The invention of the mystery bounty tournaments has been one of the most exciting developments in poker in years. But what if instead of all the prizes being positive money spins, there were a few negative – possibly even gut-wrenching! – consequences?

First, let’s recap how mystery bounty tournaments work in their current state: 

  • Day one, or the ‘pre-money phase’, plays like a standard poker tournament. (No prize is awarded for eliminating a player.) 
  • Once the bubble bursts and players reach the payouts, there is an added incentive to eliminate opponents. 
  • Every time a person is eliminated you receive their chips and a chance to pull a ‘mystery bounty’ for an unknown denomination. 

Online this looks like a slot machine pull. Live it’s usually the opportunity to randomly draw an envelope with a monetary amount printed. 

At the 2022 World Series of Poker, the $1,000 mystery bounty tournament headlined a mouth-watering $1,000,000 envelope. Matt Glantz bagged it.

The Intriguing Side of Negative Mystery Bounties?

The beauty of these events is that you don’t need to make the final table to earn big prize money. Winning first place in a poker tournament requires lots of things to go right. But pulling the winning envelope only involves luck in that one moment.

  • What if there was an even greater sweat than the chance to win massive sums? 
  • What if – gulp – drawing an envelope came with the possibility of heartbreak?

The idea started to form when 2012 WSOP Main Event Champion Martin Jacobson proposed the following on Twitter – 

Instead of low-denomination mystery bounty minimums, swap those envelopes for $0.

That way, the major wins could be even grander.



This idea sparked the introduction of ‘negative bounties,’ as suggested by professional poker player Thomas Evans Zanot: 



Insane Mystery Bounty Possibilities!

Here are a few possibilities that we could insert into those sparkly envelopes:

  • Have to sit out the next orbit (or two!): Sitting out 1-2 orbits is generally given as punishment for players who break the rules, such as saying their hole cards out loud. Why not incorporate this classic disciplinary tactic?
  • No colour-ups! You get a button to carry that says you are not allowed to colour up your chips. This minor inconvenience could act as a fun gag at the table. Massive chip stacks are also very reminiscent of mid-2000s poker!

Poker Chips

  • Always reveal your cards at showdown: This disadvantage could start at the beginning of the next level and last until that level’s completion. The targeted player must always turn over their cards at the conclusion of the hand.

    This twist would give their opponents untold information on said player. If folded before the river, the dealer could put the cards to the side and flip them once the hand finishes.
  • Show one: This evil twist is similar to the previous mystery bounty, but you can choose one instead of revealing both hole cards. The dealer will flip that card after the hand (or you can show it yourself if on the river!)
  • Lose half your stack. Ouch…! This one is rough. Draw this envelope, and half your chips are taken out of play and given to the casino floor.
  • Play with one card face-up. For a single orbit, you need to play with one card revealed publicly for the entire table to see - starting preflop.


  • Double big blind. With the incorporation of the big blind ante, the big blind is already bloated. But what if you had to double it?! On your next big blind, you must pay TWO big blinds and TWO big blind antes. 

    Talk about juicing the pot! The additional chips in the middle will heavily incentivise your opponents to win the hand – and you too!
  • 10K bounty on your head! Mr Jacobson himself suggested this one in the Twitter comments. Let’s say you draw an enormous bounty – say, 10K – but it’s now on your head for the entire tournament! 

    You only get to keep it if no one busts you, adding tons of motivation for other players to take you out!
  • Back to starting stack. All your chips are removed, and you are down to a starting stack!
  • Auto-elimination. This possibility is the most tragic. But it must be done to add a sense of panic for the envelope draws. (No gamble, no future… right?) 

    If you draw this unlucky prize, your time in the tournament is over. As they say in Monopoly, “do not pass GO, do not collect $200…” You have been eliminated.

Crazy Negative Mystery Bounty Distributions

Naturally, some of these are easier to pull off and organise than others. But the concept remains the same – 

  • Instead of drawing positive bounties, incorporating negative reveals should make the experience extra nerve-wracking and adrenaline-inducing.

Heck, a tournament could even go for max pain – 

  1. Perhaps take Jacobson’s suggestion and make one-third of the bounty pulls for zero dollars. 
  2. One-third pay out the big bucks, even bigger than before. 
  3. And the other one-third? DQs – as in disqualifications from the tournament. 

It gets my blood rate going just thinking about it!

Amanda is the author of the book A Girl's Guide to Poker, dedicated to making poker friendly and accessible to everyone. In 2021, she was a World Series of Poker final-tablist where she and her father took third place in the WSOP tag team event.