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Mystery bounty tournaments

How to Crush Mystery Bounty Tournaments

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Last weekend I played in a “Mystery Bounty” event at BestBet cardroom in Jacksonville, Florida. Although I didn’t cash, I thought it would be worth telling the story and talking about the optimal strategy, especially given that there is a new bracelet event at the World Series of Poker this summer (Event #68, “Million Dollar Bounty”).

The Mystery Bounty tournament combines elements of both bounty and non-bounty tournaments, as well as the luck of a random prize drawing. Understandably, these tournaments create a lot of excitement for players.

How the Mystery Bounty Works

In large, multi-day mystery bounty tournaments, Day 1 proceeds as a normal non-bounty tournament, with everyone who advances to Day 2 being in the money. But on Day 2, bounties are awarded every time a player is knocked out. However, instead of everyone receiving the same bounty amount, there is a wide range of bounties. You may get $100 or you may get $20,000, depending on how the bounty was randomly assigned (or drawn).

The event I played at BestBet was a $1,680 buy-in mystery bounty tournament with $180 paid to the house as the entry fee, $500 going into a bounty pool, and $1,000 going into the prize pool paid to those who cash. If there are 1,000 players in this event, there is $500,000 in the bounty pool. If 10% of the players cash and move to Day 2, then 100 players are playing for $1,000,000 in the main prize pool and $500,000 in bounties! Instead of each player getting a $5,000 bounty, payouts might be distributed in the mystery bounty format as follows:

$100,0001 Bounty
$50,0003 Bounties
$25,0006 Bounties
$5,00010 Bounties
$1,00020 Bounties
$50060 Bounties
Mystery Bounty Payout Example

So everyone on Day 2 will have a bounty on them of at least their original contribution of $500, but 10 people will have a bounty at least 50x that amount (the $25K and above group), and one lucky person (unlucky?) will have a $100,000 bounty on their head. Of course, you don’t know what bounty you’re going to get until you knock someone out, but each player you knock out could be worth $100,000. That may happen in the first few minutes of Day 2 when the first player is knocked out, or it could happen at the final table. No one knows who that max bounty is.

In smaller one-day tournaments, the format may vary. Sometimes mystery bounties may even be awarded before the money is reached.

Tip #1 For Playing Mystery Bounty Tournaments

First of all, always check the amount of your buy-in that goes to the Mystery Bounty.  Obviously, the higher percentage of the buy-in that goes to the bounty, the more you need to adjust your strategy from your typical play.  The approximately 30% bounty allocation in the example above is fairly standard.  The WSOP event this summer, for example, has $300 out of the $1,000 buy-in going to the bounty pool. 

Also, confirm when the bounties begin being distributed to understand how much money will be in the bounty pool and when you can begin to target them.

Tip #2 For Playing Mystery Bounty Tournaments

This is the most important point. Trying to min-cash is a bad strategy in a normal MTT. In a mystery bounty, it’s even worse. A min-cash may barely get you your buy-in back. A smaller percentage of the prize money is going into the non-bounty pool. Thus, the value of those payouts, compared to your buy-in, decreases significantly. This is particularly true of the min payouts.

The correct strategy in a mystery bounty tournament is to build up a big stack so that when you get to Day 2, you are poised to take down all the bounties you can. That’s where the real money is. Consider the example above. A min-cash might only be $2,000, but each bounty is worth an average of $5000. ‘Nuff said. 

Tip #3 For Playing Mystery Bounty Tournaments

Once you make Day 2, just remember this fact: if 30% of the buy-in goes to the bounty pool, and only 10% of the field makes Day 2, then each bounty is worth roughly 3 buy-ins. Think about this: how far up in the money ladder do you have to get to win 3x your money back? The bounties are going to be the easiest way to turn a substantial profit. If you have any reasonable chance of picking up a bounty, go for it. 

EXAMPLE:  Let’s say the tournament has a 25K starting stack. On Day 2, you have 200K chips, and are in a hand with 50K in the pot. You are heads-up and your opponent shoves for 50K more. You believe you have a 30% chance of winning against his shoving range.  Do you call? 

ANSWER:  If you have any trouble with this one, you fundamentally don’t understand Mystery Bounty tournaments. After you call, there will be 150K chips in the pot. You have a 30% chance of winning, so you only expect to get 45K chips from the pot. That’s a loss of 5K chips, which (ignoring ICM) you could estimate is a loss in real money of about 1/5 of a buy-in. 

BUTTTT, you also have a 30% chance of picking up a bounty worth 3 TIMES A BUY-IN.  So it’s not even close. It’s an easy call. Even if you only have a 25% chance of winning, it’s still an easy call (you can check the math yourself). 

Tip #4 For Playing Mystery Bounty Tournaments

The final consideration follows from the last one. While each bounty is worth about 3x a buy-in, you have also entered the lottery phase of this structure. In our example, once you are in the money, you have a 1% chance of getting 59x your buy-in if you get lucky and nail the top prize. Now those may not seem like great odds, but they are much better than most sweepstakes/drawings you enter for a substantial top prize. If you happened to satellite in to this tournament for $300, then your pay-off is over 300x your buy-in. That can be life changing money: at least in terms of your poker life.

Final Thoughts

There is no doubt that mystery bounty tournaments will continue to crop up everywhere poker is played. They create great excitement, draw large fields, and have energized the poker tournament scene. However, many people are still applying their standard tournament approaches to the mystery bounty. Don’t be one of them. Get active on Day 1, build that stack, and be poised to grab multiple bounties on Day 2. If you do, you have positioned yourself to possibly have one of the biggest paydays of your poker life.

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Steve Blay

Steve Blay is a poker author, inventor, and the founder of Advanced Poker Training.

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