Poker Coverage: Poker Tournaments Casino News Sports Betting Poker Strategy

The Payout Structure

by Gavin Griffin |  Published: Aug 19, 2015


Gavin GriffinThe Independent Chip Model (ICM) is one of the most important parts of tournament poker. People with a good understanding of it and good jam or fold ranges can go a very long way in tournaments. Because each chip that you add to your stack is worth less than the previous one, Chip EV (CEV) and Cash EV ($EV) do not have a 1:1 ratio. With this knowledge, someone who is really smart created a model that tells us how much each person’s stack in a tournament is worth if they are all of equal skill. There are some limits to the idea, namely that it’s really only precise when you are at the final table.

After all, it was created as a tool for sit-n-go players. The two most important things in order to figure out how much each player’s stack is worth are what percentage of the chips in play are for every player and the payout structure. With this information and some basic assumptions about our opponents’ ranges, we can use an ICM calculator like ICMIZER to tell us if a play we are making is +$EV. This is a great tool to use away from the table to get an idea if the play you made was a good one or a bad one. It’s not the type of calculation you make while at the table, but analyzing situations that come up regularly is such a great way to become a better tournament player.

A situation that doesn’t really come up very often reared its head at this year’s main event and many people saw it coming from miles away. The WSOP guaranteed that 1,000 people would get paid in this year’s main event. They also guaranteed that this year’s final tablists would all make $1 million. Great things for poker and well done. Unfortunately, the way they structured the end-game payouts made things very difficult for a few people and insanely profitable for one. Spots 12 and 11 made $526,000, tenth place received $756,000, and ninth place will receive $1,001,020. Here’s the trouble with this payout structure: That jump from 11th to tenth is unnecessarily and incredibly big.

Why would there be a pay jump there in the first place? The players haven’t made the official final table yet and I couldn’t find another WSOP event this year where there was a jump from two tables to the unofficial final table. Just having a pay jump from 11-10 is incredibly unfair for one main reason, uneven tables. Because these are all good tournament players, they immediately grasped the ICM situation and two things resulted from that. First, the five-handed table had the chip leader and the four shortest stacks.

This allowed the chip leader to pillage his opponents’ stacks, and they were mostly powerless to do anything about it. Secondly, the six-handed table realized that they should play much slower than the other table. The fewer hands they completed in this situation, the better for them. While it meant that the chip leader would likely extend his chip lead over them significantly, it was very profitable for them to play slowly, play small pots, and stay out of danger.

There were some easy solutions to make this less of a troublesome situation for the people at the five-handed table. They could have just made the payout structure a little more logical in the first place. Take some of that jump and spread it out amongst the final table players, where the jumps are incredibly small for the first few spots. If that’s not something you’re prepared to do, then the tournament staff needs to add hand-for-hand when there are 11 people left, otherwise the five-handed table gets so much more badly abused. Finally, the players at the five-handed table could have played more slowly as well. It was in the best interests of the chip leader to play as quickly as possible, but everyone else at that table should have been playing at a glacial pace. It makes for boring poker and boring TV, but poker is an individual game where you have to look out for your own edges, and if that edge can be found in milking the clock some, you should take that edge.

All in all, the unique ICM situation and the pressure of the moment should make for some incredibly interesting TV, and I’ll definitely tune in to the early shows leading up to the final table, where things should be pretty interesting as well. There should be a barrage of action very early in the final table, as there are some pretty short stacks and very insignificant pay jumps. In fact, there won’t be a pay jump as big as the ones from 11th to tenth and tenth to ninth until the jump from sixth to fifth. Good luck to the November Nines and enjoy the show! ♠

Gavin Griffin was the first poker player to capture a World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour and World Poker Tour title and has amassed nearly $5 million in lifetime tournament winnings. Griffin is sponsored by You can follow him on Twitter @NHGG