If a decision is close, think about what the table would look like after you win or lose a hand in a PKO tournament.
When I first started learning poker over a decade ago I cut my teeth in SNGs where we had a popular strategy concept called Table Management. This was essentially when a decision was close, letting what the makeup of the table would look like after you won or lost be the deciding factor.
You didn’t want to double up somebody behind you with a 10 big blind stack, for example, because it would give them a reshoving stack. There were also spots on the bubble where you would leave a short stack alive because their presence meant you could bully the bigger stacks.
That concept went away as the solvers took over the game and you would just play your range accordingly. However, table management is a big consideration again, when it comes to PKO tournaments. This is especially the case in the early stages when the bounties are a big relative factor.
Who covers who after the hand?
Pay attention to who covers who
This is because whom you cover in a PKO is crucial to your profitability and being able to cover everyone at your table means you are competing for the biggest prize pool. As such your decision is not just about your range vs their range, it is about engineering situations where you can cover the big bounties.
For example, if you have the chip lead and are facing a marginally +EV decision for a small bounty, but losing the hand would mean you no longer cover four people at the table, it might be better to pass. If you have the chip lead and calling and losing would not take the chip lead away from you, then you can certainly make those marginal calls.
If you are 6/9 and winning the hand would make you 1/9 and players 2, 3 and 4 are all big bounties, that might make a marginally-EV call a snap. There is additional equity in being the chip leader and it is worth taking or passing thin EV lines to make sure you cover everyone.
Additional equity in getting the chip lead
Not every spot is worth taking, of course. If you are 2/9 and the 1/9 player is either very tight or only has one starting bounty, it doesn’t make much sense trying to cover them because you are unlikely to be rewarded trying to take them out. They either won’t give up the chips or the small bounty is not worth the risk. If they are tight, you can also safely assume that you will have the run of the table as 2/9 anyway, as they will fold most hands preflop.
It’s good to have 20 big blind stacks ahead of you in PKOs because you can 3-bet them wide and you will get very good odds to call them for their bounty if they come over the top of you.
What will the table be like if you win or lose?
Trying to get the chip lead also includes taking non-standard lines with hands. For example, if you have a very strong hand it would be normal to 3-bet with it and a lot of the time you take down a small pot. In a PKO it is often worth just flatting with hands like these and risking elimination if winning more chips would put you in a chip lead position.
In any PKO hand you can boil down how to adjust as follows, you have three decisions:
How would I play this in a normal MTT?
How does the presence of the bounty change things?
What will the new table situation be after I win or lose the hand?
That final point is currently where the solvers fall short and there is a lot of additional equity in covering people at the table in PKOs, it should not be ignored in any part of your decision making.
Dara O’Kearney’s new book PKO Poker Strategy is available on kindle or paperback at Amazon right now.
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