This article is a transcription of the Level-Up Podcast, hosted by Upswing VP Mike Brady with special guest Hristivoje “ALLinPAV” Pavlovic. You can watch or listen to the entire episode via the links above or read on if you prefer a written version.
You may also be interested in our written guide Stop Punting Money in Knockout Tournaments.
Welcome to the show that levels up your poker skills and ROI fast.
I’m Mike Brady and you’re about to get better at bounty tournaments with help from a special guest who knows them inside and out.
He’s an Aussie Poker pro, a popular Twitch streamer and a member of team GGPoker, as well as an Upswing Poker coach.
ALLinPAV, thanks for joining us.
Hey, what’s up Mike? How you doing?
Good. Hopefully you’re doing well as well. You’re here to share some bounty tournament wisdom with the people. Bounty tournaments have really surged in popularity over the past decade. Online tournament lobbies are full of them these days and live bounties are far from uncommon.
It’s a very interesting game type because you’re sort of playing for two different prize pools simultaneously. There’s the normal tournament where the person who ends up with all the chips wins first place and there’s the bounty game where you put money in your pocket whenever you knock someone out. And that unique format, unsurprisingly, warrants a unique approach and you’re about to get a free lesson from someone who plays them every day.
And I just wanted to say that this is pretty important because easily more than half the tournaments out there in today’s online games are bounty formats. I might even say like 75% are bounty formats.
So it’s pretty important to understand the value of a bounty, say hand one of a tournament versus in the money or on the final table.
I know in my personal experience, when I’m firing up an online session of Sundays, I often avoid bounty tournaments because I’m not as studied in them and that really limits the amount of tournaments I’m able to play, which sucks. So hopefully I’ll be more prepared at the end of this episode. I’m sure I will be.
So we’re going to start this one out by going over the fundamentals of bounty tournaments, stuff you absolutely must know before registering. From there we’ll get into specific adjustments and tips for both static and progressive bounty tournaments.
By the end, you’ll be well-equipped to make good profitable decisions when there’s a price on you and your opponents’ heads.
I think we have to start with what is arguably the most important and also the most boring aspect of this game type. And I’m talking about calculating bounties.
To make optimal decisions in bounty tournaments, you must know how to calculate at least roughly the value of a bounty while playing. Can you explain how that calculation works?
Sure. So the rule of thumb is that each starting bounty [in a Progressive Knockout] is worth roughly 25% of a starting stack.
A very common example would be a $109 buy-in tournament. $9 will go to rake and a hundred dollars will go to the prize pool.
In that case, you’d have $25 starting on your head and every time you knock someone out you get $25. So that’s a quarter of the buy-in, which would be a quarter of your starting stack.
So if the starting stack was 5,000 chips, each starting bounty would be worth 1,250 chips. And depending on the blinds we can calculate how many additional big blinds these chips adds to the middle.
So in a situation where 1,250 chips, if the blinds are 50/100, that would add 12.5 big blinds in the middle. But if the blinds were 600/1200, it would only add one big blind in the middle
And that’s quite a significant difference. So if it’s early in the tournament, someone shoves their short stack, that’s adding quite a bit to the pot. I mean you can imagine someone shoving say 500 chips at 50/100 and you have to call only 400 more chips out of the big blind, but you get a quarter of the buy-in in your pocket if you knock them out. So it essentially adds 1,250 chips to the pot. So you only have to call 400 to essentially win something like 2000 chips, which is a pretty good deal.
Absolutely, and the big thing to remember is we get to gamble a lot very early on in the tournament because that’s when you have the most big blinds added to the middle. Towards the end of a tournament, bounties, although they get bigger [in PKOs], they can decrease in value depending on what the big blind is worth. Not to mention when you add ICM into that factor, it starts being worth even less.
I should clarify that Pav is really honing in on progressive knockout tournaments right now, which are really the most common game type online. Pav is mainly an online player, so that’s what he’s really used to playing.
The way those tournaments work, I’ll just explain them very briefly, for anyone who isn’t familiar in a progressive knockout tournament: when you bust someone, your bounty increases and you get money in your pocket. So as the tournament progresses, as you knock out players, the bounty on your head increases and other people have more incentive to knock you out.
It’s a lot more dynamic than a normal bounty tournament that you might be used to playing live because, as you’ve probably noticed if you have played them, when you get to the final table in a normal bounty tournament, the bounties almost mean nothing because you’re playing for such a big prize pool at the final table and knocking someone out for a fraction of the buy-in doesn’t really mean much.
But in a progressive knockout tournament, those bounties are actually increasing along the way, so they kind of remain a relevant factor.
