Fad or Fixture? Unibet Calls Mystery Bounties “A Step Back” from PKOs Fad or Fixture? Unibet Calls Mystery Bounties “A Step Back” from PKOs
Key Takeaways
  • Online poker operators around the world now spread the mystery bounty format.
  • However, Unibet Poker has no plans to adopt Mystery Bounty tournaments due to player experience concerns.
  • PokerStars has also raised concerns about the format, but plans to implement their own spin on Mysteries next year.

Although the mystery bounty format is the flavor of the month … it’s also a step back from PKOs in terms of a good experience While Mystery Bounty tournaments continue to sweep across the poker world, one notable operator is not so easily swayed. Unibet Poker, known for its player-centric approach, currently has “no immediate plans” to introduce this format, citing concerns over its impact on the player experience.

In the last 18 months, the Mystery Bounty tournament format, or MBT for short, has seen mass adoption. There is at least one option in most major markets: For those in Michigan and Pennsylvania, there’s WSOP USA; in Ontario, you have WSOP.ca; in Europe, Winamax has it on offer; for players internationally, there’s the GGPoker app and 888 each offering it.

But it is not ubiquitous yet, and two big sites — Unibet and PokerStars — are notable holdouts. And in a recent interview between Unibet’s Ambassador David Lappin and Poker Industry PRO, it appears that it has no immediate plans to launch MBTs.

“We’re always trying to look after the players first, and although the mystery bounty format is the flavor of the month just now, in its current iteration, it’s also a step back from PKOs in terms of a good experience for casual players,” he stated to PRO.

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How Do Mystery Bounty Tournaments Differ from Progressive Knockouts?

Mystery bounty tournaments closely mimic the mechanics of PKOs. A portion of the buy-in is allocated for the bounty player pool, and players earn bounties for eliminating their opponents. The key distinction lies in the nature of the bounties.

In PKOs, players know the precise prize they will receive upon eliminating their opponents. Bounties are concealed in the mystery bounty format, adding an element of surprise — they could range from 1x the buy-in to 1000 times the buy-in or even more.

Additionally, in mystery bounties, bounties only come into play when players progress to the “in the money” stage; in PKOs, players can claim bounties right from the start of the tournament.

The Perceived Drawbacks of Mystery Bounty

It has some challenges … I think you want to address [those] before you can make it something that’s more than just what’s being used as today There are certain drawbacks to this format. Lappin says one concern is that the format motivates players to maximize late registration, which can disrupt the natural flow of a tournament and potentially lead to a less enjoyable experience for those who prefer an even playing field.

The format also requires players to survive until a certain point before they can reap any rewards, which stands in contrast to PKOs, where bounties can be claimed immediately right at the start of the tournament. These considerations have led Unibet to hold off on adopting the mystery bounty format for now.

This stance echoes the sentiments expressed by Stubbe Buchwald, the Poker Product Manager at Unibet, who shared similar insights last year. Buchwald mentioned that the traditional mystery bounty setup does not seamlessly integrate with the field sizes typically seen on their platform.

However, he hinted at exploring alternative formats that might be better suited to Unibet’s player base — so the mystery bounty format might eventually become part of their offerings. But it is not a development on the immediate horizon.

PokerStars has also acknowledged the challenges posed by the mystery bounty format.

“[Mystery Bounty] has some challenges that, to me, I think you want to address those challenges before you can make it something that’s more than just what’s being used as today, which is more of a one-off type of a thing,” said Chris Straghalis, PokerStars’ Director of Online Poker Experience in a podcast with pokerfuse held last year.

However, pokerfuse believes that PokerStars is developing its version of the mystery bounty format, with an expected launch next year. Whether its structure differs from the norm to address these concerns remains to be seen.

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Other Operators Still Scrambling to Adopt Mystery Bounties

Other online poker operators are scrambling to add this format despite these apparent concerns. Close to a dozen online poker platforms have already started spreading it.

The first online launch is thought to be Ukraine-based PokerMatch, which introduced it in February 2022 on its Connective Games platform. International operators quickly follow suit: GGPoker, 888poker, Winamax, iPoker, and US-facing offshore WPN have all introduced it in the last 18 months.

Even online poker startup 4Poker, spearheaded by Bryn Kenney, has embraced the format, as has social poker app PokerBros.

It has also made its way into North American markets, with WSOP using 888poker’s Poker 8 software to spread mystery bounties in Michigan and Pennsylvania, while 888 and GGPoker offer it in Ontario, Canada.

Whether Mystery Bounties are here for the long haul remains to be seen. In the history of online poker, it is easy to spot the successes — fast-fold poker, lottery sit and gos, PKOs — that are now table stakes for any online poker operator. But behind these successes are myriad failures that came and went in the space of months with little fanfare.

Its rapid adoption across an industry — often slow to roll out updates and adopt the latest trends — has been remarkable in a mostly untested format. Unibet’s decision is pragmatic, directing development resources to longer-term projects. But it risks losing players if demand for Mysteries continues to grow.

Online Poker Sites with Mystery Bounty Tournaments

Operator Launch Month
PokerMatch Feb 2022 (since closed)
GGPoker Mar 2022
Winamax Aug 2022
888poker Sep 2022
PokerBros Nov 2022
WSOP US Jan 2023
WPN May 2023
iPoker Oct 2023
4Poker Oct 2023
PokerStars Expected Early 2024