Are Knockout tournaments good for poker?

With the news that partypoker are hosting a PKO version of their Main Event, Barry Carter looks at how popular bounty MTTs have become.

partypoker PKO

Tonight partypoker’s flagship Sunday tournament, the Sunday Main Event, will be a Progressive Knockout. Almost without exception the ‘Main Event’ of a live or online festival, or just a weekly MTT schedule, is a straightforward MTT, so this is quite a bold move.

However, not entirely unexpected in hindsight. All the talk in tournament poker might be on things like shot clocks or guarantees or re-entries, but maybe the biggest difference between an online MTT lobby now and just a couple of years ago is the number of bounty tournaments on offer. It’s getting close to 50% of the regular tournaments on some sites.

Not only are partypoker leading the way with this Main Event (I have been informed it is a one off with a view to reviewing how popular it proves) they are also about to launch a dedicated KO Series between February 25 to March 4 (The first of three this year). This reminds me of the Turbo Series from PokerStars which is bringing to the fore a very popular format that previously would just be deemed a novelty.

More bang for a casual player's buck

PokerStars PKO

I’m not surprised by the rise in popularity of bounty tournaments, because they largely present a win-win for a lot of different parties. For the operators they keep a lot more money in the poker ecosystem. Whereas 10-20% of a normal tournament field would win prizes usually (and a handful of those would win the lion’s share of them) a much bigger percentage of the players get at least something back in a knockout tournament. This means more players have funds to keep on playing on the site with after the tournament.

For recreational players this means they get more bang for their buck and won’t have to reload quite as often. They might be having a shot at a $55 tournament with their entire bankroll and most of the time that would be the end of it, but they can have a stab at maybe a $22 game if they managed to bust another player despite not making the official money.

I think knockouts are also enticing in the bigger buy-in events for those who have satellited into them. Taking the partypoker Main Event, for a typical $5.50 MTT player who satellites in to that $215 event the bounties alone could represent a good day at the office for them. Bust one player for $100 and you are freerolling the rest of the tournament. I’m a big fan of anything that respects the time of poker players, especially recreational players, and while a bounty tournament takes just as long as any other, getting to the money is not quite as laborious because you could already be in profit before the first five minute break.

Less emphasis on the 'business end' of MTTs

partypoker PKO

Plus they are just fun. Recreational players love going all-in and they also love ‘busting’ somebody. It’s a mark of honour if they bust somebody well known. So any tournament that provides an extra bonus for KO-ing other players is obviously hitting a sweet spot for casual players.

There is quite a bit of detraction in the serious player community about how ubiquitous knockout tournaments are becoming. Some think they are a cynical ploy to keep more money in the poker ecosystem. Some don’t like the fact that they significantly decrease the main prize pool and that the cash on the final table is a fraction of what it otherwise would be. If you are a skilled MTT player with lots of endgame experience then this is not your ideal format. Some don’t like the much more gambling ‘crapshooty’ way they play out and fans of late regging do not appreciate a significant portion of the prize pool having been awarded before they start playing.

All these criticisms are 100% valid, these games have much more gamble in them and take money away from the ‘business end’ of tournaments where the better players tend to thrive. But KO tournaments are also fun, they keep the recreational players on the site and you will see some very bad overcalls just to get a bounty. The concerns about bounty tournaments are valid but if the biggest complaints about them are they appeal to recreational players who make reckless calls, maybe they are actually not the worst choice for professionals either?

Are KO tournaments good for poker? Let us know in the comments:

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Comments (10)

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  • anduke


    Some really good points brought up here, more money in the ecosystem means better longevity for the game.
  • CucumbaMan


    Yes and I agree with the point that this is very good for recreational players as well, especially when they won a sattelite. Great article!
  • Primrose6789


    Absolutely agree with everything written here, too! PKOs are big fun and I like them. You got WAY more recreational players in it than in a "normal" freezeout and you´re more than happy when a rec makes a horrible call when you hold AA or jams all-in when you got the nuts. The price pool may be indeed smaller but there is enough profit from LAG-fishes and the implied odds are excellent. You hit a set or hold a good hand, you can be sure there is somebody who fully pays you out. Then you not only get the recs bounty but also increase your stack which makes it more likely that you make it (deep) ITM. :)
  • VorpalF2F


    It is necessary to recognize that your playing style needs to change to play them successfully. Nits need not apply. A min-cash with no bounty often barely repays the buy-in if at all. When a player you cover has a bounty that is > than the buy-in it is often worth the risk of trying to bust him -- especially if you already have more bounties than the buy-in
  • tonypmm


    Party's KO series tourneys would be good if they didn't end too late at night. I've seen no early turbos / hypers there. What a shame.
  • tonypmm


    As for the prevalence of PKOs on the regular schedules, even though its close to 50%, the schedules themselves have shrunk so much (in order to increase the avg guar per tourney) that it's still hard to make an efficient MTT career without playing non-KOs. I guess, I need to wait for a few more years until PKOs conquer the MTT world completely.
  • tonypmm


    'If you are a skilled MTT player with lots of endgame experience then this is not your ideal format.' - Actually, the ratio of the bounty to the regular prize pool decreases as the tourney progresses and bounties are taken out of the pool, so I think bounties only slightly loosen the final table up.

    The tourney format where bounties make the final table ICM the most deviant from the non-bounty ICM are 18-man hyper super-KO SNGs and 18-90-man on-demand PKO SNGs, not kilofield MTTs, because the short duration of SNGs results in a relatively smaller bounty amount being taken away during the game, and a bigger share of the bounty prize pool going to the winner of the tourney.
  • tonypmm


    * the ratio of the bounty *prize pool* to the regular prize pool. I mean, even in PKOs, where the avg bounty size increases as the game progresses, it doesn't increase nearly as fast as the avg stack size.
  • ddaims


    @tonypmm, i agree on what you are saying about final table play. I make slight adjustments depending on villain. But it's definetly not that i go bonkers for a bounty at final tables. However, imo PKO simply requires us to play slightly more gamble-ish. In my experience i dont see the fish going bonkers either. Like you say, slightly looser.
  • ddaims


    With all that being said, I think PKO's are a very good thing for poker. Lot's of money in it. If a player knows how to adjust and how to play pko's.