Often, in poker tournaments that use ICM, the value of the chips is higher than the actual prize pool. They also are multiples of large numbers (1,000 seems the most common).

I'm assuming this is solely to make stack sizes sound big, but I'm looking for the historical reasons for why these numbers were picked. After all, having the lowest denomination worth 1 million would have even bigger numbers!

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    I may be a bit confused but it does not seem like you are using the term ICM correctly. Are you referring to why they have large numbers of chips in their stacks in tournaments?
    – Clarko
    Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 19:32
  • I believe ICM applies: the fundamental principle of ICM is that $1 != 1 chip. In a non-ICM tournament, this question doesn't make sense. But yes, the question is essentially "How are stack sizes chosen?" Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 19:38

1 Answer 1


Stack sizes can be large for a variety of reasons, but from what I know, the starting stack size for a tournament mostly has to do with the structure of a tournament.

If a tournament is a hyper turbo with 3-minute blinds, you may start the tournament with something like 100,000+ chips and level 1 being 10 SB / 20 BB. This gives players a lot of time to play the tournament and late reg/re-register (if allowed).

Stack sizes might be larger in live tournaments because casinos only have certain denomination tournament chips (100 being the smallest in my experience) because any chips of lower denominations get phased out of play too quickly.

In general though, tournament structures are set up to last an approximate amount of time no matter how many players are involved. Given a blind structure and time for each level, the only variable left to control how long a tournament lasts is stack size. It is also important for players to have a stack of chips to minimize the dealer having to spend time giving change or chopping pots with odd chip values.

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    All that is true. But I think the basic reason they they make some tournaments with more chips, is because the players feel better with bigger stacks and makes for much more dramatic bad beat stories. Tournament running times can be manipulated no matter how many chips are in play with blind and ante sizes, amount of level increases and level times. Big pots and numbers just look cooler and sound better.
    – Jon
    Commented Mar 19, 2021 at 20:04

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