What’s the difference between KO, PKO and TKO poker?

February 22, 2022inPoker

Last updated Tuesday 22 February 2022…

Do you know your KOs from your PKOs from your TKOs? No? That’s fine. Just read on and all will be revealed.

Before you launch in to the upcoming Bounty Builder Series, it is probably a good idea to get a firm grasp on what exactly is a Progressive Knockout (PKO) tournament. This is important because some events are PKOs, while others are played as Progressive Total Knockout (TKO) tournaments. And they are very similar.

So what is a PKO tournament? What’s a PKO got that a KO hasn’t? And how do things change again in a TKO?

It’s easiest to start with a look at straight Knockout (KO) tournaments, which used to be a thing before PKOs appeared on the scene and made everything more exciting.


In a Knockout tournament, a player’s total buy-in is divided into two portions, each going towards a separate section of the prize pool. One portion (usually the largest) goes into the regular prize pool, which is paid out incrementally to the top finishers in the event, just as in any “normal” tournament. The second portion goes into the bounty pool.

Time to go looking for knockouts

Each player has a cash bounty on their head, and this bounty is awarded to the opponent who knocks them out. It’s that simple. In essence, a knockout tournament offers bonus cash payments to players for eliminating their opponents. These payments are fixed in size.

For example, in a KO tournament with a $27 buy-in:

$20 might go into the regular prize pool
$5 becomes a bounty on the player’s head

(The remaining $2 is the entry fee, or “rake”.)

This tournament might be advertised with the entry fee of $25 + $5 + $2.

If Player B knocks out Player A, Player B is awarded Player A’s $5 bounty. It goes straight into Player B’s account, and they get an immediate return on their tournament play.

Eventually, Player C might knock out Player B. In that case, Player C then gets Player B’s $55 bounty. Player C might also go on to knock out Player D, Player E and Player F, for which he or she gets another $15 (or $5 per player). If Player C then goes on to make the money in the tournament, he or she will also get a prize based on their finishing position and dependant on the pre-published payout structure.

In the final reckoning:

Player A will end with nothing.
Player B will get the $5 earned for knocking out Player A
Player C will get $25 in knockout payments (for eliminating Player B, Player D, Player E and Player F) plus the prize for their finishing position.

It’s worth remembering that the bounty is only paid to the player who wins the very last of an eliminated player’s chips. It doesn’t matter if Player Z wins a huge pot and leaves an opponent with one big blind. Player Z won’t win the bounty. The bounty goes to the opponent who snags that last chip and causes the actual elimination.



A lot of what happens in a knockout tournament happens in a Progressive Knockout (PKO) tournament too, but there’s a notable twist in the way bounty payments are accumulated.

To recap: in a KO or a PKO tournament, one portion of a player’s buy-in goes into a prize pool to be awarded incrementally to the top percentage of the finishers, just like a “normal” tournament. The other portion goes into a bounty pool.

In a PKO tournament, it’s most common for these two prize pools to be equal, meaning half of a player’s buy-in goes to the “regular” prize-pool and half goes to a bounty pool.

For example, in a PKO tournament with a $109 buy-in:

$50 would go into the regular prize pool
$50 would go into the bounty pool

(The remaining $9 is the entry fee.)

Every player therefore begins the tournament with a $50 bounty on their head.

Here’s where it gets interesting:

If you knock out an opponent in a PKO tournament, half of their bounty goes straight into your account as a cash prize, but the other half is added to your bounty. It means that the more players you knock out, not only do your earnings increase, but also the target on your head grows bigger.

PKOs made easy

This is what’s meant by “Progressive”. Much like a spiralling jackpot on a Vegas slot machine, a player’s bounty in a PKO event grows progressively bigger as the tournament goes on.

For example, if Player B knocks out Player A, Player B gets a $25 cash prize, while his or her bounty also increases by $25. Player B’s bounty would therefore be $75 after this encounter (the $50 on their head to start with, plus the $25 for knocking out Player A).

If Player C then knocks out Player B, Player C gets a cash payout of $37.50 (i.e. half of Player B’s $75 bounty), but his own bounty increases by $37.50 too. If Player C then goes on to knock out Player D, Player E and Player F too, he picks up half of their bounties as immediate cash payments, but also sees his own bounty grow significantly.

If you happen to win a PKO tournament — i.e., nobody ever knocks you out and therefore nobody wins your bounty — you get to keep your own bounty. It can often be absolutely huge, and in many cases will be bigger than the money you win from the “regular” prize pool. In Fig. 1, below, “Doktor-4ik20” won the tournament and had a bounty haul of $13,610.33, which will include his own bounty. “UltimatChief” took only $2,240.80 in bounty payments because a large chunk of his went to Doktor-4ik02 at the point of the final elimination.

Fig 1: Bounty payments alongside prizes from the main prize pool

The tournament lobby of a PKO event shows prizes like this, in two columns: a player’s bounty haul in one and their “regular” prize in the other. Some players can finish high up in the rankings but have nothing in the bounty column, if they didn’t knock out anyone else (see players “Joe Santana”, “00SKIP” and “tutuca1987” in Fig 2, below) while others might be eliminated before the bubble, but still make a profit from the tournament if they knocked out a lot of high-value opponents (see “PeroQmaloSoy”).

Fig 2: Some players cash but win no bounties; others win bounties but don’t cash



Total Knockout (TKO) tournaments are a relative newcomer to the scene, but with seven on the Bounty Builder Turbo Series schedule, it’s worth a quick look at these too.

It’s actually pretty easy to figure out: in these tournaments, 100 percent of a player’s buy-in goes into the bounty pool. There’s no regular prize pool, and players start with their entire buy-in on their heads as a bounty.

If you knock someone out, you get half of your opponent’s bounty as a cash prize immediately, and half goes into your bounty, much like with a regular PKO tournament.

The obvious major difference is that there’s no such thing as a bubble, or a regular prize pool. All the money awarded goes in bounties. This can mean that some players finishing high up in the rankings might get a very small payout, if they knocked out relatively few opponents, while a player low down in the rankings could get much more, if they knocked out numerous high-value opponents.

Most often these days, TKO events are played heads-up in the Zoom format, meaning you bounce from table to table and opponent to opponent, facing only ever one player at any time.

Find when all the different types of KO tournaments take place in the Bounty Builder Series schedule.

You can also find out everything you need to know about the series, and KO poker in our Complete Guide to Knock Out Poker.


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