How to Win PKOs More Often – Top Progressive Knockout Tips from the Pros

How to Win PKOs More Often – Top Progressive Knockout Tips from the Pros

Knockout tournaments have been around for a long time, but the format has evolved quite a bit in the last few years, with progressive knockout becoming even more popular than regular knockout tournaments.

Progressive knockout tournaments (PKOs) are also known as bounty builders of progressive bounty tournaments in some cases.

The games differ from classic knockouts in several things, with the way the bounties are distributed being the most important one. With the PKO format being so popular these days, you should definitely learn how to play these games if you want to play tournament poker, especially online.

Keep reading to find out what PKOs are, how bounties work in them, and what PKO tournament strategy you can apply to win PKOs more often.

What Are Progressive Knockout Tournaments?

What Are Progressive Knockout Tournaments?

The first question we need to answer is what are progressive knockout tournaments, and how do they differ from other knockout formats?

Just like in a regular knockout event, half of the prize pool money is reserved for bounties, while the other half is distributed to the players who finish in the top 10 or 15% of the field.

Unlike a regular knockout tournament, however, a player busting another player does not receive exactly 50% of their buyin fee, but a variable amount depending on several factors.

At the start of the tournament, 50% of your buyin is added to the bounty prize pool, and the amount is displayed over every player’s avatar. Once a player is knocked out, one-half of that amount goes to the player who knocked them out, while the other half is added to this player’s bounty, making it more valuable.

For example, let us imagine you buy into a $22 PKO tournament on PokerStars. $2 of that amount is taken as tournament fees (rake), $10 goes into the prize pool, and $10 goes towards your bounty.

Everyone’s starting bounty is set at $10. Once you eliminate a player with this same bounty, $5 of that amount is added to your balance, while $5 is added to your bounty, increasing it to $15.

Of course, a player who happens to eliminate you at this point would receive $7.50 into their balance, while $7.50 would be added to the value of their bounty, etc.

This process continues throughout the tournament. As the blind levels go by and players get eliminated, the progressive bounties become bigger and bigger, eventually changing the dynamic of the entire tournament.

While PKO tournaments do have a prize pool to play for, the bounties matter more than the prizes, and there are many cases when you must adjust your tournament strategy to make profitable decisions in this tournament format.

How PKOs Differ from Other Tournament Types

PKO tournaments have become incredibly popular as of late, as the added dynamic of constantly chasing more valuable bounties seems to have resonated quite well with the general poker audience.

The format is still relatively new, and many players who were quite used to playing tournament poker in general never fully adjusted to playing with progressive bounties.

For that reason, PKOs can be some of the most profitable tournaments around, as both recreational players and bad regulars make tons of trivial mistakes when playing this format.

However, you should also note that being good at PKOs does not come naturally either and that you will need some additional studying. That said, even just paying close attention to some basic dynamics and understanding how equities change with growing bounties should be enough to be better than a big chunk of the player field.

Yet, there are quite a few finesses that you should master before playing a significant number of PKOs, which will increase your overall ROI quite a bit. Let’s talk about some basic PKO tournament strategies and the adjustments you can make to win money in PKOs more often.

PKO Tournament Strategy Revealed

While a lot of the same tournament strategy applies in PKOs that applies in all other tournament formats, like freezeouts to rebuys, there are quite a few things that are unique to this format as well.

Most of these have to do with chip stack dynamics, as realizing how your stack compares to other stacks at your table and in the whole tournament can be quite important.

Paying close attention to chip stacks is also essential when trying to determine ranges with which certain players may have pushed all-in or made a call in front of you, as small stacks and big stacks will typically do so with wildly different ranges.

Finally, being able to calculate the equity needed to call a certain player’s all-in during the later stages and understanding what your equity may be against their shoving range will also be extremely important.

So, here are a few major things to look out for in PKO tournaments that will make your overall PKO strategy a lot better.

Look to Build a Stack

Having a stack that covers at least some of the players at your table is extremely important in PKO tournaments, as it gives you the ability to play for bounties.

Look to Build a Stack
Matt Affleck

If you are the shortest stack at your table, you will not be able to win a bounty, no matter what happens. Even if you make a huge hand against the second smallest stack, you will only get to double up but never win a bounty.

Since so much of the overall prize pool in PKOs is in bounties, being able to play for them is critical, which makes sustaining a reasonable stack very important.

