If you have never played in a bounty tournament, you have some serious explaining to do. Not only are they some of the most fun poker tournaments on the planet, but they also weigh in as one of the heaviest values that you can find on most tournament schedules. Any time we see that a bounty tournament is going to start soon, we immediately cancel all of our plans for the evening and begin the registration process.
Whether you are playing poker in an online poker room or in a brick-and-mortar casino, you will have the option of entering into a bounty tournament. These tournaments are similar to freezeout tournaments, except that there is a bounty on each player’s head.
Whenever a player knocks another player out of the tournament by taking all of their chips, they will receive the bounty prize, which is usually about 20% of the total buy-in amount. Any time this bounty is 50% of the buy-in or more, it is referred to as a super-knockout bounty tournament. As soon as that player loses all of their chips, they will be eliminated from the tournament, with no option to rebuy.
If you compare a bounty tournament’s payout structure with a freezeout tournament of a similar buy-in, you will notice that between 10-20% of the total player field will receive some money for their efforts in both cases. The only difference is that the dollar prizes for each finisher will be a little lighter, due to 20% of the prize pool going toward bounties.
There is also a specific variation of bounty tournament called a progressive bounty tournament. These types of bounty tournaments will usually allocate half of each buy-in into the prize pool, and the other half will go toward player bounties. These bounties are progressive in nature, which means that, whenever you knock out a player, you claim half of their total bounty value, while the other half of the bounty is added to your own personal bounty.
One other rare variation of bounty tournament is known as a fixed bounty tournament. This is where only certain players have bounties on their head, and this is usually advertised in the tournament’s lobby. This special list could also sometimes include players who are sponsored by the website, otherwise known as Team Pros. Normally, these types of players have a bounty on their head in every tournament that they play.
One of the biggest positive aspects of bounty tournaments is that they make every pot more fun, since there is the possibility of winning real money in each hand. This is even more pronounced in the progressive bounty tournaments, where bounties on each player can sometimes grow to be thousands of dollars by the time the final table rolls around. When this is the case, each hand is noticeably more exciting.
The second advantage of playing in bounty tournaments is that you have a chance to make money without waiting around for 85% of the field to get eliminated. Normally multi-table poker tournaments require you to play for numerous hours before you are guaranteed any prizes, and bounty tournaments solve this problem with ease.
A third example of why bounty tournaments are a great format is that they allow us to play a little bit outside of our usual buy-in limits. The reason for this is because these types of tournaments involve slightly less variance due to the occasional bounty payouts. Any time there is a situation where variance is lower than usual, we can take larger risks with our bankroll.
The fourth reason why we feel that bounty tournaments are great is that people seem to play looser. This means that pots will be bigger on average, and people will even chase bounties with terrible hands just because they want a piece of their buy-in back. This also makes it easier to play profitably, which we will cover in our next section about bounty tournament strategy.
Bounty Tournament Strategy
Before you enter any type of poker tournament these days, it is important to study the specific strategy that applies to that tournament’s format. This will make you better prepared for the variance of the tournament poker world and give you a better chance at getting your buy-ins back or even making a steady profit.
Converting Bounties to Chips
In order to create a proper strategy, we first need to know how to calculate what each bounty truly means in terms of chip amounts. These strategies should have nothing to do with just calling all-ins on a whim to win money. These strategies have everything to do with converting the bounties into chip amounts which can then be used to calculate pot odds.
The only problem is that there are so many different types of bounty tournaments, and the bounties are a different value in each one. Therefore, the math in similar situations will give different answers from one type of bounty tournament to another. The best thing to do is consider each example individually so that we will know how to adjust to whatever bounty format we come across.
In the case of a normal bounty tournament where the bounty is 20% of the $100 buy-in, let’s assume that the starting stack was 1,000 chips. This means that we will be paying $80 for 1000 chips, which comes out to 12.5 chips per dollar. Since the bounty is worth $20, this means the bounty in a normal bounty format is worth exactly 250 chips, or 25% of the original starting stack.
For a super-knockout bounty tournament with a $100 buy-in, which includes a 50% bounty, let’s assume the starting stack is once again 1,000 chips. This means that we are paying $50 for our 1000 chips and $50 towards the bounty. Using the same math from the regular bounty example, we can easily compute that this comes out to 20 chips per dollar. Since the bounty is $50, then the corresponding chip amount will be 1000 chips, or 100% of the starting stack.
The final format to consider is progressive knockout tournaments, in which the bounties snowball up to very large amounts by the time the final table rolls around. This math will be a little more complicated, since the bounty amount on each player’s head is different from person to person, but it is still very doable.
Assuming the same scenario of a $100 buy-in with a 50% progressive bounty, this means that $50 of the buy-in goes towards the prize pool and the other $50 goes towards the bounty on each player’s head. However, only half of this bounty will be rewarded to us when we eliminate a player, since the other half of that eliminated player’s bounty will be added to our own bounty. This means that each bounty is worth 500 chips, or 50% of the buy-in amount.
Eventually, you will go deep in one of these tournaments, and that is when the confusing math regarding bounty conversions might occur. However, all you need to remember is what the chip value was for one bounty amount, and then multiply that by the number of bounties that are possible to win.
For example, if someone already has the equivalent amount of 10 bounties on their head in a progressive bounty tournament, and you know the value of 1 bounty is 1000 chips, you can simply add 10,000 chips to the number of chips in the pot before you calculate the pot odds.
