Dan Harrington Poker Strategy – Harrington's 'M', Zone Theory and Inflection Points

Concise Intro To Dan Harrington’s Tournament Poker Strategy
Inc Explanations of ‘M’, Zones And Inflection Point Play.

Consecutive World Series Final Table appearances, and the huge popularity of the ‘Harrington On Holdem’ book series have turned Dan Harrington into a poker household name! This article gives a quick overview of the key concepts in Harrington’s poker tournament strategy and notes how these can be used to think about key situations at the tables. The poker concepts of ‘M’, Zones and Inflection Points are actually all inter-related. Understanding the concept of M will allow you to utilize the other aspects of poker tournament strategy and theory.

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Harrington's M - Definition Of M And Basic / Effective M Scores

‘M’ in it’s simplest form is simply the ratio of the blinds (and antes if applicable) to your current chip stack. At a full table you add the 2 blinds together and divide your chips by this number to give you an ‘M’ number. For example if you have 3000 chips and the total blinds are equal to 600 then your ‘M’ is 5.

What this number tells you is how many more ‘rounds’ of the table you can survive without being blinded away. In the above example, assuming you played no hands, you can last for 5 rounds.

The basic ‘M’ score assumes a full table of 9 or 10 players. When there are less players the blinds will come around faster – and so your M is adjusted to compensate. Dividing your current M by the ratio of players at the table is know as ‘Effective M’. For example, you have 5000 chips with 5 players left – the blinds total 500, your M now equals 5000/500 = 10, however only 50% of a full table are playing so you divide by 2 for an effective M of 5.

Harrington's M - Once You Know Your M You Can Adjust Your Strategy

Knowing your M score helps you by making tournament strategy adjustments based on this score. This is where Dan Harrington’s Poker Zone Theory comes into play. Your ‘M’ level (and the M of your opponents) determines which ‘zone’ you are in and so what your current strategy should be. There are 5 zones in total from the highest to the lowest these are.

Level Zone Correct Play
1 Green Zone When your M is above 20 you have many poker tournament strategy options available. Here you can raise, re-raise and still have chips left if you lose a hand.
2 Yellow Zone Here your M is between 10 and 20. Loosen up now to stop the blinds eating away at your stack. Small pairs and suited connectors are less desirable now as your implied odds (chance of winning a big pot from a small investments) are lower.
3 Orange Zone Your M is now between 6 and 10. Here you have lost the ability to ‘resteal’ and your stack is dwindling, you must now play aggressively to stay alive in the tournament.
4 Red Zone M is 5 or less. Here you have lost all flexibility if you play a hand it should be all-in, try to be first into a pot to maximize the chance opponents will fold.
5 Dead Zone M of less than one: Here you are on the tournament critical list – any high cards are good enough for an all-in move, but expect to be called!


Dan Harrington's M Scores - Maintaining Maximum Flexibility

Dan Harrington’s poker tournament strategy revolves around maintaining as high an M score as possible. As your zone moves from green to red you lose flexibility in your play and must be more aggressive to compensate. Try to maintain as high an M as you can for as long as possible.

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Inflection Points are Harrington’s description of the changes between zones. Inflection points can happen when the blinds move up or if you lose a significant pot and your M suddenly changes. Awareness of inflection points tells you when to change your poker tournament strategy to adjust to the new circumstances at the table. Your objective should always be to keep in the highest of Harrington’s zones as possible.

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