It’s a really cool game type that the online operators came up with years ago. Unfortunately a little bit tough to implement in the live streets.
So in bounty tournaments in general, the key takeaway here is that each bounty is worth a fraction of the starting stack and that fraction depends how much of the buy-in went to the bounty.
For example, Pav was using that progressive knockout where it’s 25%, but if you’re playing, say, a thousand dollar buy-in tournament and only a hundred dollars goes to the bounty, that’s only 10% of a starting stack.
So each bounty is going to be worth — let’s say if the starting stack is 10,000 — each bounty is going to be worth a thousand chips. So a lot less in that case, but sometimes they’ll be bigger.
So looking at a regular format, let’s just say we’re in the big blind with 5,000 chips and the blinds are 50/100 with a 12.5% ante. And let’s say the button goes all in for 1,250 chips, which is 12 and a half big blinds, and we’re in the big blind with 5,000 chips.
We would need to have 43% equity to call here. And the way we figured that out is we would divide our call by the pot, which would be our call plus the jam and plus the antes and the blinds. So that would be 43% equity.
And that’s just basic pot odds calculation. So hopefully our viewers and listeners are familiar with that.
And also no worries because in my module at Upswing, I go through a non PKO example versus a PKO example so you can see a real difference. But I’m going to go through that right now as well.
So in the knockout example, we know that a bounty is worth a quarter of a starting stack. So if the starting stack is 5,000 and someone goes on for 1,250, we know that the bounty adds an additional 1,250 chips in the middle.
Now it’s important to know the big blind at that very moment. So if the big blind is 100, then we know that the bounty adds an additional 12 and a half big blinds in the middle. So in this case we will go 1150 divided by our call for 1150 plus the antes plus the blinds, plus the original 1250 that jammed, and we would then add the additional bounty, which is worth 1,250 chips, which would give us 29% required equity to call in this setup.
And it’s important to run these calculations in a basic program like Equilab and to see what equity any hand has versus a button jamming range. So in this case, let’s just pretend the button shoves anywhere between 30 and 35%.
A hand like Queen-Ten offsuit has 43% equity to call. So you could even call Queen-Ten off in a non bounty format, but with a hand like Eight-Three off suit, if I just throw that in equity lab right now, Eight-Three offsuit has almost 30% equity. It’s 29.89% equity. So this would be a basic example where you could literally call any two cards here and print money.
You can imagine if you were someone who’s folding hands like maybe an Ace-Two offsuit or some tight folds like Queen-Nine suited in the big blind versus like a button shove in the example he just said, you were playing way, way, way too tight if Eight-Three offsuit is right on the borderline.
I think the first key takeaway here. It’s to really think about how much that bounty adds to the pot and then readjust your pot odds calculations based on that.
There is one other factor before we continue on.
How much does it matter that you’re risking your own stack and your own position in the tournament? So say you have 1,350 chips and you’re facing that 1,250 chip shove, I assume you’re not calling off as loose because now if you lose that pot you are out with Eight-Three offsuit or pretty much out with Eight-Three off. So I assume you’re a decent amount more willing to take those gambles to win the bounty when you’re deeper stacked, right?
Yes and no.
The important thing here is at the very start of a tournament there is essentially zero ICM in play. So if I had 1,250 chips and the button went all in and we both had the exact same stack, I would still call with anything that had greater than 29% equity because it’s still a winning call regardless. And if you do bust, you can just reenter.
That’s something we can talk about as well because reentering in bounty tournaments gets very dicey if you reenter when say half the field is left. Because when half the field is left, significantly less of the prize pool is available because people have taken players bounties. So we could just reenter in that case if it was very early on in the tournament.
The key thing to remember is that a profitable call is a profitable call no matter what your stack size is, especially if there is no ICM in play. So I would still call in that example,
But if you’re kind of getting deeper, maybe the money’s sort approaching that soft bubble phase, that’s when you’d start to maybe tighten up and look for maybe 35% equity in that spot you were just talking about.
Yeah, absolutely. When there’s a bubble factor starts increasing or risk premium other people like to use, then we would obviously want to have more equity when calling. Not to mention there’d be tighter jamming ranges in that scenario as well. So we’d want to call a little bit tighter.
I think if our listeners and viewers want to do some homework on this and really get good at bounty tournaments, I would highly suggest messing around with an equity calculation tool like Poker Equilab, the one that Pav was just toying around with off screen.
There’s really no substitute for it. You got to just plug in estimated jamming ranges and then plug in hands and see if they’re profitable calls. See how much that bounty is going to matter. Do some just pen and paper basic math and it’ll go a long way because there’s really no substitute.
