Harrington's M and Theory of Inflection Points – Useful for SNGs?

Dan Harrington’s Theory of M and Inflection Points Is Usually Associated With
Multi Table Tournaments. Could This Be Used For SNGs Too?

Sometimes discussed on forums and other times quoted as part of a hand analysis - my question for this article is whether the concept of ‘M’ – as popularized by Dan Harrington in his Harrington on Holdem books - is a useful concept for SNGs or whether this only works for Multi-Table Tournaments? In case anyone missed it, I will start with a quick explanation of what M actually is - and how this goes hand in hand with the concept of inflection points. After that I'll go through a SNG, applying the concepts to the different stages.

Dan Harrington Poker Theory - Quick Definitions Of M And Inflection Points

Harrington's 'M' is a number which shows your stack size in relation to the blinds and antes (if applicable). It is calculated by dividing your stack by the current total of blinds + antes in play. If you have a stack of 1500 with blinds at 20/10 and no ante your 'M' would be (1500/30) or 50, later with a 3000 stack and 200/100 blinds (no ante) you would have an 'M' of 10.

Harrington's ‘Inflection Points’ relate to the use of M by defining which 'Zone' you are in... for example with an M of over 50 you are in the 'green zone' and have the maximum flexibility in your play (lots of chips for post flop poker) while with an M of less than 5 you are in the 'red zone' and should be looking to push all in at any reasonable opportunity... each zone has its own strategic changes and inflection points can be thought of as the transitions between these zones.

A Quick note on Effective M: Calculation of M assumes a full table of 9 or 10 players - for short handed play Harrington suggests using 'effective M' which is simply your current M divided by the ratio of remaining players to a full table... in the 3000 chip example with 200/100 blinds if there were only 5 players your M would be only 5 - since 50% of the players are now gone.

Dan Harrington's Poker Theory - Relating M To SNG Play Zone By Zone

OK - so could we relate M and Inflection points to SNG play in some useful form?? After all the theory of M was really designed to be used for Multi-Table Tournaments.

We can start by looking at Harrington’s Zones and seeing if the M (will work with effective M) and the style of play recommended seems to make sense...

  • Green Zone - M of 20 of more. Plenty of chips and thus maximum flexibility in your play.
  • Yellow Zone - M between 10 and 20. Harrington suggests playing looser and more aggressively to stop the blinds catching up with you. He also warns against playing hands like small pairs and suited connectors.
  • Orange Zone - M between 6 and 10. Have lost the ability to resteal and must play very aggressively to have any chance of staying alive.
  • Red Zone - M of 5 or less. Your only move is now all in, have lost any chance of playing post flop poker.
  • Dead Zone - M of less than 1. Not much to say about this one really - you are pretty much, well, dead!

So in an average SNG (will use Stars as an example) you would be in the green zone for the first 3 levels without increasing your stack. Level 3 blinds are 50/25 so 1500/75 = M of 20. Usually there will be 1 or 2 players out so it could be argued that effective M is actually a little less than this but if you have won a pot or 2 this will be covered anyway. So far so good, the green zone works.

Level 4 - 100/50 blinds and 6 left of the original 9 with an average stack of 2250. Your effective M is now (2250/150)/(6/9) = 10. Well OK then so much for the yellow zone - appears we have jumped straight to the orange!

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Dan Harrington's M In SNGs - The Missing Orange Zone + Problems With The Red Zone!

Here is where it appears that Harrington's thoughts start to break down for SNG tournament players - he suggests that in the orange zone you have lost the ability to re-steal but with 22 big blinds this does not make sense. Someone raises for 300, is called by another player and you come over the top for your entire stack... well that is plenty enough chips for the job!

So if re-stealing is still possible in the orange zone in an SNG where actually does it stop working so effectively - and what would your effective M be at that point??

I feel that we would need to move the blinds way up to 400/200 A25 before re-stealing completely goes away.... lets assume we are now down to 4 players - average stack 3375 - M would now be 3375/700 or 4.8 and effective M would thus be 4/9ths of this or 2.13. Now someone raises 3 times the BB to 1200... at this point the pot is 1900 if you come over the top for 3375 more then the pot is 5275 and it costs the raiser 2075 to call – that is more than 2.5/1, so any easy call for any hand that was good enough to make an honest initial raise.

But hang on - those M figures put is in Harrington's Red Zone - we are supposed to be all in every time we have the opportunity to open a pot. While there may be some merit to this if your opponents at the bubble happen to be the tightest players on the planet it appears from a strategic viewpoint this is a one way ticket to going broke!!!

So, we see 2 problems with the Inflection point theory and use of effective M in SNGs - no yellow zone and the orange + red zones being out of touch with the reality at the table.

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Dan Harrington's M - An Alternative View Of Your SNG Chipstack

Personally I like to think in simple terms of the number of Big Blinds in my stack as we go through the tournament in a SNG... it is simple and effective. The key number being 10 Big Blinds - below this it is worth pushing to win the blinds pre flop and you start to lose the ability to standard raise without a premium hand as folding to a re-raise would cripple your stack.

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