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Knockout Tournament Strategy Part I - Calculating the value of a bounty

by Ben Yu |  Published: Apr 29, 2015


The growth of no-limit holdem tournaments over the last decade spawned a variety of new formats as organizers and players searched for new ways to keep the game fresh. While many have not caught on, knockout tournaments have been successful in being elevated from gimmick status as a format that players routinely enjoy.

In every bounty tournament, the prize pool is subdivided into two sections. There’s the normal prizepool you have in a freeze-out and a knockout one, which is simply the sum of all bounties in the tournament. Though this simple format shift can causes many intricacies in play, they fundamentally boil down to figuring out how much a bounty is worth.

Figure Out How Much A Bounty Is Worth In Chips

The best way to navigate these tournaments is to convert the value of winning a bounty into tournament chips. This allows you to calculate the actual worth of all-in calls along a single axis instead of trying to weigh whether winning cold, hard cash is worth risking tournament chips on a loose call.

In order to figure this out, you only need to know three things – how much of the entry fee goes to the normal prize pool, how much the bounty pays, and what the starting stack is. A knockout is equivalent to the bounty in dollars divided by the amount that goes to the regular prize pool multiplied by the starting stack.

For instance, in a knockout tournament featuring a $1,000 buy-in + $1,000 bounty, where starting stack is 5,000 in chips, eliminating a player is roughly equal to adding 5,000 to your stack. However, if the same tournament were a $1,000 + $500, this number falls to 2,500. In actuality, the number is a bit bigger because vig is paid on entering the tournament as well.

When I was primarily a mixed game player learning to play no-limit holdem, I often joked that I really enjoyed bounty tournaments, because despite my mediocre big-bet skills, my, “add 7,500 in chips to the pot,” skills were elite.

Apply This Number To All-In Hands and Other Pots You Play In

Now that we have calculated how much the value of a  bounty is, we can use this number to augment any pot where we’re setting up or calling an all-in. In an example where the bounty is worth 5,000 in chips, any time we have the chance to win a bounty, we can simply recalculate our pot odds as if there were an extra 5,000 in the pot.

Let’s say a player jams for 11,000 at 500-1,000 ante 100. In a normal tournament, our call in the big blind would be risking 10,000 to win 13,500, meaning we need 42.6 percent against his range to make a profitable call. Returning to our bounty example, we get to sweeten the pot with an extra 5,000 in chips. Now we’re risking the same 10,000 to essentially win 18,500 and only need 35 percent equity to get it in, even though some of that is paid out in cash instead of tournament equity.

This doesn’t just apply to hands where we are imminently all-in. Anytime we tangle with another player we cover, the bounty is potentially in play and we can to make more speculative preflop calls because of it.

For instance, if a player open-raises on a 20 big blind stack, and it folds to us in the big blind, we can defend looser than we normally would if we cover her. While we shouldn’t pretend that her 5,000 chip bounty will always be available to us, a stack-to-pot ratio of five on the flop means that it would not be absurd to assume we get all-in with her 15 percent of the time. As such, it would not be unreasonable to estimate that seeing a flop has an additional 750 chip worth of implied odds.

However, if the same player has 50 big blinds, we are significantly less likely to reap the reward of a knockout, but it is still notable and can play a nudge looser. A reasonable guess is that we are only all in against this opponent three percent of the time now. If the player has 200 big blinds, it is very unlikely for us to stack her, and I would defend a similar range as if the bounty did not exist.

Don’t Late Register

One of the implications of bounty tournaments is that money is removed from the prizepool much earlier than in a freezeout. In a normal tournament, cash only leaves as players are eliminated in the money. You wouldn’t mind being able to enter the tournament after some of the prizepool is removed in this scenario as you’d be guaranteed a cash.

However, the same is not the case for a bounty tournaments. If you register the tournament when one bounty has been eliminated, that amount is not available to you to win and you start laying odds for competing in the tournament.

The costs to a late entrant don’t just end there – the eliminated chips have to go somewhere, and they go to the remaining players in the field. As such, it makes it much harder to score the few knockouts that are left. Let’s say we had an awesome date or sweet musical festival to attend and took our seat in the tournament once half the field has been eliminated. The average remaining stacks in the tournament have twice as many chips as you do. It’s reasonable to estimate that the remaining bounties will be 33 percent harder to win.

In this scenario we’re missing out on 50 percent of the bounties that have been paid out and an additional 16.5 percent in equity because the remaining bounties will be difficult to win. In a scenario where the bounty is equal to the buy-in such as a $1,000+$1,000 tournament, we’re essentially paying 33 percent rake just by showing up late.

Battling Others

While these are the fundamentals I use for every knockout tournament I enter, so far I have neglected most of the strategy that involves interacting with your opponents who are eager to snatch the bounties for themselves. These battles, which will be covered next artcile, are interesting because correct play can deviate significantly from normal strategy and sometimes even be collusive in nature. ♠

Ben Yu discovered poker while at Stanford University where he developed his prowess for mixed games. He has lived for the WSOP ever since 2010 when he broke out with a 2nd place finish in the World Series of Poker $1500 limit holdem shootout. His poker-induced adventures have included living abroad in Rosarito, Mexico and Toronto, Canada to continue playing online and traveling the European Poker Tour circuit in search of the most delicious schnitzels and pierogies.