Progressive Knockout Tournaments

Joseph MacNaughton

The biggest online poker sites, namely Poker Stars and Party Poker, now even have entire poker series designed around PKO events.

A breakaway from the traditional 'freeze out' brand of tournament poker, PKOs offer a level of excitement, as they entice players to try harder than ever to eliminate their opponents: as, in doing so, a player collects a bounty for their troubles.

The emergence of PKO MTTs as the most popular form of tournament poker means that now, more than ever, all aspiring poker players should be taking notice - and enhancing their knowledge and skill set in relation to how these games should most profitably be played.

At the start of a tournament, each players' buy-in is split between the regular tournament prize pool and the bounty prize pool. Typically, 50% of the MTT buy-in will go towards the regular prize pool and the remaining 50% will go into the bounty prize pool.

For instance, the $109 Bounty Builder on Poker Stars: $9 is rake, which goes to the site; $50 goes towards the regular prize pool (which is split in a normal manner between those who cash later in the tournament); and $50 is placed into the bounty prize pool.

As players start to bust out and have their bounties collected by their opponents, the bounty value of the remaining players continually increases. Therefore, by the time the tournament reaches the later stages, there is significant value to be gained in eliminating certain players who have large bounties.

The playing dynamic changes considerably in bounty tournaments. They should not be approached in the same fashion as a regular freezeout event.

In bounty events, there is a considerable upside to be gained from eliminating villains from the table and collecting their bounties.

The value of chips is affected by the fact that a portion of the entry fee goes towards the bounty prize pool. For instance, if each player begins the MTT with 10,000 chips and player A goes all in for this amount of chips, player B has to consider that there is more than 10,000 chips in the middle. If they also have 10,000 chips at the start of the hand, this means they are going to be able to win the bounty on player A if they call and win the hand.

The starting bounty value usually equates to 1/3rd of the total amount of chips. Therefore, if calling a shove of 10,000 chips, there will be an additional 3,333 worth of chips in play and, in essence, significantly more to be gained when calling (13,333 chips as opposed to 10,000).

Thus, should we feel that a call is approximately break even (or worth zero) in regular circumstances, it becomes extremely profitable (+EV) once the bounty value is taken into consideration.

For example: we have 66 and know our opponent has AK, which is close to a coin flip and 50/50 situation. We should feel somewhat ambivalent towards calling an all in here, given that we are basically only going to break even each time we make a call in this scenario.

However, with the added value of potentially collecting our opponents' bounty, it now becomes very profitable and, indeed, a very clear call as we stand to gain an extra 33% each time we win.

Bounty tournaments are high risk, high reward. With high incentives to making calls and winning bounties for busting out opponents, it means we have to gamble more. You can still sit back and wait for big hands if you really want to but will probably be making significant mathematical errors throughout and leaving money on the table.

The value in these tournaments can be substantial. Many recreational players and even regular or professional players make fundamental mistakes by not calling wide enough and forgetting to correctly account for the added value of the bounty.

At the other end of the spectrum, some people cannot resist trying to win a bounty and will call irrespective and regardless of the math involved. If we have 10,000 chips and shove all in, it does not mean our opponent should call with any two cards when their chip stack has us covered.

One should always consider how much equity their hand has against their opponents' range; and then weigh up the significance of winning a bounty compared to the value of retaining their own stack and the potential to try and build progressively and sensibly to enable them to have a chance of going deep into the tournament, cashing and, with a bit of luck, final tabling or even winning the MTT.

The bounty reward for busting a player instantly creates a fun dynamic from the start of PKO MTTs. As bounties accumulate - and create bigger knockout prizes - the fun is amplified.

PKO tournaments represent a great value way to build your bankroll. In freeze out tournaments, there is a significant chance of losing 100% of your investment; PKO MTTs are different and you will often win some kind of cash prize, even if you don't make the money spots of the MTT itself.

Those prepared to invest the time into studying optimal PKO strategy will likely be rewarded with financial gains in the long-term.

Important concepts to consider throughout PKO MTTs included: the starting stack amount - and how this relates to bounties, when deciding whether to call a shove; i.e, the number of starting bounties. And the stage of the tournament; how this impacts upon our decision making, given potential ICM factors and taking into account the regular prize pool, now that we have reached this stage of the event.

To help yourself assess and logically figure out how to accurately making good decisions in the early game, familiarise yourself with all-in confrontations versus varying start stack percentages.

Since players will usually have one starting bounty and be hovering somewhere close to one starting stack at the beginning of an MTT, considering which hands can call or isolate versus a 25% start stack, or 50% starting stack, etc, is useful.

The popularity of Progressive Knockout Tournaments is at an all-time high. This means that the major online poker sites will continue to offer huge PKO events in their flagship tournament series and this gives players an opportunity to win huge. Therefore, studious and serious poker players should be working on their PKO knowledge to ensure that they are ready to perform optimally when these big events comes around.

PKO events are not only great fun but also potentially extremely profitable. And they are definitely here to stay.

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