Over the last decade, progressive knockout tournaments have gained a huge following in the poker community and are one of the most exciting formats to play.
As the name suggests, PKOs take the knockout factor in tournaments to a whole new level, and you should consider this when constructing your approach to these games.
To help you understand progressive knockout poker and create a successful strategy, we have prepared a few tips that will help you elevate your PKO game to the next level.
Progressive knockout tournaments, also known as PKOs, represent a special type of bounty MTT in which players get half the opponent's bounty when they knock them out, and the other half is added to their own bounty.
In most PKOs, the buyin is split into two equal parts. One part of the buyin goes towards the prize pool, while the other goes to the player's bounty.
For example, if a ticket for a progressive knockout tournament costs $215, $15 is the tournament's fee, $100 goes to the prize pool, and $100 goes to your bounty.
If you knock out a player with a $100 bounty, you will receive $50 directly in your account, and the other $50 will go to your own bounty. If you had a $100 bounty before the hand, you would have a $150 bounty after knocking out that player.
This creates a very interesting and specific dynamic because your bounty increases with each player you eliminate, and other players become more incentivized to play pots against you and try to win your bounty.
Let’s take another example. If you play in a regular freezeout tournament and go all-in with 25 BB, most players will call your all-in only with good holdings. However, if you go all-in with 25 BB in a PKO and you have a big bounty, for example, $600 in a $55 buy-in tournament, most players will call you with very wide ranges because the bounty makes it worth it for them.
Thanks to these dynamics, in progressive knockout tournaments, you will witness outrageous hands and calls that you won’t see anywhere else.
Becoming a good progressive knockout tournament has many advantages as this tournament format attracts many recreational players and can be very profitable in the long run. Additionally, thanks to its exciting format, you will never get bored playing these games.
The main pros of progressive knockout tournaments are:
Learning and applying the correct strategy in each situation can be pretty difficult with so many different tournament formats. However, if you had to choose to specialize in only one variation on top of freezeout events, we would advise you to learn the correct approach for PKOs.
The main reason for this is that many poker players have trouble adapting to the specific gameplay and dynamics of PKO tournaments, which will increase your edge.
Thanks to the unique way of bounty distribution, one of the areas that most players struggle with is constructing calling and showing ranges. If you are good at math, this is where most of your edge will come.
If you love strategy and math but also want to have fun while making money, PKOs are the right tournament format for you.
Some other formats have pretty dull stretches where it can seem that the only thing you do is hit the fold button. Sometimes this can be interrupted by a few interesting hands, after which you are again back to more waiting.
On the other hand, in PKOs, thanks to the bounties that carry the possibility of immediate financial reward, the situation is very different. Bounties create interesting dynamics because players want to win some money immediately.
This is especially true for recreational players who will call very wide if they can scoop a big bounty. This gives you a lot of opportunities to build your stack if you know what you’re doing since players have much more incentive to play hands and build big pots.
One of the biggest benefits of progressive knockout tournaments, especially for poker players that have a hard time dealing with variance, is that they have less variance than other formats.
In most multi-table tournaments, players can make many correct decisions but get unlucky once and lose all their chips without even cashing.
In progressive knockouts, you receive money straight into your account each time you eliminate someone, which means you get rewarded right on the spot. Even if you lose by getting unlucky, you still go home with some cash for each all-in you previously won.
This reward system is much less volatile, so PKO tournaments don’t have as big of an impact on players’ bankrolls as some other tournament formats. You can even make a profit in the event without reaching paid places.
Progressive knockout can be pretty rewarding if you know what you are doing, but if you are new to poker or PKOs, they can also be really punishing.
Some of the cons of playing progressive knockouts are:
In most tournament formats, a player's decision is driven by the same few factors. These include table image, position, stage of the tournament, and the number of blinds.
However, using only these factors will not be enough in PKO poker tournaments because these factors don’t include players' bounties which are very important.
This is why, even if you are a crusher in other types of tournaments, you might have difficulty adjusting to PKOs. This format requires players to totally change or adapt their style of play based on the bounty of each player involved in the hand.
Most players new to progressive knockout tournaments tend to call too wide or too tight because they undervalue or overvalue the impact of the bounty.
This can lead to some pretty -EV decisions, so it is extremely important to do your homework and modify your approach to this tournament format.
As you might assume, pursuing bounties makes progressive knockout tournaments chaotic and hectic. This is especially true for lower buyin events where players are unaware of the correct strategy and go for a bounty every time they get a chance.
If you are new to PKOs and are unsure what the correct strategy is, this dynamic can be very frustrating as some situations might make you question your strategy even if it is the right one.
This is why we recommend you play PKOs only after you gain experience in other formats and spend some time understanding the math behind it. Even after you think you are ready, we recommend starting progressive knockout tournaments with a much lower buyin so that you have a lot of room for error and variance.
