Tuesday, June 04, 2013

A Lot from a Little: Poker Tourneys Making Millionaires

Two poker tournaments are scheduled to complete today and tomorrow, both of which were planned and structured so as to emphasize the idea of making a “millionaire” out of the winner. In a sense, they both hone in on what has long been a central thesis and primary attraction of tournament poker, namely, the chance to make a lot out of a little.

Tonight at the 2013 World Series of Poker will come the conclusion of Event No. 6, the so-called “Millionaire Maker” $1,500 no-limit hold’em event (with a re-entry option) in which the structure was designed to guarantee the winner at least a seven-figure first prize.

As it happened, the event managed to attract enough total entries -- 6,343 -- to push the total prize pool up over $8.5 million and provide for a payout schedule that gives the winner even more than the $1 million that had been guaranteed. With 10 players returning today, a day that had to be added to the schedule to accommodate the large field, a cool $1,198,780 awaits the winner.

Besides setting a few WSOP records (as Nolan Dalla spells out on the WSOP blog), the big turnout and large prize pool also allowed the payouts to be less dramatically skewed at the top than might have been the case otherwise. That said, there’s still a mighty big jump of more than $450,000 between first- and second-place in Event No. 6, as $741,903 is scheduled to go to the latter.

Meanwhile the €3,000 buy-in Main Event of the 2013 International Stadiums Poker Tour at Wembley Stadium in London has been playing out over the last few days, a tournament which also features a gaudy guarantee for first place, in this case €1 million or the equivalent of just over $1.3 million. They’ve just returned from dinner break of Day 5 at the moment with nine players left, with the plan being to play down to a six-handed final table afterwards and then complete the tournament tomorrow.

That this ISPT event is even happening at all perhaps comes as a surprise to some after more than a year-and-a-half of confusing advance notice regarding the event, punctuated from time to time by frequent changes in the scheduling, format, structure, and expectations. I wrote a post back in February in which I referred to the ISPT and its tournament as a “poker cipher,” and to be honest now that it’s playing out I’m still not too sure what it really signifies.

The fact that the tourney ended up taking place during the first week of the WSOP has also diverted a lot of attention from it, not to mention been one of the factors affecting turnout for the event. The tournament ended up attracting a total of 761 entries (re-entry was also possible for this one), which added up to a total prize pool of €2,054,700 and a scheduled first prize of just €410,940. That meant organizers had to add a whopping €589,060 to the first prize in order to meet the €1 million guarantee for winning.

That massive touch-up also means a gaping difference between first and second, as the runner-up is currently scheduled to earn €285,000. It appears certain, however, that there will be some deal-making at some point prior to the end, and in fact with nine left players left there’s already been one unsuccessful attempt to negotiate some sort of multi-way chop.

While the ISPT event isn’t really registering so much with those of us on this side of the pond, the idea of someone earning a seven-figure return in an event costing only a couple of thousand (or thereabouts) to play nonetheless intrigues, just as it has over in Event No. 6 at the WSOP. And of course, the added oddity of an extra three-quarter million dollars’ being contributed to a tourney on top of players’ buy-ins raises the eyebrows, too.

We’ll see going forward if events such as these have any lasting influence. Something tells me the WSOP will certainly be keeping some version of the “Millionaire Maker” among its offerings in the future, given the popularity of the event this time around. I guess in a way these events could be said to occupy a kind of middle ground between the usual lower buy-in tourneys and “One Drop”/“Super High Roller”-type spectacles -- the kind of thing that can work well as a special, novel offering, particularly in the context of a larger slate of tourneys such as are offered at the WSOP.

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