Back from Barcelona, Nick and Mike dive back into the top online poker news of the week.

The show kicks off with the pair discussing the motivations and potential PR pitfalls of Phil Galfond’s authorization to play and stream on the real money online room that he founded.

Following on from last week’s PSPC announcement, the pokerfuse duo then discuss the high level investment in Spain both live and online.

In the finally segment, the pair take a look at the first marketing ramp up for partypoker’s upcoming MILLIONS Online poker tournament, with its audacious $20 million guarantee.


Full Transcript

Mike: Hello and welcome everybody to the Pokerfuse podcast. It is September 5th, 2019. This is episode number 26. I’m your host Mike Gentile along with my co-host, Nick Jones. Coming up on the podcast this week, for the first time, Phil Galfond gets to play on his own poker site, Run It Once Poker. Spain is quickly becoming the epicenter of the poker world. The partypoker’s Online MILLIONS is set to kick off later this year with satellites beginning soon.

Phil Galfond starts streaming his real money play on Run it Once poker

Nick: Phil Galfond, founder of online poker upstart Run It Once Poker, made news this week by announcing that he has been authorized to play on his own site for real money, and started this week streaming his action on Twitch and commentating. It’s interesting news for a couple of reasons. One is why they did this, the motivations behind making this change and any impact its had on attention and traffic to the site. That is after a year still— coming up to a year now its launch still struggling a bit with its traffic levels.

Not the controversy, but perhaps some of the criticism of making this move, some of the pros and cons of making what is fairly unprecedented decision and having your founder play on his own online poker room.

Mike: Yes, I found that a very interesting decision myself. At first, I was put off by it thinking, “Wow, he has a lot of inside information that other players will not have.” But there was an announcement that also accompanied the announcement that Phil would be playing online that specifically stated that some of that information would be guarded or would be kept from Phil so that he would in an attempt to try and reduce any advantage that he might have from also operating the business. What types of information did they state specifically that they will keep from Phil?

Nick: Yes, there’s two things that they did, I think, in preparation for allowing this. One is some software changes explicitly for Phil playing on the site to allow it to happen, and the second is restricting some of these, I think backend access to the site. This was both to appease the regulators that had to approve this move. They are regulated in motor for most of their international business, also in the UK, in a seeking licensing in really Sweden and Denmark, currently, potentially other jurisdictions. So that needs to get approved.

I think on the front-facing side, what they did was removed the default anonymization of Run It Once Poker, specifically for Phil Galfond. So if you’re sat playing against him, you will see his custom avatar, I believe, and you will see his name and that does not change, you’ll see him permanently. Unlike everybody else, when you sit at the table, you see random names every time.

Mike: Yes, and I think that’s a really good move. I think that people will enjoy playing with Phil. They will actually probably even come to the site looking to hopefully get to sit at the same table as Phil. From that aspect, I think it’s a great marketing move, not something that maybe every online poker company has the ability to do. Though sponsored pros are a common thing and they are utilized throughout the industry. But I think this one has a little bit of a different flavor, just because Phil is the founder of the site.

Nick: Yes, and you touched on a few aspects. I’d like to circle back to both. The motivations for doing it and any precedent set for this happening in the past, but just to carry on on the changes they had to make to, as you say, the advantage of having his name there is I think there’s marketing reasons for play with Phil. They’ve literally run promotions all week with, if you play against him, and you’re stuck in there, they’ll give you an extra $20, that kind of thing. He’s giving away loads of stuff away on Twitch, loads of promotion. Obviously there’s marketing advantage there.

But then there’s also the additional- whether this was strictly required by the regulators or not, I’m not sure, but it certainly goes some way to appease any concerns amongst players that you’re playing against somebody who might have inside knowledge that at least this person is somebody

you can track and see they’re not hiding behind anonymous names. So there’s definitely some value in doing it for that reason as well.

Mike: Yes. I think people were concerned that he would have access to their playing data. You know, what’s my 3-bet shove range?

Nick: Yes, and that’s the other thing that they had to do, is that they had to- and they made probably a tough decision to remove him from some of the data and analytics that they have. I think things like frequency of splash the pots. They have rewards program is something that he has excluded himself from, from their backend systems. I imagine any other access to certain player data, he will be less connected to. Again, this is something that was, I think, required from a regulatory perspective and also is required from a public relations perspective.

This is interesting in that he was very much the founder of the site. The ideas for the site, at least from what they said through PR and his blog and his posts and his social media, a lot of the ideas came from him and his team that he put together. So he is not and never was really just an ambassador for the site. He’s more transitioning in a way into that role that he’s had to. I’m not saying that he’s been removed from day to day decision-making, but he won’t have access to some of the data that would be used for certain decision-making that some people in the backend will have.

That’s definitely a big decision to make, for him to take a step back to allow them to do this marketing move.

Mike: Yes, and depending on how successful this move turns out to be, and I suspect it will be quite successful, I do think that it can have some knock on effects. For example, the more time he spends at the table, the less time he’s going to be able to spend attending to the business. I think that that’s one aspect that there’s going to be— It’s going to be difficult to manage, it’s going to be difficult to find that balance to wear his— because let’s face it, Phil’s hands-on experience, Phil’s ideas are what have driven this online poker room to start up from the beginning.

So, to have him take that significant of a step back could have an impact on how the business evolves going forward.

Nick: Yes, they’ll have to be careful moving forward, the decisions that are made that could be perceived to be done that would benefit him as a player rather than as an owner of this company, adding certain games, adding some stake brands, that kind of thing. He’s playing very much the low stakes games. He’s obviously not doing this to make money off his own player base, but they will have to tread carefully moving forward. There’s no perception of that. This comes down to why they’ve made this move. My feeling is they didn’t anticipate having to make this step.

