PokerStars Players Championship Sets Poker Records As It Brings High Rollers And Dreamers Together

atlantis paradise island bahamas

The World Series of Poker Main Event, particularly since Chris Moneymaker won it in 2003, is the place where the everyman (and woman) gets to chase a poker dream.

The high-roller tournaments like the Big One For One Drop are where the best of the best and the richest of the rich test their skills with a more realistic chance of winning.

With its much-hyped, inventively promoted $25,000 buy-in Poker Players Championship at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA) at Atlantis in the Bahamas this week, tournament organizers fused those two distinct player types into one massive field.

PokerStars revved up interest by making the five-day tourney rake-free and adding $1 million to the prize pool. The online poker leader also inflated the field size by giving away 320 Platinum Passes throughout 2018, via a wide assortment of affordable satellites and qualifiers, contests, and just plain old-fashioned celebrity handouts for the likes on Norm MacDonald, Paul Pierce, and Tony Hawk (gee, must be nice).

The result was a field of 1,039 players, a $26,455,500 prize pool, and a first-place prize of $5.1 million, all records for $25K tournaments.

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(It helps on the record-setting front that $25K is not a popular price point among WSOP organizers — they’re known for running lots of $10Ks and a $50K mixed game, but had just one $25K in 2018, a Pot-Limit Omaha tournament won by Shaun Deeb.)

“It definitely has much more of a main event feel than a high roller,” 2017 PCA main event winner Christian Harder told PocketFives’ Donnie Peters of this year’s PSPC.

The online angle

A field in excess of 1,000 players was almost unthinkable before the tournament began on Monday, as the options in poker pro Chance Kornuth’s Twitter poll suggest:

Among the expectation-shattering field of entries, 36% of players came from the U.S. And some of those Platinum Passes were won online in New Jersey.

This isn’t exactly a Moneymaker moment for legal online poker in America; the winner, Ramon Colillas, did get in via Platinum Pass and was a total unknown before this, but he came from Spain, not New Jersey. Still, the whole thing is encouraging and flies in the face of the “poker is dying” crowd. The numbers, and the fact that people can get into an event like this by playing online, legally, in the U.S., have to be viewed as positives.

No, this PSPC won’t prove to be a game changer for the online poker industry. But it’s undoubtedly good for the game.

She can dodge bullets, baby

While Colillas deserves attention, as do runner-up Julien Martini and noteworthy players at the final table like American pro Scott Baumstein and British high-roller fixture Talal Shakerchi, the most attention this week went to Thi Nguyen, a Vietnamese player who barely cashed in the event, finishing 153rd place for just $450 more than the buy-in.

The poker world was abuzz over this hero fold by Nguyen that the cameras caught: 

Nguyen’s laydown of a full house was proven correct when Athanasios Polychronopoulos (note to my bosses: I’m going to need a raise if I have to type that name again) showed her a bigger boat. But the poker community was polarized. Some admired her read. Others thought it was not game-theory optimal (GTO) despite it being technically correct in this situation. And others thought it was so obvious that her opponent would only check-raise all in on the river with pocket aces or pocket kings that the heroic nature of her fold was overblown.

Whatever your take, it got people talking, and it’s always good for poker when a hand goes a bit viral like this.

What’s left on the schedule?

It will be tough for anything remaining on the schedule to top the attention, buzz, and good vibes of the PSPC, but the $10,300 main event will certainly give it a shot. That tournament has two Day Ones — today and tomorrow — and wraps up next Wednesday, Jan. 16.

There’s also a $100K super high roller that concludes Saturday plus another $100K and two $25K tournaments beyond that. And for those with more limited bankrolls, there are still $330 and/or $550 events every day.

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