Tournament Poker Strategy: Calculating the “M”

Tournament Poker: Calculating the M
by Loki Luchs of

In his revolutionary book, Harrington on Holdem, Dan Harrington gives the poker world insight to his philosophies as a tournament professional. Harrington, who is the 1995 WSOP Champion and made the final table of both the 2003 and 2004 main events (which is considered to be one of the greatest accomplishments in poker history), revealed many of his opinions of mistakes in tournament poker. One of these mistakes is allowing a short stack to dwindle below a salvageable level. In order to be able to save yourself at the table, you should be careful about allowing yourself to fall below four revolutions of the blinds. The money it costs for a player to pay for a single revolution, or the M, is equal to the total cost of the blinds and antes for that turn.

Lets assume that you’re at a final table with four other players. Every five hands you will be forced to pay the big blind, small blind, and five antes. If you’re a math person, your equation for finding the M is BB+SB+(Players*ante). Personally, I think its easier to break it up the blinds as one number and then add the total of the antes as a separate number. Either way, you should get the same answer for M. Multiply your answer by 4 and thats your threshold. The moment you’re below that number, your only play is all-in.

Heres an example: Tournament blinds are $1,500/$3,000, with an ante of $300 dollars. For one revolution of play, you’ll need to pay $4,500($1,500+$3,000) in blinds and $1,500(5*$300) in antes. This equals an M of $6,000 total per revolution. The moment that you are below 4M ($24,000), your only remaining move is to push all-in.

Here are a few examples:
1. Your table is 8-handed with blinds of $600 and $1200 and a $50 ante.
2. Your table is 4-handed with blinds of 2,000 and 4,000 and a $200 ante.
3. Your table is 9-handed with blinds of $1,200 and $2,400 and a $75 ante.
4. Your table is 7-handed with blinds of 800 and 1,600 and a 100 ante.
(Answers are at the end of the article.)

If you’re able to figure out these answers, you’ll be able to recognize when your chip stack has entered the critical zone. The next semi-playable hand (Any queen, King, and even small suited connectors) you should put all of your money into the middle. Your objective is to win the pot uncontested, which will not be possible in several hands. You still have enough money in your stack that there are incorrect pot-odds for a mediocre hand to call. (This maneuver has the highest probability of working if you have late position and several players have already folded; however, the blinds are already in the pot, they are the most likely to call since they have different pot-odds.) If you push all-in and are called, you still have a chance to double-up, although its likely that you’re behind in the hand.

One other important thing to keep in mind is how much longer do you have until you begin the next level? If you’ve only got 2 minutes to the next level, how is the change in blinds and antes going to change your M? If you are at 5 players and have a stack of $40,000 with blinds of $3,000/$6,000 and a $400 ante, you’re okay with just over a 4M total. However, if the blinds are going up in five minutes to 4,000/8,000 with a $500 ante, you’re suddenly bumped below the 4M threshold. You may choose to make a stand before those blinds change. Your all-in is more effective at blind-stealing when you’re over that mark, because the big/small blinds don’t have the proper pot-odds to call.

For players dedicated to improving their final table play, its important to be aware of the size of your stack and your opponents stack at the final table. Without understanding what your chip position is relative to the blinds, you minimize your ability to make proper decisions at the final table. Be aware, also, of how your chip position relates to the other players at the table. When blind stealing becomes an essential part of the game, you need to be aware of whose tournament-life may depend on it!

Example answers:
1)M-$2,200: 4M-$8,800
2)M-$6,800: 4M-$27,200
3)M-$4,275: 4M-$17,100
4)M-$3,100: 4M-$12,400