To apply “ICM pressure” means to bet or raise into players who are risk averse because of the stage of the tournament. The bet or raise can be preflop or postflop, into one or multiple opponents, in SNGs or MTTs. ICM pressure is a crucial skill of the game, and a good tournament player should be very capable of applying it.
Let’s look at some common examples of ICM pressure:
1. The big stack shoves into the mid stack on the bubble of a 9man SNG.
2. In a 180man final table, two very short stacks fold. A big stack minraises, and the other big stack 3bet shoves over him.
3. On the bubble of a major MTT, a 25 bb stack opens the cutoff. The button covers, and he makes a 2.2x 3bet.
While each of these examples do involve ICM pressure, there are crucial differences among them.
In example (1), the mid stack has absolutely no defense. Depending on the stack distribution, he may have a profitable calling range of something like 99+. The 97% of the time he’s not dealt a high pair, unless he wants to spew it off (which is definitely a popular option these days), he simply has to fold.
In example (2), the opener also has no defense once he faces the shove. Notice though that he did have the option of openshoving pre instead of minraising (even if it’s a significant overbet), eliminating the other big stack’s option to apply ICM pressure.
The real difference comes in the third example. The button is applying smallball ICM pressure. His 3bet is essentially saying: “You can’t 4bet without committing to this hand, and if you flat I can barrel post and put your whole stack at risk.” And yet, in a way, the cutoff is still the one in power. He can 4bet shove and be the one to have fold equity on his side. Since this is a great spot for the button to 3bet on the bubble, it’s much more likely that he (the button) is making this play with air instead of a hand strong enough to call it off. The proof of this fact is that it’s kinda difficult to actually be dealt a good hand.
This leads us to the big rule of this blog.
Suppose it’s a very good time for an opponent to apply ICM pressure; and he’s a good/aggro player; and he bets or raises small. If all three of these conditions hold, you should shove over him very wide.
As a general example of this rule, it’s become fairly common in the midstakes 9mans that when raise/calling as the big stack on the bubble, to see that a midstacked reg has 3bet shoved a hand like K5o over your open.
I want to look at an MTT example though, coming from the final table bubble of last week’s Hotter $55.
Villain and I are the only two regs at the table. The big blind is sitting out.
This hand is a textbook example of the rule. It’s a great time for Villain to apply ICM pressure, since there’s a payjump at 9 and most players place additional value on FT’ing a large MTT. He was an aggro reg, definitely capable of applying ICM pressure. And instead of shoving, he 3bet a smaller amount.
I’m not opening ATC in that spot, but if I had 32o in my opening range, it would probably be a profitable 4bet shove also. What are the odds that an aggro player with a perfect 3bet spot is actually dealt a hand strong enough to induce with a small 3bet? Even if he did have a hand as strong as 99 or AQ, he’d probably just shove. I think his range here is something like TT/AK to induce, and then a ton of air combos – probably at least five times as many as the value combos.
So I did shove the KQ. Shortly after though, I made a weak fold. The SB was sitting out. Here’s the hand:
Even with the dynamic developing, it’s just too good a spot for him to open with SB sitting out and it being the FT bubble. So the fold I made was incorrect. He’s very capable of opening wider in a spot like that (quite possibly ATC), it’s a good ICM pressure spot, and I have fold equity on a shove.
There are two caveats to this idea of shoving over players trying to pressure you. The first is be careful if you have a lot of history against someone. If you’re always shoving over min-raises and small 3bets, it becomes easier for other regs to set you up. The other caveat is that if you don’t have any info on your opponent, then don’t assume he’s someone capable of identifying good ICM pressure spots — there’s a much higher chance that he has legitimately picked up a hand he’s willing to go with.
So here are the conclusions.
If you’re the player looking to apply ICM pressure, it’s often better to just openshove or 3bet shove, even if it’s an overbet. Your risk/reward ratio is worse. But you completely take the play away from your opponent(s); the only way they can fight back is if they’re lucky enough to be dealt a premium hand strong enough to call.
If you’re the player facing ICM pressure, and a reg opponent makes a smaller raise, you will usually have a ton of fold equity if you shove – typically more than enough to show a profit despite it being a disastrous outcome if you’re called.