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Explain Poker Like I’m Five: M

by Card Player News Team |  Published: Jun 10, 2015


When you’ve played poker for years, it’s easy to forget that technical poker speak may as well be a different language. Many players just picked up a deck of cards for the first time and are wondering what the hell a reverse implied range merge against a large stack to pot ratio is.

Maybe you are new to poker as well and want to start analyzing the game at a deeper level, but the lingo and foreign concepts get in the way. To help, _Card Player_ brings you this series, Explain Poker Like I’m Five.

Every issue, we’ll take on a new term or idea, perhaps one you might come across elsewhere in this very magazine, and we’ll break it down to its simplest components.

The Concept: M

What Is It?

Also called M-ratio or M-factor, M is utilized to measure the size of a poker player’s stack relative to not only the big blind, but all blinds, antes, and the cost of playing each round, or one entire rotation around the table. A large M means that a player can afford to wait many rounds before running out of chips. A small M means that a player is getting short stacked and must look to make a move relatively quickly.

Okay, Now Explain It Like I’m Five

M is a way to measure how big or small your stack is by telling you how many rounds you can last without playing a hand.

Give Me An Example (Or Two)

Developed by Paul Magriel and popularized by Dan Harrington, M is calculated by dividing your stack by the sum of the small blind, big blind, and total antes.

So, if you have a stack of 10,000 chips at an eight-handed table with blinds at 200-400 with a 25 ante, your M is 12.5. The total cost per round is 800, meaning you can wait 12.5 rounds, if the blinds do not increase in that time, before you are blinded out of the tournament. If your stack was only 4,000, however, your M would lower to 5, putting you in a much more desperate situation.

In the Harrington on Hold’em poker strategy book series, Harrington advocated tailoring your play to the size of your M. An M of 20 or above falls into the green zone, which allows you maximum flexibility. An M between 10 and 20 is in the yellow zone and takes away some options, possibly forcing you to play more conservatively.

An M between 6 and 10 is in the orange zone, where it becomes important to pick your spots wisely. An M between 1 and 6 falls into the red zone, limiting you to moving all in or folding in order to maintain maximum fold equity. Any M below 1 is in the dead zone and means you will be completely reliant on luck to stay alive in the tournament.

As the tournament field gets smaller, the tournament director will consolidate players and the value of your M can be reduced because each table will begin to play short-handed. This adjustment results in your Effective M, which means that players must alter their playing style to account for the fact that the blinds and antes are coming around much faster. ♠