The biggest mistake players make in knockout tournaments is failing to understand the value of the bounty. Learning to quantify the true value of each bounty can give you a significant edge over the rest of the field.

If you play live bounty tournaments you will be familiar with the bounty chip; if you play online you will know the graphical display of each player’s bounty. In both situations this amount is displayed as a cash value, so you might be forgiven for thinking of bounty values in terms of cash prizes.

Unfortunately, this is extremely unhelpful and the root cause of a vast amount of over-folding and over-calling. Don’t be the player falling into this trap! It’s a tournament, not a cash game. You should learn to convert the value of each bounty into tournament chips, so you can revise your pot odds for competing in any given pot.

The best way of measuring the chip value of a bounty is in number of starting stacks. In a straight knockout tournament, suppose you buy-in for $100 – $50 goes to the standard prize pool, $50 goes as a bounty on each player’s head and you begin the tournament with 5,000 chips. In this scenario, each bounty is worth one entire starting stack, in this case 5,000 chips.

In the early stages of a straight knockout tournament, this amount is huge relative to the average pot sizes and has a massive impact on how wide you should call in pots in which you stand to win a bounty. If someone shoves all-in on hand 1, you would normally require 50% equity to justify calling (ignoring ICM), but here you would need only 33% as you would be calling 5,000 chips to win effectively 10,000. That’s an astonishingly low equity threshold!

In the middle and late stages of a straight knockout, once the average chip stacks are much larger, the bounty value gradually loses significance. If the pot is 40,000 chips, then the additional 5,000 you might win from the bounty just doesn’t have such a big impact. So look out for players over-folding in the early stages and over-calling in the later stages. These players will be valuing the bounty in terms of dollars and not in terms of chips.

Progressive knockout tournaments, also known as PKOs or Bounty Builders, have a clever structure which ensures the bounty values increase as the tournament stacks and pot sizes also increase. When you knock out an opponent, you only get half of their bounty as a prize and the other half is added to your own bounty.

This variant of knockout tournaments has become very popular in recent years, attracting many weak opponents, so if you haven’t given them a try, they could prove very lucrative and lots of fun. Nevertheless, the more complicated structure makes it even more difficult to quantify the true value of each bounty, so you need to practice.

At the start of PKO tournament in which 50% of the buy-in goes to the bounty prize pool, the value of each bounty starts at 33% of a starting stack. This amount rises gradually and exponentially, as players are eliminated and the bounty prize pool diminishes.

Here is a graph I use for estimating the value of each bounty based on which stage of the tournament we are at.

Note that this can never be completely accurate, as the rate at which the bounty prize pool diminishes depends on the order in which players are eliminated.

So when you are converting the value of a bounty into chips, not only do you need to know how many starting bounties are on the opponent’s head, but you also need to account for the stage of the tournament. Each bounty is worth more as the field size reduces.

Let’s do 3 examples to help make this clear:

Example 1

It’s the beginning of the PKO with a starting chip stack value of 5,000 chips. A short stack with just his starting bounty of $50 shoves all-in for 1,000 chips. What is the value of his bounty in chips?

Here, his starting bounty is worth 33% of his starting stack, which is 1,666 chips. Note that when we consider calling the all-in we need to factor this in. His bounty in this spot is worth far more than his chips and we can likely call extremely wide.

Example 2

It’s the mid-stages of the PKO and 60% of the field remain. An opponent with a bounty of $75 goes all-in for 5,000 chips. What is the value of his bounty in chips?

Each bounty is worth about 36% of a starting stack at this stage of a PKO. Our opponent has 1.5 bounties, so we need to calculate: 36% of 5,000 chips x 1.5 = 2,700 chips. It’s a significant amount that will have a big impact on our calling range.

Example 3

It’s the late stages of a PKO and 10% of the field remain. An opponent with a bounty of $300 is all-in for 20,000 chips. What is the value of his bounty in chips?

Each bounty is now worth 42% of a starting stack. Our opponent has 6 full starting bounties, so we should calculate: 42% of 5,000 chips x 6 = 12,600. Once again, this is a very significant amount and will reduce our equity needed to justify calling.

You can see how the rising value of the bounty in PKO tournaments keep things interesting throughout each stage of the tournament. I think this is why this format of the game has become so popular. The strategy is both fun and challenging.

In general, knockout tournaments reward players for competing in more pots. We cannot always be sure which pots are going to end up in a bounty being up for grabs, but we ought to be staying active and avoid over-folding.

PKO Group Coaching Session

We’ll be digging deeper into these topics during the April Red Chip Poker group coaching session. As usual there will be plenty of time to ask questions on the material covered in the presentation and related areas of poker.

PRO subscribers may access the recording of this webinar through this link.