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By: TheLangolier @ 14:31 (EDT) / 9379 / Comment ( 14 )

So with some recent posts regarding ITM% in large field tournaments, and how it relates to one’s tournament skill level, I decided to start a thread to get people’s noodles turning on the topic.  In that thread I posed the following questions:

1. What do you think a strong MTT player's ITM (in the money) % should roughly be on average?

2. What do you think the lowest ITM % is that a winning MTT player could have? (over a large sample size, not some guy who got lucky and binked the Sunday Million)

3. What do you think the highest ITM% is that a player could have and still not be a winning player (have a -ROI)

(Read more: MTT Quiz: ITM % - PokerSchoolOnline Forum )
There were a lot of varied responses to these questions.  And the ultimate point, which I felt like some responders got to in thinking about it, was that ITM% isn’t a big indicator of skill level in MTT’s.  Why not?   Because profitable tournament players are defined by how often they run deep, not how often they make the money.  In any standard pay structure large field MTT, a min-cash is typically worth your buy in back, plus a very nominal amount above that, usually less than 2 buy ins in total.  Where as a win is worth a huge number of buy ins.  For example, consider the $215 buy in Sunday Million this past Sunday on the 10th of June.  This is a very large field MTT (5776 runners).   A min-cash was worth $311.90 (1.45 buy ins).  While 1st place was awarding $179,058.88 (832.8 buy ins).  To put that in perspective, if you played the $215 Sunday Million 30 times/year, the min-cash would take care of your buy in for next week, while shipping it would take care of your buy ins for the next 27 years.
Now in the questions I asked you to consider a large sample size, not someone who maybe plays bad but runs super hot for a tournament and ships one (this does happen)… I asked this because I didn’t want people to be saying someone who ships a tournament will be profitable even if they never make the money the rest of the time, as this misses the point.  It’s true they’d be profitable over a moderate sample size simply by sheer luck, but run that out over a very large sample like 10K tournaments and a lucky donkey is not going to have enough luck to stay profitable.  Profitable players over large samples will simply be getting into the money more often than once in a blue moon by the sheer nature of their skilled play.  
But I think the point of all this is still clear… players of similar skill sets who play to win have more success than players who play to cash.  They are going to take actions to accumulate chips that will put them at risk more often, particularly at key times when others may be playing too tight, like on the bubble.  This results in more bubbles just outside of the money than the min-casher, but it also results in more deep runs because they have a stack more often once the bubble bursts instead of always limping across the money line with a short stack.   And one very deep run more than makes up for the extra bubbles outside of the money.
So back to the questions… I promised to share my answers.  I don’t know precise answers to these questions either, but I have some ideas and a little research to illustrate the points.
1.      What do you think a strong MTT player's ITM (in the money) % should roughly be on average?

This is a key one… there is both a bottom and top end to this one.  Everyone tends to focus on the bottom end, but in light of what I’ve just discussed, I would suggest there is absolutely a top end as well.  Once a player’s ITM% goes over a certain point, it most likely indicates they are not taking enough chip accumulation risks in the middle stages and near the bubble to put themselves in a favorable position to make a deep run.  So yes, I’m am suggesting I think it’s possible to cash too much (over a large sample size).  Obviously if someone cashed in 100% of the tournaments they played they’d be profitable, but I’m talking about the real world, not extreme and impossible scenarios.  I think the more frequently someone is cashing, the more likely it is they are making efforts to simply min-cash at critical chip-accumulation stages of tournaments, which is contradictory to playing to win.  They are simply playing to cash.  Someone playing with this mindset will simply never be a strong tournament player.  They may be ok, perhaps even a decent player in terms of individual decisions, but their results ($) will be moderate or even negative, and although they are getting into the money a fair bit, they’re ultimately not doing much better than the lucky donk that binked the Million over the long term… as their min-cashes routinely find them with a short or very short stack needing to gamble and get lucky multiple times to make a deep run anyway.  They are no longer exercising control over their tournament destiny, but compromising that control too often to secure a min-cash, and leaving the rest up to chance.
For tournaments that pay 10% of the field, an average ITM would be 10% all else being equal.   Most tournaments pay between 10-15% of the field depending on the pay structure.  I think a strong MTT players ITM% is probably a tad above this, maybe in the 12-20% range.  On the high end, my guess would be somewhere in high 20’s.  Once we get higher than that, we’re most likely dealing with someone who is good at cashing, but not so good at making money (and taking tournament strategies to try and put themselves in a position for deep runs that aren’t totally dependent on getting good cards at the right times).
2.      What do you think the lowest ITM % is that a winning MTT player could have? (over a large sample size, not some guy who got lucky and binked the Sunday Million)
For this one I’d guess probably around 8-10%.  Remember although I’m talking about someone who is willing to take risks, if they are a winning (profitable) player they clearly are not a donkey either, so they are not going to be spazzing off their stack 95% of the time in the early and middle stages.  While they will take some more mid stage and bubble exits than our min-cashing friends, they will also accumulate chips to survive a cooler or bad beat more often as well, so that factors in their favor.
3.      What do you think the highest ITM% is that a player could have and still not be a winning player (have a -ROI)
This one I’m not sure about.  In the Sunday Million example with the $311.90 min cash, a player would have to min cash 40.8% of the time to break even.   Of course this isn’t a pure number since surely the min-casher will some of the time be advancing up pay spots.  Although these jumps are largely insignificant until super deep so these won’t help the min-casher a lot anyway. (In this event 855th place was a min-cash, but you had to reach 414th to make more than 2x your buy in back… that’s a lot of places to advance on a short stack).
I did a little research to illustrate these points, and I’d like to close with this information as food for thought. 
Regarding this last question, I actually found a player who had an ITM % of 52% in NLHE tournaments, and a slightly negative ROI.   I wouldn’t have thought it possible if I didn’t see it myself, but they are out there.
For comparison, I also looked up a few of the top NLHE MTTers in the game today.  One would think these superstars are getting ITM frequently, but it’s not always the case, because they play to win and sometimes sacrifice an ITM finish while taking lines to accumulate chips, playing for the deep run and ultimately the win:
Shaun Deeb:  3.5M won on PokerStars over 22K+ games, ITM 13%
Yevgeniy Timoshenko (Jovial Gent): 3.7M won over 3770 games, ITM 17%
Joseph Cheong (subiime): 997K won over 7500 games, ITM 12%
Griffin Benger (Flush_Entity):  2M won over 8690 games, ITM 16%
Kevin Saul (BeL0WaB0Ve):  2.9M won over 8000 games, ITM 15%
Dan Kelly (DJK123):  3.5M won over 9600 games, ITM 14%
Alex Kamberis (AJKHoosier1):  3.2M won over 7400 games, ITM 15%
Note: Direct ROI information is no longer available for PokerStars due to the opt in requirement, and most of these guys don’t bother (and don’t need to, they are widely known as top MTTers in online poker and in many cases live poker as well).  Alex Kamberis is opted in however, and his ROI is an astounding 101%.
I hope you found this a thought provoking topic.  ITM% is a good measuring stick for beginners, because those players tend to play too loose and spew chips like crazy by simple virtue of not having the knowledge or experience yet to do any better.  When they start to learn they will naturally start to spew less and hit the money more.   But this is far from being a strong, winning player and is only the first step towards long term MTT success.

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