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ICM poker and ultimate difference between call and push spots

by Q.

What is the big ICM difference between call and push spots? Some often overlooked things to consider when you make a decision in poker.

When we face an ICM based decision in poker we basically consider two options and expected value of their respective outcomes. We can either fold and continue tournament securing our stack and current tournament ICM EV, or we could push (which comes in different forms, open all in , call someone’s all in bet or a reraise all in bet if we are already facing a steal).

In this article I will analyze some aspects of difficult question we face in this case, which is: how much ICM Expected Value difference between push ICM EV and fold ICM EV is enough for us to favor pushing over folding. In ICMIZER this difference is currently represented as a min EV diff value but other software used some different names which are edge, MinDiff, etc. something like that.

Now ICMIZER is just a program that calculates expected ICM EV of those two outcomes. It is you the player who has to make a decision based on them and choose better fitting option. So I am going to present you with a following situation: it is a beginning of HU SNG and you are facing an all in bet and you hold 66. Question is: what min EV diff% is enough here to choose call over a fold option.

You should be able to see the problem, if we call we are 100% going to see a flop, and since 66 isn’t a kind of hand that often ties in confrontations it is very likely that one of players is busted after we make the call and tournament will be immediately over. This is very important, because we have paid rake for playing this tournament and in order to be profitable we have to make more $ out of tournament than we pay in rake (rake minus rakeback of course because we are trying to have EV$ from tournament greater than $ we pay to participate, but for simplicity figure out real rake you pay and I will be simply referring to this as “rake”).

Now it should be clear that even if calling is mathematically better than folding if we view current hand in the vacuum, from the whole tournament perspective such call has to be better than a fold by at least rake + some $ we expect to be making in a tournament that lasts 1 hand. Notice that this $ we expect to make isn’t our real average ROI, tournament is very likely to end immediately, and when we compare it to ROI we get from tourneys that last 40+ hands we can deduce that we can expect less ROI from tournament that lasts like at least 40 times less time.

There are even more considerations here, if you face an all in first hand it is likely that you are against some recreational player, or someone who is simply angry. Odds are that your opponent is going to play pretty bad next hands too, if we are at 1500 chips and 10/20 level. We can view our perspectives in tournament and deny this call even if it beats the rake. But those considerations are outside of scope of this article.

I am trying to highlight the real difference between EV ICM of Call and Push spots. When we compare push spots, where we are the first player to go all in or when there at least are no players who are already all in, meaning we have got fold equity we will see the difference: often opponents will simply fold to our push, and tournament continues. Instead of risking ending tournament right here right now we can add up this $EV we made by pushing to our total $EV from all hands of this tournament. Now if we are accumulating dollars in expectation hand after hand it becomes pretty easy for this sum to be greater than rake we pay, and make the whole tournament +EV for us.

Fold equity is great – we aren’t risking anything, we have no variance, and when opponents fold we simply increase our chip stack and ICM equity in dollars and continue same tournament. Because of fold equity which is almost always greater than zero, if there are no players already all in before us push spots will naturally require less ICM EV % difference with fold than call spots. And the bigger part of push equity comes from fold equity the smaller difference push we can take. After all if opponent is ALWAYS folding it would make sense to push even if it was 0.01$ better than folding, simply because its safe spot. Of course it’s an exaggeration and such spots do not exist, but I hope that it helps you to better understand how to settle down on equity required to push.

Now to sum up some of the points: we like fold equity, we want tournament to continue and us to continue accumulate chips without confrontations, we want to beat rake at the course of whole tournament if we want to win in poker tournaments.

So if you are having a spot where your opponents call range is very thin, for example you can shove big stack into middle stack on the bubble, you do not really need big equity difference here. Next hand you will do the same thing, and due to fold equity this can continue for long time and you will accumulate lots of chips and dollars in expectations.

But whenever you are facing an all in bet yourself you have to carefully consider the call and possible outcomes of such decision and remember that you need to beat the rake.