If you decide to give PKOs a go, there are a few things that you should always have in mind as they will help you adjust to this format and make better decisions.
As in all tournament settings, one thing that you should always pay attention to is chip stacks. In bounty tournaments, there will be much more adjusting of ranges in regards to chip stacks than in other formats.
Understanding different chip stacks and how they affect players’ ranges is one of the most important tournament skills you can have, and it applies to all variations.
You can apply this knowledge to get an idea of how wide or narrow someone's range is in specific situations.
For example, if a player with a short stack but a big bounty goes all in and a player with a big stack calls him, there is a high likelihood that the big stack has a wide range because he is looking to win the bounty. These ranges will be much wider than in other tournament settings.
As a general rule of thumb, the bigger the player's bounty, the wider he will get called.
For example, if you have a decent bounty but a small stack, there is a higher chance your all-in will be called than when you have a small bounty and a decent stack.
After you understand the dynamics of this rule and learn to use it, your expected value in these tournaments will increase significantly.
The other important thing in progressive knockout tournaments is to learn how the bounties impact the dynamics in certain stages of the tournament.
This is very important because the prize pool changes each time a player gets eliminated in PKOs.
For the sake of the example, let's say that there are ten players in a $215 PKO tournament. The $15 goes to the organization, $100 goes to the prize pool, and $100 goes to the player's bounty.
So when the tournament starts, the prize pool is $1000, and the bounty pool is another $1000.
In theory, if a single player were to eliminate all other players, he would:
In total, he would win $1700 in this tournament.
However, if at any point during the tournament a player is eliminated by a player other than our “hero,” the total amount of money that our player can win will go down to $400 because those $50 go straight to the account of the player that made the elimination.
As you can see, a part of the prize pool is gone with each elimination. This is very important because the ICM implication becomes less relevant than in other tournament formats.
In the early stages of PKOs, you should try to play as you would in other tournament formats, which is tight and aggressive.
You will probably witness a lot of marginal all-ins as weaker players want to grab bounties in the early stages, so they win back the money they paid for the tournament ticket. Although the bounties have financial values, this is not the right approach as the bounties are not as big for this strategy to be justifiable.
For the most part, in the early stages of the PKOs, you should play like there are no bounties involved and not get carried away by playing wide ranges and chasing small bounties.
When the middle stages of the tournament come, you will see much bigger bounties, and you should adjust your ranges accordingly. In most cases, you should be willing to call all-ins a bit wider if your opponent has a huge prize for his name.
However, most players just pay attention to other players' bounties and fail to consider their own. This is a pretty big mistake because other players will also adjust their ranges in relation to your bounty.
For example, if you have a small bounty, players will not risk calling you with wide ranges as it is not worth their wild. This means that you get to be a bit more aggressive in certain spots.
But if you have a big bounty, you need to play much tighter because players will widen their ranges, hoping to get lucky and win an all-in against you.
It goes without saying that you should only consider calling all-ins wider if you cover the player. The whole point of wider ranges is to try and win the bounty, which you can only do if you have more chips than your opponent.
A good rule of thumb is to get involved with people you cover and avoid getting involved with people who cover you.
The late stages of PKOs are when the bounties become big enough for players to absolutely widen their ranges. There are massive bounties in these stages, and big stacks will do their best to win as many as possible.
Because of this, if you are a big stack, you should be prepared to use your whole stack to try and isolate yourself against the short stack and try to go heads up post-flop. The last thing you want to do is allow other big stacks to get involved.
For example, if a short stack goes all in before you and it's your turn to act, you should avoid just calling. Instead, if you have a hand that you feel confident about, go all in and isolate the short stack. This will discourage other players from getting involved.
If you didn’t have a good tournament up to this point but managed to crawl your way into the late stages with a short stack, you need to tighten your ranges as much as possible.
This is because other players with bigger stacks will call you very wide, meaning you have very little fold equity and must win your all-in at the showdown.
Don't try to steal pots against bigger stacks because this will be very difficult to do. Instead, wait for decent hands so that you stand a chance against wide call downs.
The final table is where things get tricky.
At this stage, you need to construct your approach based on both the bounty pool and the prize pool. Your approach will largely vary on the prize pool distribution and the sizes of the remaining players’ bounties.
In some cases, it will be worth going for almost every bounty, while in others, there will be more ICM implications.
Another thing you want to be aware of is how the poker room you play in treats deal-making. If you are not sure, ask the support before the tournament starts. Some rooms will split only the prize pool when the deal is struck, while others will distribute both the prize and the bounty pools.
This will greatly affect your decision to make a deal or not, depending on the size of your bounty at this point in the tournament.
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