2014 WSOP Main Event Champion and 888poker Ambassador Martin Jacobsen Shares Tips on Playing Progressive Knockout Tournaments

Progressive Knockout tournaments (PKO) have become one of the most popular poker tournament formats over recent years.

The appeal for PKOs comes from the way the prize pool is distributed. Half of each entry fee is designated as a bounty upon the entering player’s head. When that player is eliminated from the tournament, half of the bounty is paid out immediately to the player that made the knockout, and the other half is added to the bounty of the player that made the knockout.

Nearly every online poker room holds PKO tournaments, so we asked 888poker ambassador and 2014 World Series of Poker Main Event champion Martin Jacobsen to share some of his knowledge about the game in the form of tips for beginning players.

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What considerations are important for players to note when entering a PKO tournament?

It’s important to realize that PKO tournaments are different in the way the prize pool is distributed between a knockout pool and a regular payout structure. As you might have guessed, this also changes the strategy approach as each elimination rewards you with a bounty prize.

Each player starts with a bounty equal to 50% of the tournament buy in, but you only win half of this amount when you knock somebody out. The other half gets added on top of your own bounty, which of course incentives other players to try to knock you out. The only way you’re able to cash out your own bounty is if you’re fortunate enough to win the tournament.

How does PKO strategy differ from standard MTT strategy in the early stages of a tournament? In the late stages?

Contrary to what may seem intuitive, in the early stages the bounties are actually worth more because you can realize equity by cashing out part of the prize pool straight away. This is one of many properties which makes bounty tournaments unique as it encourages lots of action early on.

Bounties are naturally bigger deeper in the tournament, as people have been knocked out along the way, but it’s important to not get too carried away and forget basic tournament fundamentals and tournament life value as there’s now more money to be made via the regular payout structure.

What are some of the most common mistakes players new to PKO tournaments make, and what should they be doing differently?

The biggest mistake I see people make is to play way too loose while aggressively chasing bounties. The second biggest is not adjusting to the bounty format at all. I believe the optimal strategy lies somewhere in the middle.

Adjust for the bounty.

If you cover your opponent or estimate a certain player is playing way too aggressively while trying to get your bounty, play a little bit looser than normal, but never abandon solid poker fundamentals just because there are bounties in play.

What PKO concept is most misunderstood by standard MTT players? Please explain.

Just like players who are new to the concept I see regular MTT players playing too aggressively when attacking the bounties. I also see poor counter adjustments in the opening and shoving ranges which can be costly when the general population are playing a very loose and aggressive strategy.

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From a math perspective, what are some simple adjustments that will help inexperienced PKO players be more successful?

​To eliminate the guess work there’s a few formulas which calculates the value of each bounty. We’re doing so by turning the cash value of each bounty into chips. For example, if the tournament has a starting stack of 10,000 chips, then one bounty has the value of 2500 chips (the value you win straight away, granted this does not take into account the outcome of you winning the tournament and cashing out your own bounty).

If somebody goes all-in for 10,000 chips and one bounty, they are technically all-in for 12,500 but you still only need to call the 10,000 subtracted by what you have already put in. As you can see, calling becomes a lot more lucrative in bounty tournaments as you’re immediately getting more favorable pot odds, and as a result need less equity to justify a call.

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