Mystery Behind Mystery Bounties – The Latest Craze in Tournament Poker
Last Updated: October 26, 2023
Anyone who’s been keeping up with the latest happenings in tournament poker has noticed the trend – almost every major series has at least one or two Mystery Bounty events, and everybody’s loving it!
The intriguing tournament format has not been around for a long. It seems that the first MB event took place in 2021, but in a couple of years’ span, the trend has spread like wildfire. Players and tournament organizers can’t seem to get enough of these.
Once upon a time, tournament poker was all about good old freezeouts with an occasional knockout event thrown into the mix. Then progressive knockouts (PKOs) came along and completely took over as players loved the idea of winning big money for eliminating a single player.
Now, Mystery Bounties are on the rise, not only on the live circuit but also in online poker, with more rooms adding them to the mix. So, the question is, are these MTTs the next big thing in poker, and will they become the dominant force in poker client lobbies?
What Are Mystery Bounty Tournaments?
It’s always good to start at the top and provide some info for those few who may not be familiar with the format (albeit that number is probably close to zero).
Mystery Bounty tournaments were first introduced by the Wynn back in 2021. Unlike traditional KOs or even PKOs, where you know exactly what you’re getting for eliminating a player, these games have an added element of mystery (who saw that coming?).
Once the bounty phase kicks in, which is usually after the registration period ends, eliminating players doesn’t award a fixed amount. Instead, you’ll get to draw an envelope (real or virtual) containing a bounty amount.
These amounts vary, and most of them are not that impressive, but every MB event will have at least one or two huge bounties, often bigger than the second or third-place money. So, you could bust the tournament fairly early and still get to win more money than most people making the final table.
Is there any skill to this particular segment? There actually is, as your EV changes as smaller bounties are taken out of play and the bigger ones remain. The same goes for when those big prizes are eliminated, and you’re left with just smaller envelopes.
More importantly, however, these games add plenty of adrenaline and excitement, especially in the live setting. Some may argue that it’s not poker in its purest form and that it adds some “bingo” elements, but players love it, and viewers at home love it, so it’s not hard to understand why MBs are happening left, right, and center.
Making Poker Fun (Again)
Over the last few years, many fans of the game and numerous professional players alike have voiced their concerns about the future of poker. With various cheating scandals, RTA and AI becoming commonplace, and stalling at live events, the game has lost a lot of its appeal for recreational players.
Some concerns are completely justified; others maybe not as much – but at the end of the day, perception is reality.
Mystery Bounty tournaments bring fun to poker, making each event a spectacle of sorts. The anticipation as you open each envelope, hoping to find the big one, other players waiting in the line and (let’s be honest) rooting against you so that they get a shot, and cheering crowds – it all adds up to a truly memorable experience.
— Jennifer Shahade (@JenShahade) May 3, 2023
Of course, like most trends in live poker, Mystery Bounties found their way online. 888 Poker was the first operator to introduce the concept, and GGPoker followed along shortly. Interestingly enough, PokerStars has yet to join the party, but it seems the operator is doing some preparatory work behind the scenes.
Not surprisingly, these tournaments found a lot of success online as well. Just like Spin & Goes (and other types of jackpot sit-and-go games), MBs add the “jackpot” element to the mix.
You don’t need to win the whole thing – you just need to get lucky in one hand, have the RNG favor you, and you could walk away with a bounty worth hundreds or thousands of times the buy-in.
Pros will be pros, and they’ll find a way to optimize their poker strategy for this specific format. For the recreational players, however, MBs offer an added layer of excitement and give them a shot to win huge without much effort. All it takes is one knockout at just the right time!
Are Mystery Bounties Here to Stay?
Over the years, we’ve seen many innovations and attempts to make poker more fun and exciting. Some of them worked like a charm; others failed miserably. So, where do Mystery Bounty tournaments fall on this scale?
I would venture a guess that this particular format has a very bright future ahead of it, especially on the live circuit. The upcoming WSOP Paradise in the Bahamas will feature a massive $1,500 MB event with $5,000,000 guaranteed. The WPT World Championship festival will host a $1,600 Mystery Bounty with $2,000,000 guaranteed.
The Las Vegas stop of the NAPT by PokerStars also has an MB event on the agenda, albeit with a somewhat more modest guarantee of $250,000.
Online, we’ve been seeing more and more of these added to various series schedules, and I’m sure we’ll see even more in the future. It probably won’t happen to the point where these tournaments become the dominant feature (like PKOs), albeit it’s not entirely impossible.
The bottom line is Mystery Bounty tournaments are here to stay, and they might be one of the most exciting developments we’ve seen in poker in recent years. Like every new format, it has its good and bad sides, but I’d say the pros outweigh the cons.
Trying to predict the future is always a challenge, but I’m fairly confident that Mystery Bounties will have a long and happy life and will become regular features on all major tours for many years to come.