Mama Said Knock You Out

Mama Said Knock You Out

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Dara O'K on bounty tournaments.

They've been knocking around (no pun intended) for years under a variety of names: scalps, knockouts, head hunters, bounty tournaments. But it is only in recent times that these tournaments - which award a portion of the prize pool to any player who knocks out another player - have really caught fire online. In fact, in the last year or so they've become one of the most popular formats on most online sites.

It is not too hard to understand their appeal. Loose aggressive players enjoy the fact that it rewards them for taking risks early to build stacks and eliminate more timid opponents. Recreational players like the instant reward and hand-to-hand combat dynamic, which means they can get some financial return from a tournament without technically cashing in it.  Even the most normally conservative of nits have to adjust and go chasing bounties. All this makes for a much more interesting game from the start, compared to one where the player with the best hand raises, everyone else folds, and he wins the blinds.

Any game that attracts lots of loose recreational players happy to gamble it up is going to be one the pros want to play, so they are equally popular with those of us trying to earn a daily crust from the game. Given the recent nature of this upsurge in popularity, there are a lot of players who play these tournaments far from optimally, and there is not a lot of strategy advice out there on how to tackle them. I've even heard good players admit they just play their normal game, making no strategic adjustments for the bounty, which is a mistake.

The important thing to realise about a knockout tournament is that essentially it's two different tournaments in one. One of those is a normal tournament where the prize pool is distributed to the last 10 to 15%, and the higher you finish the more you get. The other is a tournament where the only thing that matters is how many players you eliminate, not how many you outlast. It might seem odd to think of it as two different tournaments given you only have one set of cards and stack at any point, but consider the fact it's very possible to do well in one of them and badly in the other. If you play your normal game you'll probably cash a little more often than in normal tournaments, but you'll more than pay for it by not picking up many bounties. If you go chasing every bounty you can, you'll pick up more than your fair share of them, but you'll cash a lot less often than normal.

Optimal overall strategy is therefore a balancing act. You have to decide how far from normal MTT strategy you should diverge in order to be competitive for the bounties. Luckily there's a relatively easy mathematical rule of thumb for this, best explained by example.

In a normal tournament, you open pocket twos, and get shoved on. To call, you have to put 2000 more chips into a pot that will contain 4500 chips if you do call. Your assessment of the opponent's range is that he will have two over cards 60% of the time, and an overpair the rest of the time. You can expect to win slightly over half the 60% of times its a flip, and slightly less than a quarter of the 40% of times you are up against the overpair. This means you can expect to win about 40% of the time. 40% of 4500 is 1800, not enough to justify investing the additional 2000 needed. So you pass.

Now the same situation, but it's a super KO tournament where half the prize pool is paid out in bounties. When you enter this tournament, half your buy-in goes into the bounty pool. So each bounty is effectively worth 50% of starting stack in chips terms. If starting stack is 3k, each bounty is worth 1500 chips.

Now the same decision as described arises. It still only costs you 2000 to call the shove, but the bounty aspect juices up the pot so that in overall terms it's worth (approximately) 1500 extra chips. 4500 plus 1500 is 6000, and 40% of 6000 is 2400. Since it's only costing you 2000 for a situation where you win 2400 on average, you now have a very profitable call.

The conversion calculation of bounty to chips is very straightforward. You multiply the starting stack by the portion of prize pool going to bounties. In the example above, which could be a $100 buy-in where $50 goes to bounties and the other $50 to the normal prize pool, half goes to bounties, so each bounty is worth half a starting stack. In a $27 game with is $20 plus $5 bounty plus a $2 registration fee, the bounty represents a fifth of the total prize pool (not including the reg fee for obvious reasons), so in terms of chips, a fifth of a starting stack. Simples.

Even if you're a "feel" player who feels this kind of mental maths is beyond you in game, it's still worth taking the time to convert the bounty portion into chip terms at the start. Then when faced with a situation where your gut is telling you to fold, before you do fold, first ask your gut if it would feel the same if those extra chips were in the pot.

Tags: Dara O'Kearney