Review: PKO Poker Strategy by Dara O’Kearney

2 weeks ago
Review: PKO Poker Strategy by Dara O’Kearney
18 Jul

One of the newest wrinkles in online poker tournament action is the progressive knockout [PKO] tourney. The dynamic format, which is rapidly gaining in popularity on many global networks, is akin to a typical knockout or bounty tournament, but with a twist: In PKO tourneys, only a portion (most often 50%) of a bounty is awarded to the claiming player in cash, while the remaining share is instead added to the player’s own bounty.

In this way, the bounties themselves grow in size through the tournament, somewhat negating the traditional bounty reality that near the end of a normal bounty tourney, those bounties don’t matter too much in relation to the remaining payouts. But how does one find the proper strategies for this new format? That’s where Dara O’Kearney and Barry Carter step in with PKO Poker Strategy.

It’s the second poker-strat collaboration from the pair, following the release of their Poker Satellite Strategy a year and a half ago. This time, though, it’s a dive into an area few others have thoroughly explored; it’s the first printed book on PKO strategy and it joins just a small handful of online courses available on the topic. As with their earlier collaboration, O’Kearney serves as the primary analyst and statistician while Carter packages the end product. Here, that produces a book that’s esoteric is spots but is a must-read for players serious about upping their PKO games.

Perhaps the biggest surprise that O’Kearney and Carter reveal is how radically different optimal PKO tactics are when contrasted against other, more familiar tourney formats.

“We have a general assumption that you are a serious amateur player rather than a professional,” the pair write. “The advice in this book is aimed at both amateurs and professionals alike (in fact some of it we consider very advanced), but it is written mostly with amateurs in mind to make it accessible to both parties.”

It is indeed an advanced book, if aimed largely at amateurs, being very heavy on tables and ranges while examining the impact of such concepts as the Independent Chip Model (ICM), which used to calculate a player’s equity at any given time in an event. The truth, though, as the pair explain, is that ICM calculations still only offer a rough approximation of the reality in PKO play. The format is still so new that analysts are still optimizing their approach.

“We expect the strategy advice to evolve,” the authors admit.

Yet the math already available (and presented here) offers plenty of surprising insight. For instance, in a normal $100 sit-’n-go, for example, if two players were to go all in in the first hand; the winning player might have doubled his chips, but he hasn’t quite doubled his equity. Instead, all the other players at the table gain a little bit of equity simply by way of one player having already been eliminated. In PKOs, however, that equity situation has been reversed: Given the same first-hand, all-in collision, the winning player not only has doubled his chips, he has more than doubled his equity, including that portion of the bounty he’s already pocketed. 

Such counterintuitive results are part of what make PKO Poker Strategy such a worthwhile read. (And, if you want to know the actual equity percentages, O’Kearney details how to calculate them.) The book’s 14 chapters and 180-plus pages tackle topic after topic, situation after situation. Most players can understand, intuitively, that a shorter-stacked player who’s already accumulated several bounties is an exceptionally juicy target, and extra risk -- expressed as widened calling range -- is appropriate. O’Kearney’s goal here is to teach players how not to just wing it, and instead be able to properly calculate how much risk to take.

There’s a lot to digest here in what is a relatively thin strategy tome, yet the analysis is new and groundbreaking enough that it should bring a handsome reward to those who digest and apply the concepts. PKOs aren’t for everyone, but like any new format, there are plenty of soft spots available, plenty of players who haven’t quite figured it all out. O’Kearney and Carter have offered a solid tool for climbing that knowledge curve at a very reasonable price.

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Veteran poker and gambling writer/editor Haley Hintze has provided content throughout the gambling world for nearly 20 years. Widely known for her work on online poker's insider-cheating scandals in the late 2000s, she's been a two-time Global Poker Awards finalist and a prior finalist for Women in ...Read more


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