Do you know how to play knockout tournaments properly and how to deal with high bounties on players or do you just play your regular game and are happy if you happen to win a bounty?
High bounties should have a massive impact on your game plan and strategy, but many players don't really know how to adapt to these bounties, especially if the bounties are much higher than the expected regular tournament pay-out. One example of such an event might be the Big 20 Finale on PokerStars where the operator offers $20k Bounties on all Red Pros in a tournament where the Buy-In is just $55.
Most players are making one mistake in those kinds of tournaments. They are way too timid when it comes to going all-in. We will show you why it's imperative to be extremely liberal when it comes to big bounties and your willingness to be all-in even in unfavorable situations.
Roughly speaking, when the bounties are very high you should try to get all-in with the player that has the bounty on his head in all circumstances to try and kick him out of the tournament. EV considerations regarding the hand must take the bounty into account and are quickly turned completely upside down.
Go ahead and call with Seven-Deuce?
Let's take a look at a (minimally fictitious) example: Let's say it's the first hand of a Pokerstars tournament with a buy-in of $55 and there is a $20,000 bounty on every Red Pro. One such Red Pro is in the small blind. It is folded to him, and he goes all-in. You are in the big blind with seven-deuce. What should you do?
You should most definitely call with seven-deuce!
To support this seemingly absurd statement, here are a few numbers and some math regarding the expected value:
- In this tournament, you have an expected value of $55 in the first hand. That's how much money you can expect to win on average (assuming the players are all somewhat equal in strength) when playing this tournament.
- If you knock the Red Pro out of the tournament you win $20,000.
- If the Red Pro goes all-in with only the top 5% of all hands, seven-deuce has a 20% chance of winning.
- In other words: if you call, you win $20,000 20% of the time (plus possibly more if you get into the money in the tournament); 80% of the time you lose and win nothing. Thus your expected value of calling is at least $20,000 * 20% = $4,000.
- 4,000 dollars is more than 55 dollars, so the call with seven-deuce is correct.
General strategies for tournaments with huge bounties
Tournaments where the bounties drastically exceed the buy-in (sometimes even the prize money you can expect at the final table) are rather rare, but they do occur from time to time - especially as promo events. If you follow enough streamers on Twitch for example you will regularly find viewer bounty tournaments where the streamer has a hefty bounty on his head to encourage action.
If you play against a player who has such a bounty, the usual poker rules only apply to a very limited extent, as the seven-deuce example above shows.
You should be extremely liberal in your willingness to call an all-in; if necessary, you can call an all-in with literally every hand.
At the same time, you can play extremely aggressively against the bounty player as long as you have at least a theoretical chance of winning the hand. If you have no other option, you can go all-in on the flop with a gutshot for ten times the pot. In the worst case, you see the showdown as a 1:6 underdog - but that doesn't matter much, as we saw above.
On the other hand, if you have a strong hand against the bounty player, you shouldn't necessarily try to milk the player for a moderate amount, but try to force an all-in as well. Sure, you isolate yourself a bit against stronger hands, but in case the bounty player calls the all-in with a weaker bluff-catcher, you bag the bounty.
In summary: When playing against players with huge bounties, you should maximise your chances to collect the bounty and give yourself as many chances to do so as possible. And such a chance always means an all-in.
The most important rule when playing against bounty players
One rule is fundamental when playing against bounty players: You have to have more chips than the player with the bounty, otherwise you can't eliminate them from the tournament.
If you can't kick them out of the tournament, you can't collect a bounty and all the above considerations of expected value go out the window.
In the seven-two example above, if you have even one chip less than the bounty player, the call immediately becomes disastrous, because you no longer win the bounty if you hit your 20 per cent miracle. You just made a ridiculously bad call.
Strategies for regular knockout tournaments
Knockout, Super Knockout and Progressive Knockout tournaments are very popular and the bounty strategies discussed here also apply to a certain extent.
In these tournaments, bounties are awarded to every player and are therefore much smaller in relation to the total prize pool. In other words, winning a bounty usually nets you only a fraction of the buy-in and not many times as much as in the tournaments described above.
Nevertheless, the bounties change the strategy. Many operators offer knockout tournaments where half of the prize pool is distributed via knockout bounties. A player's bounty increases with every opponent he eliminates. For example, when playing the $109 Sunday Cooldown on Stars, $50 goes into the regular prize pool and each player has an initial $50 bounty. If you eliminate a player, you get half of their bounty, and the other half is added to your own bounty. Here, bounties make up a significant portion of the expected value. If you can kick a player out of the tournament, you should definitely be willing to make decisions that are not optimal according to chip EV and ICM, because the bounty you stand to win often more than compensates for a play that has a negative chip EV.