ICM For Steps SNGs – Advanced Steps SNG Strategy

Want An Edge In Steps SNGs, Making Decisions In Terms Of Prize Pool Equity Can Really Help!

ICM is the ‘Killer App’ when it comes to bubble decisions in standard SNG tournaments – and the good news is that this works just as well in Steps Sit N Go tournaments. Simply making a decision based on whether your long-term ‘Prize Pool Equity’ will increase or decrease will see a big profit over the long term. This article will assume an understanding of the concepts behind ICM – if you do not yet know about this then read our Introduction To ICM article first, then come back and see how to adapt this to steps.

There are actually 2 differences we need to think about:

1 – The Prize Pool: Steps have a different structure, often having 2 or more identical ‘first’ prizes and runners up spots worth 1/3rd of this.

2 – Opponent Ranges: Since a lot of Steps opponents will not understand equity-based decisions, ranges of hands will be different. This is a normal part of the ICM decision making process, we simply need to factor in the occasional ‘crazy’ play.

I am going to show you the principals behind decision making in this article, rather than go through the numbers and ranges in detail, this way the same idea can be used for any Step SNG at any site. Readers who are motivated to do the calculations themselves will need an ICM calculator – I recommend SNG Wiz for this, you can have a 30 day free trial.

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Advanced Steps SNG Strategy - Prize Pool Equity Thinking In The Lower Stages

Lets say you have entered a $3.30c Step 1 At Full Tilt Poker. 5 spots get paid (3 to 5 get a try again and 1 + 2 get a Step 2 token). In our example there are 3 players left who have equal stacks, are equally skilled and are only concerned about maximizing their profits from these games over the long term. As usual I will ignore who is next in the blinds, round the numbers and assume stacks are shallow enough that all-in or fold is mandatory – it is the concept that is important, not the exact calculations.

Since everyone is guaranteed a try again the prizes are:

1st Place $5
2nd Place $5
3rd Place $0

This gives all of the players an average equity of $3.33c before we deal any hands. Player A pushes all-in and player B folds, C now has a decision to make… call or fold. At the moment he has $3.33 in equity. If he calls and wins this goes up to $5, calls and loses this is $0 and folds this is more or less the same (a bit lower, though I am ignoring the blinds to keep it easy).

Risk = $3.33c
Reward = $1.67c

Changing the decision from one of chips to one of prize pool equity shows that our risk is twice as much as our reward. That is to say if we call this bet we need to win twice as often as we lose – just to break even. The question to answer is this: Against the range of hands which player A could be pushing all-in with, does our hand have > 66% equity?

If you already know ICM then this is a familiar concept, if not it may be a surprise that calling with a ‘better hand’ than your opponent shows often loses you money over time. Again, my ‘Introduction To ICM’ explains this concept more.

Steps SNG Bubble Play – Working Backwards From Opponent Ranges

I already mentioned that opponents will generally not understand prize pool equity in these games – they attract a lot of recreational poker fans. It is no good ‘complaining’ if someone makes a negative equity call and beats you to the prize. In fact the opposite, to succeed in these games you need to be aware of your opponents calling range and choose your hands carefully to show a positive expectation from there.

SNG Wiz (or any commercial ICM calculator) will let you do this exercise – I recommend you go through it to ensure that you all-in pushing ranges can adapt to the ‘crazy opponents’ you will meet in these games.

Advanced Steps Sit N Go Strategy – Adjusting For Different Situations

Experience is the key when it comes to making equity decisions in SNGs. When there is a mix of ‘try agains’ and prizes, the stack sizes are all different and the blinds are approaching these decisions may not always be simple. You will be able to profit simply by pausing to ask yourself what you are risking (long-term equity) compared to your potential gain. However, if you really want to become a Steps SNG master you will need an ICM calculator and to go through different situations in a replayer, adjusting stacks and blinds and opponent tendencies in hands to see how these affect how you play a hand.


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