You got to train that mental muscle in your head. So then when you’re actually playing in game, you have a pretty good idea of how loose to call off in certain situations.
Alright, so moving on. What are some examples of adjustments that you end up making in bounty tournaments?
So that’s a good question because in theory what we should be doing is a lot of calling in bounty tournaments, even in a scenario where under the gun opens, there are some situations where we flat our entire range or 80% of our range and play zero 3-bet.
And the reason we do this is because when there are short stacks behind who we cover for bounties or if the opener we cover for a bounty, we essentially want to VPIP a lot of our range because we want to flop any kind of equity and have a chance of stacking someone for a bounty.
Also, the reason why we call so heavily is because we already get to call with a big portion of our range to cover for a bounty and we want to protect all those really weak hands by flatting all of our very strong hands as well.
The good thing is you don’t have to play like this in reality because in practice no one is squeezing wide enough versus all these calls so you can just play pretty face up and 3-bet your really good hands and still flat a lot of your really weak hands because you’re not going to be faced with all these squeezes behind.
So in theory it plays very different to how it should play in practice. But I will say the pool these days is calling a lot more and a really good example might be, let’s say the small blind has 7 big blinds and you’re in middle position with a hand like Jack-Ten offsuit. This would be a perfect example depending on what the bounty is worth in big blinds to just limp a really big portion of your range.
So we could limp a hand like Jack-Ten, have the small blind VPIP hand a hand like Ten-Nine offsuit, it comes 10 high, we get his stack. But you can go even further here and just limp a really good portion [of your range], you could limp Aces, Kings, Ace-King here. Depending on what the bounty is actually worth, you can limp a really wide range or call a really wide range.
You could flip it as well and have the big blind be down to 3 big blinds. Under the gun opens for a min raise, you flat your entire range hoping the big blind goes all in, reopens the action, under the gun shoves really wide and you just snap ’em off with Ace-King.
Right. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. That’s a really, really tough dynamic for me to even wrap my head around. So many different implications of these things. You’re trapping certain hands versus open so you can kind of induce these squeezes and play for that bounty.
You’re flatting bad hands so you can play for that bounty, but then, like I just said, you’re kind of balanced by the good hands. Yeah, really interesting stuff.
One thing I will say is that specific spot that I just mentioned where the big blind goes all in reopens the action. What a lot of the players tend to do as under the gun is really overvalue the bounty and shove a really wide range — shove a range of hands that never gets better to fold and rarely gets worse to call.
And sometimes let’s just say the big blind went all-in and his bounty was only worth two and a half, three big blinds. In that case you would really want to shove extremely tight if there were say 50 big blinds effective with the flatter. You wouldn’t want to shove super wide because the bounty is really not worth much. But that’s one important thing.
If we understand what the bounty is worth, then we can understand how to play our entire range. So generally in poker we want to aim to fold out better hands and get called by worse hands. And when you can’t do that and when the bounty isn’t worth that much, it’s important to really be aware of which hands to shove.
I kind of want to run a couple of what I would think are intuitive adjustments and bounties by you. I think they are things that our listeners and viewers might also think would be adjustments they should be making in bounties and I kind of want you to vet them and see is that actually something that you should be doing?
So easy example here, I’m pretty confident about this one, maybe I should retire if I’m wrong, but suppose you’re on the button and the big blind has 5 blinds. His bounty is worth let’s say not a super significant amount, but not an insignificant amount either. You’re opening, what, every hand on the button or almost every hand on the button if it folds to you?
Yeah, I’m opening everything, absolutely. 100% pretty much depending on the small blind as well. But if the bounty is even worth 5 big blinds, I’m opening everything. Obviously something to consider is the small blind will be 3-bet shoving wider and giving the big blind protection. So, maybe not everything but at least 75 or 80%.
Yeah, that makes sense. And I mean if you just think about it, you’re playing a big ante game in a way because the big blind is fairly likely to stick the money in, like you said. Say his bounty is worth 5 big blinds, let’s just estimate that he’s going to stick the money in 60% of the time. So it’s kind of like there’s a 3 big blind extra ante in the pot. That’s essentially how it works.
Yeah, that’s actually a really good way of viewing it. So yeah, I would picture his big blind just being a much bigger big blind. Right.
Yeah, so now let’s say a 15 big blind stack with a decent bounty raises in middle position and then it folds to you in the cutoff or the button.
I would think you’re going to be playing much more often against that player so you can try to take his bounty and specifically 3-betting quite a bit more often, so you kind of force him to stick his money in preflop and then you have that chance at the bounty. Is that another adjustment that you might be making?
