VSO News’ Dara O’Kearney has provided his top tips for success in Mystery Bounty poker tournaments, straight from his latest book. [Image: Shutterstock.com]
Taking over live poker
In the last year, the format I have been asked the most about is the Mystery Bounty tournament. They have understandably taken over live poker in the last few years and are enjoyed by operators, professionals, and amateurs alike.
There is a lot of confusion about just how influential the bounties should be on your strategy
These events create a unique live atmosphere where people are buzzing… at least until the big bounty is drawn. There then tends to be an overreaction both emotionally and strategically by most people which we go into detail about in my latest book with Barry Carter, “Mystery Bounty Poker Strategy.” There is a lot of confusion about just how influential the bounties should be on your strategy.
Barry and I have been working on Mystery Bounties for a while now and we previously had a template for studying them with our previous work on Progressive Knockout Tournaments. We discovered that there are a lot of similarities and a lot of differences between the two formats.
Biggest book to date
Mystery Bounty Poker Strategy is our fifth book together. We thought it would be a quick read, it ended up being our biggest book to date. In the book we cover:
– Quick bounty math you can do at the tables.
– How much wider your ranges should be to win bounties?
– When is the right time to draw your bounty?
– Playing the bubble and final table.
– Mental game adjustments when the big bounty has been drawn.
– How to adjust to the ever-evolving Mystery Bounty format and new payout structures.
Of all the formats we have written about, we think Mystery Bounties will evolve the most in poker. So we spent a lot of time arming the reader with the tools they need to adjust if the format changes so much it looks unrecognizable in a few years’ time. Right now we have what we call 50/50 Mystery Bounties where half the buy-in goes to the bounty pool and 70/30s where 30% of the buy-in goes to the bounty prize pool.
Some Mystery Bounties start the bounties in the money, some start near the bubble, and the World Series of Poker Million Dollar Bounty only awards bounties very late in the event. I also suspect operators will eventually change the format to ensure a big bounty is still in play toward the end of the event.
Our top tips
We think that the advice in the book will survive any changes to the format. What follows are some quick immediate changes you can make to your game before you read the book:
The first piece of advice is about when to buy into the tournament.
it is instantly profitable to late register most Mystery Bounty tournaments
Most Mystery Bounty events do not see the bounties come into play until Day 2 or at least well after late registration. It stands to reason that the closer you start the tournament to the bounties, the more chance you’ll have of being in the mix when they become winnable. We explore this in more detail later in the book, until then trust us, it is instantly profitable to late register most Mystery Bounty tournaments.
Make sure you cover people
You can’t win bounties if you don’t cover people.
Your priority in these tournaments should be making sure you cover as many people at your table as possible, at least when you get close to the start of the bounty period. That might mean taking a gamble to get a big stack, it also might mean passing a profitable spot to maintain a chip lead.
If you are getting to the end of the re-entry period and you are short-stacked, now is a good time to gamble. If you double up then fantastic, if not you can buy back in for an average stack which should cover a decent amount of people.
Play tighter if you are covered
It’s not the worst advice in the world to simply say do not bluff when you are covered, in particular when short-stacked. Your opponents will be looking for an excuse to get you all-in, they won’t be looking for a reason to fold. On the plus side, this does mean you can value bet thinner than usual.
Bounties make up a big part of your equity at the start of Day 2
The earlier in Day 2 it is, the more the bounties play a part. Once you get to the bounty portion of the tournament, you should be playing most aggressively to win bounties at the start. Bounties make up a big part of your equity at the start of Day 2. The later the day gets the more important it is to make the money/get to the final table. Play looser at the start of the bounty period and play tighter as the day goes on.
Impact of the big bounty
Every time a small bounty is won, the average bounty value creeps up because the big bounties are still in play. When the big bounty is won, the average value of the bounty goes way down. If all the big bounties are gone you should treat the event more like a regular multi-table tournament, if they are still in play then you should make busting players your main goal.
Don’t go crazy, however. If 200 players remain then your chances of winning the biggest bounty are low. Play wider but with survival in mind. If you are at the final table and a bounty bigger than first prize is still in play, then you might be justified in taking a huge gamble to win it.
50/50 mystery bounties are looser than 70/30s
The more of your buy-in that goes into the Mystery Bounty prize pool, the more you should prioritize busting other players. In tournaments where 50% of the entry fee goes into the bounty pool, you should play a lot looser than in ones where only 30% buy-in goes into it.
Suited Broadway hands go up in value
You will inevitably play more multiway pots in Mystery Bounty tournaments as everybody is gunning for a bounty. This changes the type of hands that play well.
Suited Broadway hands like KQs/KJs/QJs go up in value
Small pairs go down in value because you are, at a minimum, facing four overcards in a multiway pot. Hitting a set is a dream scenario, of course, but most of the time you miss and have to fold. Suited Broadway hands like KQs/KJs/QJs go up in value because they can make a straight or flush, they are usually good if they hit a pair, they block some really strong hands, and occasionally against very loose opponents they don’t need to improve. They are much more robust than small pairs.
How to get a player all in by the river
If you have a good hand and you cover a player in a pot, a simple trick you can do to get them all-in by the river is to bet 10% of their stack size on the flop. This might mean overbetting the flop. Doing this means you can bet 2/3rds the pot on the turn and you will have a less-than-pot-sized shove on the river.
It doesn’t matter when you draw your bounty ticket
Seriously, it doesn’t. There is no magic system. Waiting for a few bust-outs or doing it right away does not increase your chances of winning the biggest prize.
If you like the sound of the book but would like even more to get it for free, Vegas Slots Online is doing a free giveaway on Twitter. We are giving away a free electronic copy to five readers who like and retweet our post.