A good part of my normal micro-tournament schedule is made up of Progressive Knockout tournaments (PKOs). If you don’t know what they are, they’re a crazy form of bounty tournament where a percentage of the buyin is attached to each player and awarded as a prize should you knock that player out.
The exact percentage varies, depending on the game, but, most usually it’s 50%/50%. So… if the buyin is $10, $5 of that goes into the prizepool and $5 goes onto players’ heads. If you knock someone out, you will instantly receive $2.50 and your bounty will increase from $5 to $7.50. If someone then knocks you out, they will receive $3.75 and their own bounty will increase by $3.75 and so on.
This means that by the time you get deep in a tourney, the average bounty will pay you more than a buyin, and in some cases much, much more.
The very first one of these that I played, I had some super sick rungood and was up 15 x the buyin before the bubble had even burst. Obviously, I instantly fell in love with them and registered for the exact same game the next day.
That didn’t go so well.
I busted in the first hour after playing my normal tournament game, (wondering why there were so many maniacs) and then 3bet shipping for 18bigs with AA from the hijack. The hand went 6 ways to the flop and I lost to 68s.
Out loud, I said “My goodness! That was an unusual collection of calls, I wonder why those gentleman played the hand like that, ho-hum.” Well… they weren’t quite my exact words, but that was the gist of the sentiment.
As a micro-player, I’m used to seeing some wacky action, but in these tournaments there is a lot of madness, and I have started to understand why.
I’m going to attempt to offer some advice on playing this tournament format at micro-stakes level, although I make no claim that this is good advice, it is simply a product of my experience having played around 750 of these tournaments. I have good results at this format, up to the $11 buyin level, although I appreciate the sample is too small to be excessively self-congratulatory.
In addition, this will not be scientific or mathematical advice, partly because I’m not up to offering that type of advice, and partly because plenty of research has shown me that there does not seem to be concrete mathematical advice on this topic- in short, I’m not sure anyone knows what the fuck is going on with these.
There is some good discussion of the maths of this format on the 2+2 forum, but to be honest I didn’t really understand it, and, as usual, it was not from, or aimed at, micro-stakes players. If anyone does have any ideas about the maths, please share them with me; ideally in a classroom environment, with a test at the end, because as I have honestly stated before, maths is not my subject.
Register On Time
I often register late for normal tourneys. I play on PokerStars mainly, and the structures are solid enough to allow this. In addition, it’s very easy to get max value on big hands from micro-players, so if I can get dealt anything half decent in the first 3/4 orbits, I can usually double quickly and be at least average stack without grind-folding for two hours to be in the same place.
In a bounty tournament, the only hand that you can guarantee you have every single opponent at your table covered is the very first hand of the tournament, so I recommend playing it.
In a normal structure, I can ship 12bigs with a premium hand and get called by one medium/big stack who loves A10. In a bounty, shipping 12 bigs will get a call from pretty much anyone who covers you, even if you haven’t played a hand for 25 orbits. Five of them will call you with anything- sending you all-in to the flop with 25% equity whilst holding AA. That feels horrible, so avoid it more effectively by playing the first hand.
I’m not a big pre-flop limper. If it’s good enough to play, it’s good enough to raise in normal structures at micro-stakes, in PKOs, I see more value in flaccid action in multiway pots.
That’s not to say you should see every flop! If you have a majority of your opponents in the hand covered (you’re late to act pre) or the majority of the table covered (you act early pre) then I vote for limping far more regularly.
My normal structure VPIP is around 18% with 15% preflop raise. My PKO stats look more like 35% VPIP with 10% raise. I am playing way more suited connectors and one-gappers, K2s+, Q2s+, J2+ and every single pair; one pot early on can put me a few chips ahead of the majority, and that’s enough!
If I have a bit of bad start, and find I do not have a majority of table opponents covered, then I find it beneficial to nit-up to fuck. I only want to see the cheap flops if I have a chance to take bounties, otherwise, I will wait for a premium and hope for the best, confident I will get preflop value from a 150bb ship from somebody.
In addition, my preflop 3bet% drops a lot in this format. Isolation is an impossible dream if there is a short stack in the pot, anyone who has you covered is coming with you anyway, and anyone who doesn’t is going to have a massive hand if they call. I will only 3bet pre in this format with AK and JJ+, and that will be for the entirety of my stack; there is no point trying to be clever in this format at micro-stakes.
Most people who watch me play say that I’m a bit aggressive sometimes; that said, even I manage to stay pretty nitty in the 1st few levels of a normal tournament. With 200 big blinds and small pots, I see no value in being too pushy too early in normal structures; in a PKO I think there is plenty value in early aggression on the flop. Even if I only win a couple of small pots, if I have 3050 chips compared to a guy having 2950 chips, I have better implied odds in every single hand we play together.
I want to have more chips than the majority of the players at my table, because if I get one of them in good for a massive pot, I want that bounty, I don’t want someone else to scoop it for buttons the next hand.
