Pistol rounds: The myth of the 3 free rounds

 in Categories CSGO, Metagame, Pistol Rounds

It’s often considered a truism in CS that winning a pistol round is like winning 3 free rounds as the winner gets to start building up their equipment while the loser has to eco until they can make their own buy. The problem is that we know instinctively that it’s not really true, we see top teams reverse the advantage of the pistol rounds on a regular basis, and not just by hitting a round of improbably headshots.

Before going into the method of how pistol rounds can be reversed, what are the actual stats?

SideConversion to 2 roundsConversion to 3 rounds
T Side79.4%75.8%
CT Side77.6%62.1%

We can see that generally speaking the CT side has a harder time converting pistol round wins into additional rounds, in line with the general wisdom that CT economy is a much more fragile thing. But their rate drops off markedly in terms of winning 3 rounds off the back of the first.

This tells us that there’s a good chance that the CT position is actually coming under much more pressure on the 3rd round rather than immediately on the 2nd.

Let’s look at the map specific numbers

Map and side2nd round win %2nd and 3rd round win %
Cache CT side65.7%51.5%
Cache T side87.5%84.6%
Cobblestone CT side75.4%58.5%
Cobblestone T side78.2%73.3%
Inferno CT side72.7%62.7%
Inferno T side80.4%76.8%
Mirage CT side80.6%55.7%
Mirage T side78.2%75.5%
Nuke CT side79.3%65.5%
Nuke T side61.1%61.1%
Overpass CT side80%73.8%
Overpass T side83.7%80.5%
Train CT side82.2%64.4%
Train T side75.6%69.8%

The sample sizes start to get a bit low here particularly on a map teams like to avoid like Nuke hence the odd 100% conversion from T side winning 2 to 3 rounds off the back of the pistol.

Cache T side is the closest you can get to the old truism, with just under 85% of all pistol rounds won by the T side being converted into 3 round leads. In comparison for the CTs the 3 round rate drops to a 50/50 – on cache winning the pistol as CTs effectively only has 60% of the value it has for the T side.

Overpass T side also has a pretty strong chance to get 3 rounds, but compared to Cache the CTs are doing well at 73.8% to get 3 rounds, only roughly 6% behind the Ts. This is the map that has the highest average between the 2 sides so is the most likely to fulfill the 3 rounds promise.

There’s only one map where the trend of T over CT is reversed and that’s Nuke, but it’s played so rarely at the elite level that the numbers begin to potentially be a little suspect due to the small sample side. Even so the map in general is moderately CT sided so it’s within reasonable expectations for this to be true.

Another huge difference in chances is on Mirage, with the T side on 75% while the CTs once again barely get above a 50/50 shot for 3 rounds at 55%.

It’s notable that the 2 maps in the pool that tend to be more CT sided, Nuke and Train, both have relatively low chances of getting 3 rounds from the pistol for the T side, and both exhibit only a small difference between the two sides to get those rounds.

Explaining the 2nd to 3rd round drop off

The big reason for the large differences in losing the 2nd to losing the 3rd round is in the level of resistance the opposition can put up after losing, and the T side with it’s potential for accessing bomb plant bonus money can do this more quickly than the CT side.

The types of buy the T side can make in the 2nd round immediately after losing aren’t very strong. Typically they’ll lead to between 6-8k total equipment value for the T side overall.

However if they got a bomb plant in the 1st round larger buys are available to the T side. As we can see above these buys are relatively rare even if they are available, but the potential win rates are good

Expenditures of around 8k+ can net win rates as high as 50%, although this is quite a noisy set and there are probably some sample size considerations at the higher reaches of the spend the trend is clear. Splashing out even further can really reap some rewards, getting the bomb down in round 1 and causing the CTs serious damage is almost as good as winning it.

This scenario is however quite rare and the Ts are usually limited to a 30-40% win rate gamble, causing the relatively low downward pressure on the 2nd round after pistol win rates.

For the 3rd round the buy options are more varied and already if they’ve had some success in the first 2 lost rounds the T side can still have considerable cash to spend

These buys look a lot more like a full buy albeit lacking in AWPs. The standard gear is an AK with helmet and armour and smoke and flash grenades. These buys will typically have a success rate of around 40%+ at the higher end (the CTs probably being already very well equipped), hence the significant downward pressure on the CT side win rates at the 3rd round after the pistol.

(The above graph is slightly edited to show the equipment value range more clearly, a hard saving eco is actually much more common so don’t take the proportions shown as gospel.)


We can see that the 3 free rounds is very much a myth, but it’s heavily dependent on the T side getting their maximum cash bonuses and doing some damage themselves. They really need to get bomb plants otherwise they’re stuck in very low percentage situations with saving scavenged weapons their best chance to catch up, and left having to build up eco the hard way. But that bomb plant possibility is still enough to give them clear chances that are simply not available to CTs.

Going back to the maps where CTs suffer a huge drop off in chances, Cache and Mirage for example, those must represent maps where it’s relatively easy for the T side to get a bomb plant even if they are heavily outgunned.

Over the course of 2017 the popularity of the lower level 2nd round force for the T side has diminished somewhat along with the use of the Tec9, from around 75% of rounds to 60%. Making some sort of 2nd round buy following a pistol loss on the T side is still a dominant strategy choice so we won’t see the end of it any time soon as bomb plant rates in the pistol have remained static, but it does seem to have become slightly more eco dependent now.

Over the same period the 3rd round buy percentage has bounced around a lot, it’s a much noisier data and a less common scenario depending as it does on more success in prior rounds. If there is a trend it’s slightly upward, but I’d hesitate to call that definitive.