Yeah, that’s one of the best examples actually. That could be a spot where you could take really any suited connector and just run with it like Jack-Nine suited, Eight-Nine suited, Seven-Eight suited. But with the players behind as well, you have to be careful.
Say if we’re a hundred big blinds deep and the players behind us cover us and then the short stacks opening off 15bb, we wouldn’t want to go all in because we’d be risking too much. The players behind could just call tight and knock us out.
So, depending on how the stacks are behind us, if we’re 100bb effective and the opener has 15bb, we’d just 3-bet to 6 big blinds, try and stack off against them with most suited connectors hands.
Even Eight-Five suited would be fine if his bounty worth anything over 5 big blinds. But then you also have a range of hands that might prefer to call more and go multiway with the big blind who also might be short stacked. So there are some hands that just perform better as calls multiway, especially if you cover two players.
So we’ve been doing a lot of examples around sort of targeting bounties. I want to flip it real quick before we move on and do one where we’re actually the short stack and we’re kind of expecting to get more action because I know that’s got to be at least somewhat of a factor.
So let’s say we have 8 big blinds in the cutoff and we’d normally shove X percent of hands. I’m not actually sure the exact percentage.
But is that percentage going to go down because we think we’re going to get called more often or — is the fact that we’re going to get called by a loose range that includes a bunch of garbage hands — does it make us still shove a similar range?
We’re looking for more high cards in this scenario.
So hands that would really drop down in EV would be hands like Eight-Nine suited, Ten-Nine suited.
All ace highs and a lot of king highs are quite good, but we don’t want to shove a hand like Ten-Nine suited anymore because a hand like Jack-Ten offsuit is not going to fold. It’s going to call and crush us.
So, we’re definitely shoving tighter and looking for more higher cards.
A good example in that case would be the big blind. If he covers you for a bounty that’s worth like three or four big blinds and you have no fold equity — he’s calling a hand like Queen-Five offsuit.
So all of a sudden shoving like Six-Seven suited is not worth that much, especially with them calling Queen-Six, King-Six. So yeah, we’re looking for more higher cards and the suited connectors have less fold equity, so avoid those middling suited connectors when you have little fold equity because that’s the whole point of shoving those hands.
So you just muck the Six-Seven suited in the cutoff there?
Oh absolutely. I think for 8 big blinds in the cutoff, if I have a starting bounty on my head, I’m shoving really tight. All broadways, all Ace-X hands. I might even expand my jamming range to King-Five off, King-Six offsuit if I’m getting called by every Queen, every Jack. So we are looking for higher cards in that scenario.
I’d wonder if it’s kind of a similar percentage of hands, but you just have a bunch of offsuit, like King-Four off trash that becomes pretty good because you’re getting called by Queen-Four offsuit and such. So yeah, that’s pretty interesting. A
lright, so let’s dive into the two types of bounty tournaments a little bit starting with static bounty tournaments. So tournaments where the bounty remains the same from the start through the last hand.
When you’re playing a tournament with a set bounty, Pav, what are the most significant strategic implications and adjustments?
So the biggest thing is similar to progressive knockouts, the bounty is worth the most at the start of a tournament, but in a static knockout tournament where it remains the same, they actually decrease in value significantly more throughout the tournament because as we know, each bounty is worth a portion of a starting stack. So depending on what the big blind is, it’s always going to decrease as the tournament progresses.
So if the big blind is 1000/2000, say a few hours into the tournament, and the starting stack is 5,000 chips, it’s going to be worth very, very little. Most static bounty tournaments usually have half the buy-in as the knockout. So as long as you remember half the starting stack of a tournament in a static bounty tournament, you can remember what that bounty is worth in big blinds. So, in general it’s going to decrease in value as the tournament progresses, meaning incentive to call off wider versus these players certainly decreases.
Yeah, so it’s really asymmetric in that the early stages are where the bounties really matter and later on they just don’t matter all that much.
I will say when you’re playing these probably live bounty tournaments with a static bounty, be sure to lock-in and remember that amount that they’re worth because it really can vary.
At The Lodge, for example, in Austin, we have a tournament with a $300 buy-in and it has a $100 bounty. So in that case [the bounty] is a third of [the buy-in]. I believe the starting stack in that tournament is 10K. So, throughout the entire tournament, knocking someone out is worth an extra 3,300 chips in the pot.
So every time you’re facing a shove, you can essentially add 3,300 chips to the pot when you’re doing your pot odds calculations in that specific Lodge tournament, the Black Chip Bounty.
