"A New Prize Pool Record for a $25k Buy-in Event": Danny McDonagh on the PSPC "A New Prize Pool Record for a $25k Buy-in Event": Danny McDonagh on the PSPC
PokerStars - Kenneth Lim

Back in December, PokerStars revealed the details surrounding what the company expects to be PokerStars’ largest ever live tournament—the PokerStars Players No Limit Hold’em Championship (PSPC).

To achieve it, PokerStars set out to send 320 players to the tournament—for free—via its “Platinum Pass” system. Each ticket is worth $30,000—$25,000 for the buy-in, another $5000 for travel, hotel and expenses—meaning there is at least $8 million added to the prize pool. To make it even juicier, PokerStars has committed to adding $1 million to the prize pool for the winner of the tournament.

That is $9 million in total added directly to the prize pool by the company—before you start counting all the regular satellite winners, the Spin & Go winners and the direct buy-ins.

Throughout this year, PokerStars has been promoting this event in what could be the biggest media blitz in industry history. It has been giving away Platinum Passes via more than a dozen different routes. So far, 240 players from around the world have won the Passes through winning live and online tournaments, random draws, social media contests, completing challenges, vlogging, and more.

And there are still plenty of opportunities for players to grab a Platinum Pass. 80 more will be given away between now and January, when players finally descend on the Atlantis Resort, Bahamas, for the PSPC and the PCA. In addition, PokerStars has added to its slate of high-stakes tournaments, providing more opportunity for those players looking to brush up on their A game prior to the PSPC.

To oversee what will be PokerStars’ highest profile and riskiest gamble to date, PokerStars needed the right person for the job. Earlier this year, PokerStars decided to bring back Danny McDonagh, a man with two decades of experience directing several live tournament series and appointed him as the company’s new executive tournament director.

After making his appearance at the recent European Poker Tour, McDonagh is now set to oversee PokerStars’ most ambitious live event.

The PSPC event—a “true celebration of poker,” as the company calls it—is just a couple of months away. Pokerfuse sat down with Danny McDonagh to talk in more detail about the final weeks of preparation and their expectations.

How has interest levels been with regular satellites so far? Do you still have expectations of a potential $20 million prize pool?

Satellite interest has been very positive to date on PokerStars. EPT Barcelona in August clearly demonstrated the interest in the PokerStars Players NL Hold’em Championship (PSPC). Nine $30,000 packages were awarded from a single live satellite. Online satellites have also proved hugely popular. We have been running the PSPC satellites for the last six weeks and we’ve had more than 10,000 unique players in the $1 phase tournament and almost 200 players trying to qualify in the multiple $1,000 satellites. Due to high demand, we are going to run an additional $1,000 direct qualifier awarding a package on November 4 at 15:30ET.

In my mind we are still looking at a new prize pool record for a $25k buy-in event. The existing record stands at $15.5 million and considering both satellite and direct buy-in interest to date, we are on target to potentially have a real shot. To breach a $20 million prize pool, it would mean around 800 entrants in total.

Do you see PSPC affecting the tournament field of PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA) Main Event?

We expect that the PSPC will have a positive effect on the PCA Main Event and other events on the PCA schedule ranging from $330 to $100,000 to enter. The PSPC is a five-day event, which finishes on January 10, the day before the PCA Main Event starts.

So, there is every expectation for a solid year-on-year increase in player numbers for the PCA Main Event because of players who have played the PSPC and will stick around to play that as well as side events.

While you have a lot of experience on the ground running events in the Atlantis, there has never been anything with this level of attendance (with the PCA running straight afterward) for such an extended period of time. What special arrangements have you had to make? [dealers, live events team, etc]

Mike Ward will be Tournament Director for the entire PCA programme, incorporating the PSPC. He has been in charge at the Atlantis now for over a decade. He and his tournament team are used to putting on events with 1,000+ player fields at the PCA, so we have full confidence in his team being ready for the expanded 11-day championship in January.

Specifically for this year, the PokerStars Live team has also been working very hard on the VIP experience planned for the Platinum Pass winners. This is a comprehensive approach that encompasses many areas such as personal contact with winners prior to the event, personalised pickups from the airport on arrival, special player bags, and a dedicated team at the event. This is all with the goal of making the PSPC as memorable as possible for every player.

Can we expect any special guests/Friends of PokerStars to take their shot at the PSPC? Which PS Pros are confirmed to be playing?

Definitely. A huge part of the appeal of the PSPC is the chance for recreational players to sit at the tables alongside some of the biggest names in poker. So, we’ll definitely have stars there. They will be an important part of making this event for the players. We have also received confirmation from many prominent players that they will be attending, players such as Stephen O’Dwyer, Martin Jacobsen, and Anthony Zinno.

Do you have anything special planned in regards to live reporting/live streaming during the PSPC event?

Live reporting and live streaming will be running from the outset of the PSPC. This will be the first time we will see so many players participating who have never played a $25K event before, be they Platinum Pass winners or players enticed by the enormity of the prize pool. The interaction of all these players and regular high roller players will be really unique and make the coverage special.

There will be special emphasis on Platinum Pass winners who are progressing well and their path to playing the PSPC. We have already seen some amazing stories from our Platinum Pass winners, so we’re excited to tell their stories at the PSPC felt. We’re in the process of finalising our live stream and reporting plans but it will be focused on bringing the best, most exciting stories of the PSPC to our audience.

You always put on special events and activities for players during the PCA. Do you have something special planned for Platinum Pass holders when they arrive in the Bahamas?

We are working on lots of different things. For example, there will be a meet and greet for all Platinum Pass winners on January 5th, where they will have the opportunity to meet our PokerStars Ambassadors in attendance. Other activities will be announced in due course and some will be revealed at the event – you’ll have to wait and see!

Could you see the PSPC becoming an annual event?

Our goal is always to provide all our players with the best events, both live and online, and the PSPC has already created so much excitement in the poker community this year. Our priority right now is for the PokerStars Live team to do our very best to make the PSPC a huge success.

When will the last platinum pass be awarded?

We are planning to award Platinum Passes up until just before the event.

What goes into a deciding how Platinum passes are awarded? We see, for example, there is one given away during the upcoming online series in India but not Italy’s ICOOP. There have been giveaways during Bounty Builders but nothing so far targeting Power Up. How do you decide which markets and which games to focus on?

We’re continuing to offer Platinum Passes across as wide a range of markets and games as we can, both live and online, in order to give as many people as possible the chance to win one.

For the Platinum Pass Adventure, for example, our Ambassadors have been awarding Passes by designing their own unique paths. Players have won by vlogging, completing quizzes, and telling their poker stories.

The fact that we award Platinum Passes in live events as well as online also means that there are lots of opportunities for players to get to a tournament to try and win one. Just look at the story of Nathan Manuel who travelled to London and New Jersey, and learned some Japanese for Jaime Staples’ Platinum Pass Adventure before finally winning one at Run It Up Reno in Nevada.