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Knockout Tournament Strategy

Knockout tournaments, or "bounty" tournaments, are becoming increasingly popular in online poker. The premise is simple, your buy-in is divided three ways: prize pool, bounty, and, of course, rake. The prize pool and rake portions of the buy-in should be pretty easy to understand since every tournament has them. What makes a Knockout Tournament different is the bounty money. This is money that is "put on your head", so to speak, and awarded to the player who knocks you out of the tournament.

For example, a popular online tournament at Full Tilt Poker has a buy-in of $24+$2. Of the $24 buy-in, $20 is placed in the prize pool and $4 is used as a bounty. This means you'll receive $4 for every player you knock out of the tournament and whoever knocks you out of the tournament will receive $4. If you happen to win the whole tournament, you'll get the 2nd place finisher's bounty as well as retain your own bounty money. After all, no one knocked you out.

The introduction of the bounty presents some necessary strategy adjustments that I want to talk about in this article. In general, I observe players allowing the presence of the bounty affect their decisions too much. In other words, when a player moves all-in, they will call them with very marginal holdings in hopes of busting them out and receiving their bounty money. But remember, in almost all cases, the prize pool of the tournament is far larger than the bounties. This means you should essentially play the tournament like a normal tournament with a few small strategy adjustments.

It is important to realize how the bounty affects your decisions throughout the tournament. In the early stages of the tournament, knocking a player out and receiving a bounty carries more value than it does later in the tournament. This is because at the start of the tournament, you're really not worth that much. For example, if I buy into a $24+$2 bounty tournament, I might estimate that I am worth $35 in that tournament. In other words, right when I take my seat in that event, I expect to win an average of $9 off of my initial tournament buy-in. So if I played the event 10,000 times, I would expect to cash for a gross total of $350,000 (including bounties), make sense? That's my "expected value".

In any tournament, your "value" in the event changes as the tournament drags on. So if I am "worth" $35 when I first take my seat, how would my value change if I doubled-up or busted out on the first hand? Well, if I busted out, I would obviously be worth $0 in the tournament. If I doubled-up, I might estimate that I'm worth more like $70. Are you still with me?

As you get deeper and deeper in a tournament and accumulate more and more chips, your "worth" in the tournament continues to increase. Suppose you make the final table. Now your "worth" in the tournament is going to be way more than the $35 it was at the beginning of the tournament. It might now be worth a few thousand depending on how large the prize pool is. A good way to determine how much you think you're worth in any tournament is to ask yourself, "how much money would I need right now to leave this tournament?" Then subtract like 10% since you're probably overestimating how much you would want due to the entertainment value and crack-like addiction that comes from going deep in a tournament.

Alright, back to how bounties affect your decisions. Suppose you start with 3,000 chips. If the bounty is 1/6th of the buy-in, then you should consider a bounty to be worth 500 chips (3,000/6). In any bounty tournament, calculate how many chips a bounty is worth by multiplying the total number of starting chips with the bounty:total buy-in ratio. So if a $100 buy-in tournament is $80 prize pool and $20 bounty and you receive 5,000 starting chips, you would take 5,000 and multiply it by 0.2 (2/10).

Once you have established how many chips a bounty is worth, you can use this number to make decisions at the poker table. Suppose the blinds are 50/100. You have 2,000 chips in the big blind. It folds to the small blind who moves all-in for 1,500 chips. When weighing whether or not to call, don't view the pot as having 1,600 chips, view the pot as having 2,100 chips (add 500 chips for the value of the bounty) and make your decision based on those pot odds. It's really as simple as that.

As you can see, making calls for the purpose of receiving a bounty becomes a moot point later in the tournament. When you're weighing whether or not to make a call in a pot of 43,000 chips, the extra 500 added for the bounty value matters only marginally. By the time you reach the final table, the bounties should not even be a thought on your mind.

Good luck and if you have any questions, feel free to start a thread in our poker forums and I would be happy to answer!

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