Players at EPT Prague got to sample a “Mystery Bounty” tournament for the very first time – a new format in which knocking someone out earns you the chance to pick a random bounty and a potentially huge bonus payday. Irish poker pro – and expert in satellite and bounty tournament play – Dara O’Kearney watched it play out, and here offers his view on how strategy should change in this format.
The Mystery Bounty format looks set to be a staple of live poker in 2022 and beyond. I played my first one recently at EPT Prague and I am as much of a fan as everyone else. Bounty tournaments are so complex they will never be solved, but I will attempt to identify what I see as some of the biggest immediate considerations.
In a Mystery Bounty, once you are eliminated you head off to find out how much each bounty you won is worth. You pick from a pool of random prizes. You could pick a €500 bounty, or it might be a €50,000 bounty, picked essentially from a tombola. Once a bounty is removed from a prize pool it is gone.
From memory, the breakdown of prizes in the event I played looked something like this:
• One bounty worth €50,000
• Two bounties worth €20,000
• Three bounties worth €10,000
• 10 bounties with €5,000
• 20 bounties worth €2,000
• 30 bounties worth €1,000
• 120 bounties worth €500
The big adjustment here is that you have to assume that any bounty you win is worth the average bounty size at the time you won it. In the example above, if you win a bounty at the start with 186 players left, the average bounty is worth €1,612. Just because the €50,000 is in play does not mean you should play as if you will win that.
If you get down to the final table and there are eight €500 bounties left and one €50,000, the average bounty size is now €6,000. As long as the big bounties are in it will bring the average bounty size up, when all the big bounties have been won you can assume the average bounty size is low and switch to a more conservative style.
The bounty prize pool starts on Day 2
This was the big surprise for me when I first played a Mystery Bounty and that there are no bounties won on day one. The event I played had a €2,700 buy-in with €500 going to the bounty pool, but you were only playing for that prize pool on Day 2. This is so the average bounty value will be above €500 and it adds some interesting strategic shifts as a result.
The big one being, I am pretty sure it is advantageous to buy in at the start of Day 2. We lost about 60% of the field on Day 1, so if you buy-in on Day 2 you are sharing 100% of the bounties with just 40% of the field. The fact you have a below average stack mitigates that to some degree, but not completely. Plus you start closer to the money so there is an additional ICM benefit too.
You do come in with less than the average but there will also be lots of players who late reg who you can win a bounty from right away, as well as stacks from Day 1 that ended the day below the average. On my day 2 table, three late reggers joined, and they were immediately able to compete for each other’s bounties, plus one other player who bagged up less than a starting stack.
If you play Day 1, it’s very important to end the day above the starting stack. Day 2 late reggers started with 30 big blinds and it was very important to come in with more than this to cover those players right away.
This creates a satellite ICM effect near the end of Day 2 where risking giving up a big stack if it meant going below 30BBs was a big mistake. However, at the start of Day 1 play should be looser, because you are heavily incentivised to end the day with a big stack. Day 1 is essentially a phase satellite into a KO tournament on Day 2.
If you are a short stack on Day 1 it might be worth gambling at the end of the day. In my event I guesstimated a €2,700 buy-in starting stack was worth more than €3,000 at the start of Day 2. If you are short at the end of Day 1 your stack might only be worth €1,000 and therefore worth gambling with and rebuying if you bust, so you can cover the late reggers. And even if you bust, you can buy a new stack worth something around €3,000 for €300 less.
Bounty formats are here to stay and it is great to see a format that has the gamble and complexity of PKOs make it in the live arena. I think the Mystery Bounty format will be a staple part of every live poker schedule by the end of the year.
Dara O’Kearney is a professional poker player and the author of PKO Poker Strategy, the only book on bounty tournaments.