Of course, there will be times when the cards are simply not cooperating, and you are not able to grow your stack, but you should be looking to get involved and win some pots from the very start.

Also, note that this becomes progressively more important as the tournament goes into its later stages, as the PKOs become bigger and being able to play for them becomes more valuable.

Know the Value of Each Bounty

First of all, you should be aware that winning a bounty from another player at the table only awards you with half the value in cash, while the other half goes into your own bounty.

When money is added to your bounty, you can consider a small part of this as your equity, but considering you will only ever get to keep this money if you win the whole tournament, this won’t actually happen very often.

For this reason, you should only ever really be looking at the value of winning half of the player’s current bounty when you go into all-in confrontations.

As in all knockout tournaments, you can convert the value of the bounty into chips quite easily, and we will show you an example of how to do this.

Let’s assume you are playing a $55 PKO tournament with 10,000 chip starting stacks and a starting bounty of $25.

Eliminating a player with a $25 bounty will earn you $12.5 in cash, which is worth approximately 50% of the money that went into the prize pool from this player ($25). So, you should be adding 5,000 theoretical chips into the pot when calculating the equity you need to call their shove.

Now, if we assume that at a later point in the tournament, you face an all-in from a player who has a $100 bounty, you should remember that you stand to win $50 in cash if you win. This means that adding about 20,000 chips into the pot is the way you calculate your equity.

Typically speaking, the bigger a player’s bounty is, the less equity you will need to make a call and try to eliminate them to capture the bounty.

Beware of Your Bounty

Each player in a PKO has a bounty on their head, but the value of this bounty is not the same. You will do well to act in accordance with the value of the bounty being paid to other players to eliminate you.

What we mean by this is that you should be aware that players who cover you will be likely to call you quite light when you have a big bounty on your head.

Conversely, players will be less incentivized to try and eliminate you if you have a small bounty on your head or if they don’t have enough chips to eliminate you from the tournament.

These are all dynamics that you should be acutely aware of when playing PKO tournaments and should always be paying attention to.

Don’t Play Too Loose

Bounties in PKOs can be quite inviting and they often lead players to make some extremely poor calls that the added equity of the bounty can’t justify.

Your goal in a PKO, like in any other tournament format, is to make decisions that are +EV for you. While bounties do add some equity to every call you make where you put others at risk, it is important to know exactly how much equity that is.

Being able to make good PKO calculations on the spot is extremely important, while just making very loose calls and hoping for the best is a great way to do very poorly in PKOs in general.

Don’t Level Yourself into Oblivion

Many tournament players make the mistake of leveling themselves too much when playing PKOs and constantly thinking about what various decisions their opponents are making imply.

It is important to remember that most players are not playing a good PKO strategy at all and that many of the plays they make are mistakes.

Furthermore, deviating too much from the standard play will cause you to make some very bad decisions in spots where you normally would have made the right ones.

Instead, try to play a good fundamental tournament game and only make adjustments when you have very good reasons to or where the math clearly dictates you should, such as making a looser call against a very big bounty.

Be Ready for Chaos

Be Ready to Embrace the Chaos

While we recommend not playing too loose and chaotic yourself, there is absolutely nothing you can do about others, and you can expect to see quite a bit of chaos in PKO tournaments.

Recreational players, in particular, will play way too loose in most spots in a PKO, looking to take your scalp and increase their bounty for whatever that’s worth.

For this reason, you should always expect most players to play too loose, and you should adjust your ranges accordingly.

If everyone is playing too loose, that means you can’t get away with as much stealing, but you can get a lot more value when you have it. Make sure to keep this in mind, make more thin value bets, and bluff less as a general rule of thumb in PKO tournaments.

Enjoy Your First PKO

Now that you have some basic idea of how you should be playing in PKO tournaments, all that’s left is to fire up your first PKO game and start practicing your skills.

Keep in mind that the best PKO strategy can be quite a bit different from that you would apply in a regular poker tournament, which means you will need some time to adjust and adapt.

As we already mentioned, playing a solid fundamental poker strategy is key in PKOs as it would be in any other tournament type.

Making the appropriate adjustments to your strategy will give you that bit of extra edge, but make sure not to push it too far to a point where you start giving away equity for no good reason.

Good luck at the tables, and have fun chasing after those massive bounties on your first PKO final table!

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