M and Q

[RR] “Are your kids into the Alex Rider novels from Alex Horowitz?” Roderick the Rock asked Stan the Stat.

[SS] “Oh yeah! They’ve read them all. And we have Stormbreaker1 on DVD”, Stan replied.

[SS] “Spy thriller with great action but no sex. It’s James Bond for kids.”

[RR] “Right down to Derek Smithers the gadget-maker, who’s a clone of Q.”2

[VV] “Major Boothroyd”, Vincent the Veteran clarified.

[SS] “Smithers was funnier in the books than in the movie, where Stephen Fry played him more like Desmond Llewelyn’s Q than John Cleese’s.”

[RR] “And there’s Alan Blunt, the head of MI6, as a parallel to M.”

[VV] “Sir Miles Messervy.”

[SS] “Yep, Q and M, whom every tournament Hold ‘Em player should know well ;-).”

[JJ] “I don’t get the joke”, Joey the Juvenile admitted sheepishly.

[SS] “Oh, those are poker ratios.”

[SS] “Your Q, which probably stands for ‘quotient’, is your stack size relative to the average chip stack.3 At the beginning of a tournament, everyone’s Q is 1.0. If you double your stack before anyone busts out, your Q is 2.0. If you still have your starting stack after 90% of the field is gone, your Q is 0.1. If your Q is high, you can play more conservatively; if it’s low, you need to be more aggressive. Dan Harrington calls Q the ‘weak force’.”4

[SS] “It takes a back seat to M, the ‘strong force’. M is the Magriel number, named for some poker player5 I’ve never heard of otherwise, and gives you an estimate of how long your chip stack would last if you folded every hand. It’s calculated as your stack size divided by the sum of the blinds and antes needed for one orbit around the table.6 For example, if your stack is 2,400, blinds are 100/200, and there are no antes, your M is 2,400 / (100 + 200) = 8. If your stack is 6,900, blinds are 500/1,000, and antes are 100 with eight players at the table, your M is 6,900 / (500 + 1,000 + 8*100) = 3.”

[SS] “Like Smithers from the novels and John Cleese in the movies, you can treat Q lightly; but like Alan Blunt and all the Major Boothroyds, you must take M seriously.”


  1. The full title of the 2006 movie is Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker.
  2. Mrs. Jones, the Deputy Head of Special Operations at MI6, has a Siamese cat named Q as further tribute to Ian Fleming’s work.
  3. The formula for Q is yourChips / (totalChips / playersRemaining), where the total number of chips in play is startingPlayers * startingChips + rebuys * rebuyChips + addOns * addOnChips.
  4. Q gets a brief mention on pages 127-128 of Harrington on Hold ’em, Volume II: The Endgame.
  5. Actually, Paul Magriel was better at backgammon than poker, winning the World Championship in 1978. Magriel introduced the concept as the M Principle, but now it’s usually just M.
  6. For simplicity, M ignores blind increases, but you can calculate with the new, larger blinds if the blind level is about to end.

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