How To Win PKO Poker Games

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A man at a poker table celebrates having four aces in his hand.
BetMGM Apr 18, 2024, 3:15 AM

Progressive knockout (PKO) tournaments are becoming increasingly popular with online poker players. Only 10-15% of players will make it into the money in a multi-table tournament (MTT), but PKOs offer the chance to start making money from the get-go. That’s because, in PKO online poker tournaments, every player has a cash bounty on their head, meaning they can hunt other players or be hunted in their turn. This dynamic makes for an exciting experience appreciated by serious players who train up on poker solvers and recreational players who are more interested in the most popular drinks at the poker table. It also opens up the possibility of playing the tournament in multiple ways, depending on whether you focus on the bounty, the final table, or both. This blog unpacks the different ways to win money in PKO games (and gives you some helpful poker tournament tips).

What Are Progressive Knockout Poker Games?

So, what is PKO poker, exactly? Progressive knockout tournaments are one of the three main types of bounty tournaments you’re likely to come across when you play poker online — the other two being standard knockout tournaments and mystery bounty tournaments

This fun and dynamic poker tournament has three basic elements. The bedrock is a regular MTT, where players fight for chips until they make the money and, hopefully, the final table with its lucrative prize pool. Add to that the knock-out concept, where a portion of each player’s buy-in is allocated to their bounty. If a player is knocked out, their bounty goes to the sharp-shooting player responsible.

The third element in the PKO formula – part of what makes them so entertaining – is the progressive aspect. You may be familiar with progressive jackpots from online casino games like Mega Moolah. PKOs use a similar concept. Suppose you’re in a PKO tournament with a $42 buy-in. From that amount, $20 goes to the prize pool, $20 goes to the bounty pool, and $2 takes care of the tournament fee. So, you start with a bounty of $20. You knock out another player. Half their bounty ($10) is credited to your account right away (in live poker tournaments, you get a special redeemable chip instead), and the other half ($10) is added to your bounty, taking it to $30. You then knock out another player with a $30 bounty, which brings yours to $45. And so on.

In a PKO, your bounty can snowball to a considerable amount. If you’re the overall tournament winner, you get to keep it all. But if you don’t, you still get to keep any bounty you’ve earned from knocking other players out. This makes PKOs very friendly on the bankroll, which helps account for their popularity.

Why Should You Play PKO Poker Tournaments?

Bounty tournaments like PKOs are a great way to take a step outside of your comfort zone and add some excitement to your online poker experience. There are various reasons this tournament format is rising in popularity. 

When you learn and apply the right PKO poker strategy, these games can be highly profitable. Firstly, if you’re good at math and have developed a solid understanding of how to play PKO tournaments, you’ll already have an edge over the other players. This is because many new players struggle to adapt to the unique gameplay and dynamics of PKOs. They tend to find it challenging to figure out the bounty distribution, especially when making the right decisions about when to call or show their cards. If you can successfully navigate these challenges and bust more players, not only does your bounty grow, but you win more money. 

PKOs are also more exciting than many standard poker tournament formats. Where other online tournament formats can become monotonous, PKOs boast non-stop action because of the potential for instant financial rewards from the bounties. This is especially exciting for casual players willing to take more risks to win a big bounty. The potential prize encourages players to play more hands, leading to bigger pots, so if you know what you’re doing, there is a lot of potential to build your stack.

PKOs aren’t as volatile as other tournament formats, either. Unlike other MTTs, where you can make one smart move after another and still lose all of your money due to one unlucky moment, with PKOs, you get your money every time you eliminate someone — and you get it immediately. This system reduces the financial ups and downs common with tournaments, making PKOs less risky for your bankroll. Additionally, you can still make money even if you don’t reach the finishing positions of the tournament. 

PKO Poker Tournament Tips

So now you can see two significant prizes to play for in PKO online poker. There’s the money in the prize pool, and there’s the money on your opponents’ heads. At the same time, you have to be ready to defend your bounty. These factors, in combination, mean you’ll need to vary your play and adjust your PKO poker strategy according to the specific situation you’re facing at any given time.

The fundamental question you’ll have to consider when participating in a tournament is what holds the most value for you: gunning for your opponent’s bounty or playing for chips in conventional MTT style? To answer this question, you need to know the value of the bounty and whether it’s worth the risk. As a rule of thumb, look at the ratio of their bounty to their chip stack. Say you’re playing PKO live poker online, and you notice that your opponent has racked up a bunch of starting bounties but is running low on chips. Provided that you have them covered, that’s a high-value target that you want to take down. As a result, you should be prepared to vary your play a great deal.

Conversely, an opponent with a deep or medium stack and only a few bounties doesn’t have much bounty value to offer you. Instead, play against them like you’d play in a regular tournament — be sure not to make donk bets.

PKO Dos and Don’ts

Many progressive knockout poker players get caught up in bounty hunting, and who can blame them? It’s tremendous fun, after all. But if you’re serious about making it into the money, there are a few more things to consider. First, vary your play according to what stage of the tournament you’re in. Don’t risk your stack by chasing bounties in the early stages unless you’re a clear favorite. Instead, play fairly tight and build your chip stack.

As the tournament progresses, boosted bounties will begin to appear, and some of them will be attractive targets. The general rule is to play tight against opponents who cover you and aggressive against opponents you have covered. The best situation is when you stand to win a player’s bounty and take their chips.

Bounties tend to stack up in the later stages, while your opponents will often be short-stacked. These are attractive and legitimate targets, but you must be ready to risk your stack. Say you’re in a hijack position. A short-stacked player goes all in from under the gun. Rather than call, you’ll be better off re-raising all-in with a stack of 30–40 big blinds. That way, other players who may have you covered are less likely to get involved.

Adjust Your Range to Your Stack

Sometimes, you’ll be the short-stacked player with the juicy bounty on their head. When this happens, your opponents will be less likely to fold when you shove. It’s still a good idea to be aggressive – otherwise, the blinds and antes will bleed you dry – but you should adjust your shoving ranges to the situation. Try to go all in with big cards and fold weaker Texas Hold’em poker hands like suited connectors.

Conversely, if you’re deep-stacked halfway through a PKO, players will avoid risking their stacks to confront you. Take advantage of the situation to attack the blinds and steal pots until your stack is so big you’re practically untouchable.

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are casino experts with a wealth of knowledge of the online casino industry at all levels. Their coverage includes company news, game reviews, how-to instructional articles, strategy guides, and editorials showcasing BetMGM’s superior product and game library.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are casino experts with a wealth of knowledge of the online casino industry at all levels. Their coverage includes company news, game reviews, how-to instructional articles, strategy guides, and editorials showcasing BetMGM’s superior product and game library.