Online poker tournaments, while great fun, are also very complex. It’s not easy to make decisions given that our tournament life is on the line from the very first hand, and we need to be conscious of the potential implications every time we put chips into the pot. This is even more evident during the later stages, when the Blinds (and Antes) have increased to such a level that – relative to our stack – it can be quite costly to fold away orbit after orbit.
This article introduces the subject of the so-called M-Ratio, which is a way of assessing the ‘health’ of a stack in terms of the total cost of surviving orbits should we pay out only the obligatory Blinds and Antes.
We determine the M-ratio by dividing our stack size by the total cost of an orbit’s Blinds and Antes. For example, if we’re at a 9-player table with a stack of 2,400, with the Blinds at 50/100 and an Ante of 10, the cost of folding every hand for one orbit is 240, being 150 (in Blinds) + 90 (in Antes). Therefore our M-ratio is 10, meaning that our 2400 stack would be enough to survive 10 orbits. Note that this is assuming the Blinds/Antes remain the same for that long, which tends not to be the case, so the M-ratio in fact continues to decrease, and we get even less ‘time’ to play…
Now we know what the M-ratio is, how can this ever-changing numerical guide help us as we progress deeper and deeper into a tournament? Let’s look at how we might play depending on the level of M:
M = 20+
When our M-ratio is over 20 we’re afforded enough flexibility that we can pretty much adopt any approach. This is very useful indeed because it means we can have a wide starting hand range, be aggressive when such opportunities present themselves and try speculative – and potentially very rewarding – plays, while also having the luxury of being able to afford to take a step back and bide our time. Furthermore, a high M-ratio means that we can withstand the occasional loss and still have a perfectly workable stack with which to continue.
M = 10-20
Depending on which end of this scale our M-ratio is, we need to be more selective and prudent in our choices. Our range can’t be as wide as above, and those trickier, more speculative plays tend to be no longer justified now that there’s less material to work with.
M = 6-10
While there’s no need to panic (there should never be a need to panic!), this situation is nevertheless one that requires both utmost care in that we can’t afford to waste a single chip and, at the same time, a willingness to take the bull by the horns and shove all-in when circumstances dictate such a proactive play. Rather than limping and calling raises – which would cost enough chips to effectively commit our entire stack – we should look to playing on our own terms and being the first to instigate aggression, thus adding fold-equity to our cause.
Doubling up should be the target and, in the meantime, we should be trying to avoid slipping into the following M-ratio category…
M = 1-6
In poker tournaments, it is not unusual to find ourselves, for a number of reasons (losing an all-in coin toss, too much passivity, poor play…), with a tiny, unworkable stack that is literally going to leave us with barely enough chips to fold away for a few orbits. A common scenario is being in such a situation very near to the prizes, trying to cling on for dear life to make the money. If we look at the number of players in the same predicament, calculate our M-ratio and decide that we can manage to scrape in, then that’s an option. However, this negative approach is prone to backfiring and, given that the prize being aimed for might anyway be nothing special, and that we have managed to get this deep, then there’s an argument for taking our chances when a good opportunity arises to double up. The ‘chip and a chair’ adage is a poker mantra for a reason, as it’s absolutely not beyond the realms of possibility to double up with a strong holding against a random player gambling a portion of their chips, and manage the same feat a couple more times to suddenly be in possession of a hefty stack that in turn can be the springboard to success. Obviously, when the M-ratio gets so low that we’re effectively forced into push/fold territory, there’s always a chance we could be eliminated, regardless of what premium hands we might be dealt. But that’s part of the game, and it’s imperative that we don’t get bogged down by fears of our tournament ending to the point that we’re afraid to put our remaining chips in the middle – it’s far better to be pragmatic and accept that this tournament might not go as wished for, and be prepared to go for it. Nobody ever won a tournament by folding…