Sure, and I will say that in general, in a lot of static bounty tournaments, if you’re really deep in the tournament, say the final 20% of the field, you can almost entirely ignore the knockout. Because a lot of times the bounty at that stage will never really add enough additional chips in the middle for you to call that wide.
So you can almost pretend it doesn’t exist and just play a normal vanilla tournament where bounties aren’t even a thing and you’d play a lot better than most of the field.
The biggest issue a lot of live players have and even online players is they over-value the value of the bounty. They think it’s worth a lot more than what it is. They get really excited, they want to get the bounty, but it puts your stack at risk too much. So if you just play very solid and tight, generally that’s a better approach.
That makes sense that people would have that bias where they just think about the bounty even though it’s not a huge factor and they’re like, “well, there’s the bounty” and then they click call too often. And they’re probably better off just completely putting it out of their mind and sort of avoiding that potential bias.
Let’s move on to the online only game type I see you playing on stream all the time, progressive bounty tournaments, aka PKOs. So, as we’ve already mentioned, when you knock a player out of a PKO tournament, you pocket their bounty and your bounty also increases, which increases the price on your head.
Pav, how do these growing bounties impact your strategy deep in tournaments when the big normal prize pool money is on the line? For example, are you taking bigger risks at final tables when you’re up against a stack that you cover?
So yes and no. The short answer is it depends on the stacks at the table.
In most cases, you’re not going to have an overwhelming chip lead, but if you did, then we could take more risk. But if you had an average stack with everyone else, you would be playing pretty close to a regular ICM final table and just try and calculate what that bounty is worth in big blinds.
If you call and lose, what does that do to your stack compared to every other stack? Does it mean you have to play a lot tighter, meaning you’re going to lose some EV in that regard? Or does winning give you a really big incentive to open a lot wider and crush the rest of the middling stacks?
Yeah, so what I’m hearing you say here is that it’s just another factor in the multitude of factors that you have to think about when you’re at a final table.
I mean at a normal tournament final table, there’s a lot to think about when it comes to ICM, future game simulations as people call them, and all this sort of a thing where you have to think about “oh, should I take this risk? If I win this pot and double up, I’m going to be an overwhelming chip leader. I’m going to be able to push people around, but if I lose this pot, I’m going to be crippled or I’m going to be out of the tournament.”
Now we’re just adding another thing on top where “oh, I get extra money if I knock this guy out, maybe I should be slightly looser here, but I don’t really want to take that risk because then I’ll be super short and I’m going to be unlikely to get the ladder. I’m going to be unlikely to win.” So it’s just adding to the complications that are tournament final tables
And like the middle of a tournament, people tend to over-value the bounty in mid stages. They certainly overvalue the bounty on the final table as well. If you can look at the bounty, you have a chance at winning and then compare that to the next pay jump. If it’s significantly less than the pay jump, then it’s certainly not worth much at all risking for. So it’s always important to pay attention to the actual size of the bounty in big blinds or compared to the pay jump of the tournament before you risk a big portion of your stack.
And then for all those live players out there, just to reiterate this, you’re going to be playing in normal bounty tournaments where the bounty stays the same the whole time.
So Pav is saying even in a progressive knockout tournament, you should often pretty much disregard the bounties or somewhat disregard the bounties.
Just imagine in a static bounty tournament where you’re winning what is basically a pittance at the final table. So just put it out of your mind and you’re going to be better off for it.
Absolutely. For me, in a regular knockout tournament, I would pretend it doesn’t even exist.
You should now have a pretty good idea of how bounty tournaments work and you may even feel ready to register one and battle for all that extra money in that bounty prize pool. If you want to dive deep into bounty tournaments, checkout Pav’s module in the Upswing Lab training course, it’s called Bounty Tournament Strategy, and it’s an epic, in-depth three hour lesson that will help you become a beast at this game type
I go over a dozen different examples on how bounties impact your overall strategy while also showing you how bubble factors work and how to use specific tools to improve your bounty game. Furthermore, these videos are really short and concise so you don’t get overwhelmed. Each video is not going to be any longer than 15 minutes. They’re straight to the point and it’s going to really stick in your brain.
Yeah, it’s definitely one of the most popular tournament modules we’ve put out in a long time, so I definitely highly recommend checking that out if you are a member of the Lab. And if you’re not…
As a listener of this podcast, you can get an exclusive $50 off the Upswing Lab with the coupon code LEVELUP. That’s all one word. Head over to upswingpoker.com, add the Lab to your cart and input that LEVELUP coupon code to get your $50 discount.
Thanks for listening. See you next week.