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Understanding M and Q in Tournament Play

Compared to cash games, tournament holdem poker is notably different by the fact that you need to increase your stack in order to survive, whilst in cash games if you maintain a constant stack for hours, you are not winning but you are not losing either.

In order to convey this notion of variable chip value, Paul Magriel coined the term M factor, originally conceptualized by Doyle Brunson in Super System and later popularized by Dan Harrington in Harrington on Hold'em.

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The M factor is simply equal to stack/(small blind + big blind + total antes), where total antes is the value of the ante times the number of players at the table.

The denominator of this fraction is the total number of chips it costs to stay at the table for one orbit, so M is the number of orbits you can survive without taking into account any action that you could make. Equivalently as the pot before any action is the blinds plus all antes, M is your stack counted in number of starting pots.

You must have played some Texas Hold'em tournaments in order to appreciate how crucial this M factor can be. This corresponds to the familiar feeling of being eaten alive by the rising blinds and antes when your stack is small and M is small too.

The M & Q ratios explained

This is a situation where you do not get any playable cards for a while, but meanwhile your stack decreases after each hand. As you approach elimination, you must gamble your entire stack in order to try to make a come back.

In this predicament where M has decreased below a few units, you must take decisive measures in order to avoid your inevitable exit to happen. Conversely when the M factor in very large with no immediate likelihood of elimination, you should play a different strategy.

M offers a fast, easy to calculate and uniform measure for evaluating your stack size under various blind structures or tournament stages. This M ratio can then help you determine what the best course of action is in the present situation. If you M changes, then you have to play differently.

The M-Zones as defined by Dan Harrington in Harrington on Hold'em are ranges of M each with its specific optimal strategy.

The Green Zone is when M≥20 and you have freedom to play any strategy, as your chips reserve is very comfortable.

In the Yellow Zone which is when 10≤M≤20 you cannot play very conservatively anymore as the blinds will catch up too fast.

In the Orange M-Zone where 6≤M≤10 your actions gets more limited as you have less to no fold equity due to your small stack and you must play even more aggressively.

The Red Zone is defined by 1≤M≤5 and you almost always must push allin if you decide to participate in a hand.

Finally the Dead Zone where M≤1 is a zone you never want to reach and you should have moved allin from the Red Zone when you had a chance.

The Q factor a.k.a. the "weak force" is a number introduced by Dan Harrington which represents your position in the overall tournament. Q is your stack divided by the average stack size of all remaining players in the entire tournament.

Q represents your relative position and you can use it to adjust your play more aggressively if you have a high Q.

The M ratio is the most important of the two ratios in normal tournaments. The Q ratio becomes more significant in special formats, such as satellites tournaments where a group of players will share the same prize, which is an entry into a larger tournament.

Use you knowledge of the M ratio to play more efficiently in online poker tournaments. Our selection of online poker sites offers the rooms with the best tournaments, such as PokerStars.


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