What's Different About Progressive Bounty Tournaments?

Bounty Poker Tournaments, also known as Progressive Knockout Tournaments just launched at Global Poker and for many they are a great unknown. They have become a massive hit in the European-centric global poker market and look poised to become the dominant format in online tournament poker. Despite their popularity a lot of good players do not know how to adapt to them. This means there is a real opportunity for American players to get a head start on them before they become just as big Stateside.

I have just cowritten a book on these tournaments called PKO Poker Strategy with online MTT legend Dara O’Kearney. In the book we present the biggest adjustments you need to make in progressive knockouts. We think the best way to learn is to think about how you would play in a regular MTT and then study how your strategy should diverge in a PKO.

PKOs will prove to be one of the most complex forms of poker, but understanding the broad differences will put you ahead of the field in these games. Today I wanted to highlight some of the biggest adjustments you can make now as well as some need-to-knows about PKOs.

SERIOUS PLAYERS HATE THEM

The biggest opportunity where PKOs are concerned is that otherwise good players seem to hate them. They consider them a form of gambling because recreational players get rewarded for making loose calls and have more ‘winning moments’.

The reality is that they are not gambling at all, it is just that PKOs are higher variance than the other forms of tournament poker we have been brought up on. If you regularly bust the first level of a normal tournament you are definitely doing it wrong, but busting early in a PKO is a sign you are playing them well. This is very hard for good regulars to conceptualise when they have spent their career trying to get to the money, and beyond.

As a result you will see less professional poker players in PKOs and many of the ones that do play them have not studied the format well. This is a great opportunity for the player who is willing to put in the work studying PKOs.

THEY ARE GOOD FOR THE HEALTH OF A POKER SITE

The other thing you need to know before you even start is that the poker rooms love PKOs. They create more winning moments for recreational players, which means they will stick around longer. The prizes are also more widely spread out. While a normal MTT might reward the top 15% of players, perhaps 40% of players will walk away with a prize in a PKO. This means more players can play for longer on the site.

You need to know this because it highlights why they are only going to get bigger, wherever you play.

YOU CAN CALL MUCH WIDER WHEN YOU CAN WIN A BOUNTY

The most important question to ask yourself in any hand is whether you cover your opponent. If you cover them, you can win their bounty. This means you are playing for a bigger immediate prize than they are and as such you can widen your range compared to what you would normally play.

There are times when the bounty is so big and/or the cost to call an all-in is relatively low that you would be correct to call with 100% of your hands. Yes, there are times in PKOs when your best strategy would literally be to not look at your cards and go for the bounty.

It is also worth taking some early risks to become the chip leader at your table. When you are the chip leader you can literally win every bounty at the table right away. You are playing for a bigger immediate prize pool than everyone else and as such you can often play any two cards profitably. This is why I mentioned busting early regularly is a sign of a good PKO player. The upside of getting an early chip lead outweighs the downside of the early exit.

YOU HAVE VERY LITTLE FOLD EQUITY WHEN YOU ARE COVERED

The flip side of this is that when you are the player at risk of elimination and cannot win a bounty, you should not expect many folds from your opponents. If you have a particularly big bounty and/or a short stack, you should expect to have no ability to make people fold whatsoever.

This is why a lot of players struggle with PKOs, they wrongly assume this means they have to play really tight because they are guaranteed to get called. This is actually one of the things that makes PKOs profitable when you know what you should do. When you are the player who is covered you can actually widen your range, not tighten it. The adjustment is that you should change the type of hands you go all-in with.

In a PKO high card hands go up in value. You might never shove a hand like K2o in a normal MTT but it is the sort of hand that performs well in a PKO. When you shove with K2o or JQo, don’t be surprised to get called by somebody with JTo and you win without improving. The same works post flop too, it’s common to shove all-in with KQo for a gutshot on a T-9-x board, get called by JQo for a lower draw, and you win without needing to hit.

Memorise this – high cards go up in value when you are covered. This one fact will put you ahead of a lot of players who routinely play too tight when they are at risk of elimination.

One final note and that is at the start of every hand it is often best to think about how you would play in a normal MTT, then ask yourself whether the presence of the bounties should widen your range or not. There are a lot of spots in PKOs which are real head scratchers, going back to basics is a good way to remove some of the uncertainty.


Barry Carter is the editor of PokerStrategy.com and the co-author of ​PKO Poker Strategy​, the first book written on progressive knockout tournaments.