Calculating Pot Odds
Now that you know exactly what each bounty is worth and how to adapt to different bounty payout structures, you simply need to apply those chip amounts to each pot whenever there is a bounty involved in the decision.
Let’s pretend that someone went all-in preflop for 10 big blinds in a tournament that has a 20% bounty, and these 10 big blinds happen to add up to the same amount of chips that you all started the tournament with. You are the last person to act in the big blind, and everyone else folded, leaving you with a simple math problem. You already have one big blind in the pot, and you need to call 9 more to win a total of 20.5 big blinds, right?
Wrong! The pot is not just 20.5 big blinds; it is technically larger due to the bounty on the all-in player’s head. By checking the examples above, you can see that when the bounty is 20% of the buy-in, then the bounty is worth 25% of the starting stack. Since the starting stack in this example was 10 big blinds, this means the bounty is worth 2.5 big blinds. Therefore, you need to call 9 big blinds to win 23 big blinds.
As you may have noticed, only paying 9 big blinds to win 23 big blinds will allow you to profitably call with a noticeably lighter range of hands than if it was a freezeout, where the same hand would be 9 big blinds to win a pot of 20.5 big blinds. This optimal math, combined with the average human’s common misperception of how to play bounty tournaments, explains why there are so many more all-in situations in a bounty tournament than usual.
Don’t Chase Bounties
One key mistake that we see players make all the time is chasing bounties when there is no math to justify it. For example, you will often see players call all-in with just a flush draw at 10-20 blinds with 3000 chips in bounty tournaments.
Most people play like this because they think the whole idea of the tournament is to accumulate as many bounties as you can. This is a poor way to go about things, because the object of the tournament is to get first place, just like in all other poker tournament formats.
The only difference between bounty tournaments and other tournaments formats, from a strategy perspective, is that the bounties sometimes alter the pot odds in all-in situations. This does not mean that you should start headhunting people just because you want to get some money back as quickly as possible. All you need to do is play your normal tournament strategy and be able to realize whenever an all-in situation occurs where you need to convert the bounties into chip amounts.
Future Bounty Considerations
A simple, yet painful, truth for those who are short-stacked in a bounty tournament is that they don’t have a chance of winning anyone’s bounty. This means that unless they double up a few times, they are only competing for half of the prize pool.
This is why it is important to consider how many chips you will be left with if you choose poorly during a decision in a hand. In any borderline situation where you will be left with fewer chips than everyone else at the table if you fold, you should lean toward a decision other than folding.
However, these future bounty considerations can be considered a small adjustment to your usual strategy. You should not go crazy and call off half of your stack with nothing just because folding would make you a short stack.
You should just use personal judgment to decide when this is necessary, which will become easier with experience. We recommend not taking such a kamikaze approach if you have a huge edge on the other players at the table, since you will likely have more chips than all of them in the near future.
As you may have noticed, bounty tournaments can be quite a zoo. Most people who play bounty tournaments are not zoo animals, but they certainly seem to value money heavily.
The math of all-in situations tends to justify this strategy of playing crazier than usual, but sometimes people take it way too far. It is for this reason that bluffing does not work as much as it does in other tournament formats, especially in the early levels.
Due to the fact that there are a ton of people who view these tournaments like they are a contest to see who can get the most bounties, we do not recommend doing as many all-in bluffs as you might be accustomed to. You can, however, adjust your preflop all-in shoving ranges to compensate for the expected increase in hands that will call your all-in bets.
The value that these bounties hold in comparison to the size of the pot diminishes greatly as the tournament gets to the later stages. You wouldn’t be able to tell that from watching most people who make it deep in bounty tournaments, though, as they will routinely make awful calls due to their misperception of the overall value of a bounty.
As a rule, we recommend not bluffing people with huge stacks, as they clearly did not get those chips from folding. It is usually correct to assume that someone with a huge stack in a bounty tournament, especially in the early stages, does not have the act of folding on their mind.
Most people play these games similar to a shooting video game, in which they just want to take out as many people as possible before they get knocked out themselves. Therefore, this is not a great environment for trying to push people around. If you must bluff, try to do it against someone who does not have a lot of chips, and put them to a decision for their tournament life, preferably on the payout bubble.
Final Table Strategy
The strategy for bounty tournament final tables will be very similar to that of freezeout tournaments, except that the bounties play a smaller part in each decision. They are not nearly as important as they were in the early stages, since the payouts at a final table dwarf the amount of the bounty.
The reason for this lack of importance is that the number of chips that each bounty is worth is quite small compared to the average stack of a final table. Not only that, but finishing one spot higher at a final table is usually worth numerous bounties.
The only time where bounties play a large part in final table decisions is during the progressive bounty variations. As you can imagine, these bounties can get pretty high, and 25% of the prize pool will be sitting on the final table in the form of bounties. This could sometimes result in decisions where there are hundreds of bounties on the line in one hand.
The cool part about these progressive bounty final tables is that if you get first place, you also get to keep your own bounty, which could be thousands of dollars by that point. This means that this format is EXTREMELY top heavy, and a strategy that aims specifically toward finishing in first place will do quite well here.
We love bounties so much, you might as well call us Dog. We have hunted far and wide for this tournament format, because they are so much fun. They also offer a great deal of value, due to the common misperceptions of the average player when it comes to bounty value.
By using proper strategy, which includes things such as properly converting bounties to chips and not bluffing as much as normal, you will be able to turn a solid profit in bounty tournaments. We believe that this is the easiest format of poker for beginners to beat, due to the effectiveness of simply waiting for a good hand.