This works because micro-players want to see flops, but will give up fairly easily if they don’t hit; you will find you go to the flop multi-way a high number of times. People are fishing, and if they miss, they will check fold with with tempting frequency, and even a 10% pot bet will get them out if they have no hope. This will only be effective if they have less than you/around your stack- an early big stack won’t be so easy, he’ll call you with Q-high and his fingers crossed. Given that having a guy covered by 1chip is enough to take his bounty money, it is always worth having a go at that small pot, especially on very wet or dry boards; they literally either have it or not, and they’ll raise or fold accordingly.
The flop is where the money most often goes in in this format. It seems to have been profitable to me to put any short stacks to it for 100% of their chips with a draw, or even naked top pair.
Watch out for a player who limps pre then goes mental on the flop, especially larger stacks. If you have a decent holding and bet into a stack that covers you, a call will usually indicate hope, where a raise indicates strength. If you are pushed in by a larger stack on the flop after he limped pre, you should have two pair or an overpair as an absolute minimum, if you have a draw and cover nobody… you should have folded preflop!
Basically, if you don’t have it, try to nick it with a small bet and give up if you get action. If you do have it, or a decent sniff at it (and you have others covered), go ballistic- just get it the hell in, never look like you’re hoping… DO OR DIE ON THE FLOP!
In PKOs, it can be frightening how often you will see the turn multiway. It is my advice that you avoid this situation wherever possible. If you are a short stack, you should be in or out preflop, as a medium stack you should be in or out by the flop at the latest. If you are a large stack, you should have put the muppets in or folded them out on the flop.
The only time you want to be creeping onto the turn is if you are playing a pot where everyone has about the same stack and you have a very mediocre holding that you would have folded on the flop to a bet, or you get a super good price from someone who is trying to do what I suggest above, or a short stack who “doesn’t want to lose the callers”. I would recommend not thinking of these as potential bounty pots, but what I like to call “top up pots”, you may have a chance to “top up” your stack, putting you a few chips ahead of you nearby opponents. If it goes ballistic, you are out; the turn is too dangerous in this format.
If you get to the river and you haven’t made a massive hand on a draw you saw cheaply, then GTFO. This is not the time to get the shorties in, as stated above, this should have already happened if it was going to happen.
If your long odds draw magically hits, then Get The Fuck In. Do it: all of it. Don’t be fancy, and worry about “missing value”, just ship your chips. Too many players at micro-stakes in this format WILL call you off with top pair on the river after letting you hit your wicked draw for cheap, especially if they have you covered; take advantage of this, but do not emulate it.
The odds of a micro-player risking his tournament life on a river bluff are skinny, so if you can only beat a bluff, even if you have him covered, get rid; this structure IS about winning bounties, but perhaps just not that specific one!
I worry less about the bubble in this format. Normally I’m being a bit aggro if I’m stacking around the bubble, and very TAG if I’m a short stack. In this format, min cash can be peanuts compared to the bounty of a short stack at your table; he is your bubble!
It’s very odd as a long-term tournament player to ignore the paystructure in a tournament, but in the PKO format half the money is out there in the field.
Without meaning to be rude, if you are the type of player that is worried about losing your tournament life, this is not the format for you. At this stage of a PKO, you must be prepared to risk everything to put pressure on those who are more used to hanging on for the money.
My ITM% for bounty tourneys is 13%, lower than my 20% average, but my ROI% for them is 40%, much higher than my 15% average! If you just like making the money, play a different format.
As a short stack in this format, I don’t have much strategy except wait for a premium and cross my fingers. Sounds lame, but when I know I’m getting 3+ callers, what else can I do? Tell me! Seriously.
As a big-stack, I’m a total LAGTard in this format. In normal tournaments, if I have a large stack, I’m pretty careful with it, especially where the structure allows, I’m not playing big preflop pots. In a PKO, if I can get a guy in pre and leave myself at least 15 bigs behind, then I’m gonna, and with a massively wide range, only slowing it up if I’m covered by a guy with action to come.
I have noticed that medium stacks are reluctant to call a big stack’s 3bet ship, even when I’ve shown my range to be mental, I can’t explain this.
ICM suicide is less of a concern to me in this format, because the bounties are as sexy as the payscale, if I can take 25 buyins worth of bounties and bust in 50th place, I’ll be better off than grinding to the FT and busting in 9th place for 20 buyin payout.
The times this aggro mania goes in my favour, I will approach the final as a dominant presence anyway, and am more likely to bink a top three cash.
I haven’t made enough final tables to speak with any authority on them… probably because I’m playing hyper-aggro in the last 100 players!
PKOs are super fun, and I recommend them to everyone, and I hope this basic advice helps you, as I know lots of regular structure players say they don’t like them because they are just gambling. I don’t think that’s true: I just think there is a different strategy required from “normal” structures.
If you have anything to add to this, please do, as I said, I’m no expert.
Happy hunting… unless you’re on my table, in which case… I’m gonna getchya!