The M Ratio
If you play many poker tournaments, a concept you will head discussed quit often is that of your “M-ratio”. An “M” is equal to the cost of playing poker for one orbit. For example if the blinds are 100 and 200 without an ante, then 1 M is equal to 300. If you are sitting with 3,000 in chips, then you have 10 M’s.
This concept is important in tournament poker because it defines whether or not you need to make a move to stay competitive. A player with a high M can sit back and play pretty much any style he desires, while those with a lower M must begin to take some risks.
Let’s look a little deeper into the different M levels. First, the best M zone to be in is the Green Zone. When you are in the green zone you have 20 or more M’s and you are free to play as aggressively or as conservatively as you like. For example, if you are at a table with a 500 and 1,000 blind with a 50 chip ante, then you would need 39,000 chips in order to be in the green zone. One M at this level, assuming a nine handed table, is equal to 1,950 chips. You then multiply that by 20 to figure out the green zone M.
The next zone is the yellow zone. This is between 10 and 20 M’s. At this point, you need to make a few more moves. You will want to steal the blinds a little more often or maybe play a few more hands in position. In the 500 and 1000 with 50 ante game, you would have a 19,500 to just under a 39,000 stack to be considered in this zone.
When you are in the Orange zone, you are beginning to become a bit at risk. You primary goal is to hold on to the chips you have and find a way to build your stack. Being the first player to open a pot is key when you are at this level. Otherwise, you risk being raised off your hand or letting someone come into the hand cheap. Between 6 and 10 M’s is considered the Orange Zone. For our example from the last two level, your stack would be between 11,700 to just under 19,500 to be considered in the Orange zone.
When you get to the Red zone, it’s go time. You either need to push or fold. At this level, your M is between 1 and 6. Your stack would be between 1,950 and just under 11,700 at this level. As in the Orange level, being first into the pot is key to give yourself the best chance to push someone off their hand. However, at this level, expect to get called by a wider range of hands and by those looking to bust players. Any pair, two big cards, and any Ace can be really strong holding when you are at this level.
The last zone is called the Dead zone. When you are here, you have less than 1 M. You need next to a miracle to survive in many cases, however it is not impossible. You basically need to push and hope either to catch lucky or that someone with a worse hand calls.
A key factor to remember with M’s is that your M changes at the change of each level. A person that had 20 M’s at 500-1,000 with 50 ante, will only have 10 M’s at 1000-2000 with 100 ante. In order to keep yourself with a healthy M, you need to accumulate chips. Otherwise, you will slide into the other zones.
One final M concept deals with Effective M’s. Dan Harrington’s deeply studied the concepts of M in his Harrington on Holdem series and developed the concept of Effective M’s. With this concept, you can figure out what level you are in for shortening tables. The way it works is that you multiply your actual M by the number of players at the table and divide it by what the full table would be. This gives you your effective M for short handed tables near the end of the game.
For example, let’s assume you are playing 6 handed at the late stages of a tournament. You have an M of 12 for a full handed table. To figure out your effective M, multiply your M by 6 and then divide it by the number of players that would normally be at the table. In this example, let’s assume a 9 handed table. 72 divided by 9 equals 8. Short handed, your effective M drops you from the Yellow zone to the Orange zone.
One point I would like to bring up when playing short handed late is to pay attention to other stack sizes when considering your M. Your opponents M’s will many time dictate their decisions as well. Sometimes you can determine that they are just making a move to get out of the red zone. Other times, your opponents are not thinking about M’s and are waiting for strong hands. You need to pay attention to what your opponent may be thinking at this critical stage.
The concept of M can be a little tricky when one first starts using it, but after some practice, it becomes a tool that one can use to avoid letting themselves become blinded out of tournaments. Good luck to you at the tables.