He can tell a master or potential master from a beginner. And at any time, he can let you know how you're doing in comparison to other athletes.

We've taken all these factors into account in developing the new SNG Coach module in ICMIZER 2.

Your ideal preflop calculator

Ideally, it should simply teach you to play preflop. If the program is ideal and if its skill is preflop pushes and folds, then it should be able to transfer this competency to you, and in short order.

Perhaps you think just playing is enough? You have little time as it is; you work or go to school. Perhaps you think you can learn by pounding the pavement; you're counting on a certain number of hands played to gain the experience you need and then the income?

Eight years ago this was an effective approach for some players, and some actually made good money this way. But the rules have changed. That kind of "something for nothing" game went out the window a long time ago. The preflop game level has gone up so much that today you'd be hard-pressed to win even a $1.50 tournament with that approach.

One of the most successful SNG-players, Jorj95, said that if you want to improve your tournaments poker skills, you need to study with an ICM program.

Let's look at the situation: two equally talented players are sitting at the table, but one has experience only from the playing process, while the other, apart from time spent at the table, regularly analyzed his errors and broke down the hands. What chance does the first player have of beating the second?

At the bottom of this question lies the reason why so many players never become SNEs, while others reach that status in 6 months. Those who are willing to put in the work will always be rewarded.

If you're not yet sure you need an ICM calculator, no need to read on.

If you're still with me, let's continue.

I want ICMIZER to become your ideal preflop calculator. From the moment of ICMIZER's release in 2011, I've been constantly working on improving the program in order for it to take on more responsibility for your success on ICMIZER and to simplify the learning process. I had to make it so the program helped you see an overall picture of your strengths and weaknesses, and to organize the learning process so that you focus the maximum amount of attention on your key problem areas in the game.

We've accomplished this complicated task. But first, here's a small deviation from explaining how this new idea came to be.

The old approach to learning push/fold, or how I learned ICM and used to teach it

That's how I learned ICM and how I taught my student bettinglife in 2012. Today he's attained Supernova Elite status three times. We had started from the absolute beginning and we learned simply, one step after another.

I broke the 6-max tournament down into zones, where the ICM rules are all different, and worked on each of them. The first simple zone breakdown is according to the number of players, that is, when there are 6, 5, 4, 3, and 2 people in the game. When there are three people in the 6-max bubble games, this is one of the most important periods in the game in terms of playing the preflop.

The second way to divide the situation is according to size of stack, that is, when you have a short, mid-sized, or big stack. As you may know, on the bubble, the big stack is wary of other big stacks, but might press a mid-sized stack. The mid-sized stack is wary of everyone and wants the bubble to be over with as soon as possible. The short stack is not too afraid of anyone, and chooses the right moment to double up or end the tournament.

After this division, we've got about 4 × 3 + 1 zones for consideration (in heads-up there is no relative stack size. There's an effective stack in the big blinds).

Each zone prepares for us two main situation types: when we can push and when we get pushed in on. I'm going to call these push-spots and call-spots. Call-spots are significantly harder than push-spots, because in order to make a good decision on calling, first we need to solve the problem of a good push for our opponent, to understand what his real push range is. In other words, a call-spot decision always involves a push-spot decision on behalf of the pusher.

Therefore, it makes sense to start with the push-spot. Generally, when you're just starting the learning process, you should just concentrate on the most typical push situations. In the case of 6-max hypers, it's open pushes in late positions, then defending the big and small blinds against pushes from different positions. Earlier positions for a push presuppose a more predictable tight play, and they're worth studying after spots wherein you have a wider push- and call-range.

A new approach to learning push/fold

The method described above is extremely effective, and for my student and me, it has turned out great. You can already start learning this scheme and achieve great success.

At the beginning of this year, I decided to create an interactive learning mode in ICMIZER.

ICMIZER 1 is a popular program used by hundreds of players around the world. But it's "only" a calculator. To a significant degree, the benefit from working with it actually depends on the player. Pro players better understand how to set up their study, what their weak areas are and what they need to work on. But it can be much harder for a beginner to know what to do.

The usual way of keeping tough hands as the session unfolds, and then breaking them down in ICMIZER works wonderfully, but requires diligence and determination on the part of the player.

ICMIZER 2 offers you a completely new way of learning. It makes the player's development automatic and will answer your main questions: "what do I need to work on?" and "how can I do that?"

Play-oriented learning instead of endless review of old hands

Before ICMIZER 2 update, the learning program was not very interactive. Many people were too lazy to spend hours sitting and studying old hands. What's more, traditional dealing is chaotic in nature and doesn't lend itself to a structured understanding of correct strategies.

From the beginning, I've made ICMIZER with idea that it has to be better than SngWizard. It turned out clearly better, but it's not something new. It's just an improvement on SngWizard.

What would the "ideal" learning process look like, if we didn't have any technical limitations?

I've come up with the following answers after analyzing my experience and working on that question with pro players:

  1. The program itself generates the situation that may happen in a game.
  2. It doesn't give crazy situations; the random deal generator algorithm is not too shabby.
  3. On the next level, these situations aren't just random, but fall under a certain outline of typical situations with different probabilities of getting this or that type of question.
  4. Depending on the current level of player, the program chooses questions with appropriate levels of difficulty. How does it determine level of difficulty? The closer the hand is to the borderline, that is, when the fold EV and push EV are similar and close to 0, the harder it is and the more complicated to know what to do with the hand.
  5. We can learn a lot from each spot. That's why we're going to choose how to play not from one preflop hand, but from several possibilities.
  6. Taking into account zones and push- and call-spot types and their varying levels of difficulty, the program divides the skills in these zones and asks questions according to the skill in that zone.

    I realized that that's tough, but doable. Another interesting point came up in the process of creating our trainer mode.

  7. The program should evaluate the player's level as quickly as possible and begin asking him questions at his level.

During the closed beta-testing, we discovered that the program slowly increased the level of difficulty of questions, even if the player always answered correctly. We'd also like it if the experts could somehow communicate their expertise to the program so that in express-mode, the program could skip to the difficult questions.

In ICMIZER 2's quiz-module, we've brought all these points into being. It has the same characteristics as a good trainer. The SNG Coach module is only part of ICMIZER 2's formidable update. I'll tell you about the new module and changes to ICMIZER itself next time ;)

Asking a favor

The long-awaited update is nearly ready, but I wanted to ask for your help making the product even more perfect for you in the time remaining before the release.

  1. You'll have the option to learn the most popular types of tournaments in SNG Coach mode. You'll have a limited choice of possibilities, which is why I want to be sure the list will consist of exactly what you need. The most popular SNG tournament types, or example, PokerStars 6- and 9- max hyperturbo and turbo will be on the list, of course. Popular SNG-structures with FTP will be there as well. But I need your suggestions for the other rooms. The structures with the most pluses will be added to the release of ICMIZER 2.

  2. In ICMIZER 2 we've completely rethought our approach to choosing blinds and payout structures. Lists of payouts and blinds in ICMIZER 1 were independent; in ICMIZER 2, the list of blinds will correspond to the chosen tournament type. There are many of them, and in order to make the list as complete as possible, we need your help. Please post names, payouts and lists of blinds rom popular tournaments (SNG, SNG MTT and MTT) in all different rooms to the comments as screenshots, those you want to be able to break down with ICMIZER 2. The tournament will now be called PokerStars 6-max Hyper, not 65%/35%, and 20/10-2 will be in the list of blinds, not 20/10. You will still be able to create customized blind structures and payouts.

Thanks in advance for your answers to these questions and comments!