This is just my gut and they haven’t said this, but I think that this was almost a concession for them to add, kind of deanonymize one player at their tables, and obviously fulfilled to make this decision to step back from this data, some of these decisions. It’s probably not something that he wanted to do and I feel like they felt it was a necessity to build on the brand that Phil has. Also he is an excellent Twitch streamer. He is very knowledgeable about the game of poker. He’s an excellent instructor. He’s very well-spoken.

So they have this streamer program where I think they wanted other people to do this for them, to build up different things. To some extent, maybe they have done. I’m not sure if there’s been any big breakout streamer people on this program who can get up to 101% rake back if they streamed at Run It Once Poker. There are some people out there doing it, but I don’t think it’s really captured the attention that somebody like Phil, who was at the absolute top of the online poker game a few years ago, what he couldn’t bring to the attention because he’s an excellent teacher and coach of poker.

Mike: Yes, and very experienced in that realm as well, back to his days, what was it? Bluefire Poker that he-

Nick: Yes.

Mike: – used to make videos for a while back? Then actually run it once actually began as a training site with Phil making videos there as well. So his popularity is more than just at the tables. It’s as a teacher, as an instructor as well.

Nick: Yes. This transition when we look at other sites, when you first hear about this, you think it has never been done before. We know that poker stars, for example, anyone in the company can’t play on their own site. Some company policies don’t allow people to play any online poker at all, and definitely from the— I’m not that knowledgeable about from the regulatory level which regulators permit what, and I’m not sure how much of these changes they’ve made for the red tape reasons lest from a PR standpoint.

But then when you think about it, obviously— let’s take Daniel Negreanu for example, he was an ambassador for PokerStars, for a long time he played on the site and was absolutely part of decision-making or he certainly put himself out there like he would travel to the Isle of Man, he’d meet the executives, he would put forward arguments about decisions that were made, he says that internally he fought a lot when the SuperNova changes were made arguing the corner of the SuperNova players.

He was not like a founder of the site in any way, but he was absolutely involved in certain decisions of the online poker room while still playing for real money poker on the site. I think Patrick Leonard is another more current example because he’s still an ambassador and I think-

Mike: For partypoker.

Nick: Yes, the partypoker— and they’ve had this issue in the past where not only does he grind online, the MTTs but runs a stable of online poker players who grow in the MTTs. There’d been a lot of MTT decisions that people said, “Well this is your guy Patrick doing things that benefits him in his stable.” Whether that’s accurate or not, there’s always going to be the perception of that issue. Patrick is an ambassador and plays on the site, but is absolutely there, he does the outreach, he’s kind of an evangelist for the online poker room. He meets the executives he discusses changes.

So he’s always been ultimately a gray area between what’s an ambassador who’s got his toe into decisions to who works for the online poker room. One of these things that defines that gray area is obviously access to backend data, and that’s some of the decisions that we’ve seen Phil take step back from.

Mike: Look at Rob Yong too, for example. He seems to have an even more and even larger role in decision-making and yet he still plays on the site.

Nick: Yes and he says his role is partner of GVC. That’s a very good example. The fear is we go too far the other way and back to Full Tilt days where we had people who had stake in the company who were getting their money, their paychecks directly into their online poker accounts to gamble with. Ultimately, that went belly up and a large part of it was because people were— these players and ambassadors and part owners of the company we’re taking money that was ultimately not theirs, some of their customer deposits.

There’s always that kind of shadow hanging over moves like this and this is why it has to be- operators have to tread carefully in defining roles in their company.

Mike: From a regular regulator’s standpoint, I see two aspects, two key aspects that are of interest to them. That is first and foremost, protecting the consumer against cheating. That is going to be the reason that they implement regulations that would restrict Phil from having access to certain data behind the scenes. The other thing that they want to do as well is they want to- as you touched on earlier, they want to protect the idea that something nefarious could be going on, because in the end, if that thought prevails, that reflects poorly on the regulator as well because they’re the ones that are meant to be in charge of protecting consumers.

Nick: Yes, absolutely. That’s definitely kind of the risk that Run It Once takes from a PR perspective. There has been some criticism of this move, but I think it’s been fairly limited. It’s mostly been— again, there’s still a very small online poker operation, I think we’ve given them quite a lot of air time on this podcast in relation to their ultimate stature in the industry, and I think it’s because a lot of what they do is interesting and could ultimately shape the industry but they still have a very long way to go in terms of traffic.

This is a move that they’ve made that hopefully changes the current trajectory they’re on. We haven’t really got the data in quite yet just from this week, but I saw tweets from Phil saying, let me just bring it up, that, I think they had the highest number of concurrent users ever since they launched, after the first couple of days they’ve launched, because Phil is streaming and ultimately running pretty small promotions on the stream, it’s not defined.

But we’ve seen that before, we’ve seen when they’ve done big promotions that cash-game traffic does flood back to the site. So there’s interest still there. As we talked about before, they still don’t have tournaments, they still don’t have a mobile client. So, I think until they rectify those problems, they’re always going to be facing an uphill battle, but I think it was a necessary step they’ve made to try and utilize their obviously big value in Phil on Twitch.

Mike: It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out in the midterm, for example. As you pointed out, when they’ve done promotions, there has been a spike,

I wonder what the length of time that this will last. Is this going to be something that is going to continue to keep traffic at a higher level or will it tend to wane and fade quickly? I think that’s going to be the most immediate thing that we’re looking at to see here. From a personal standpoint, I don’t know. I think it has the potential to be long-lasting and have a big impact on the traffic at the site.

Live poker in investment in Spain hots up for 2020

Mike: When it comes to the global online poker, and live poker for that matter, one doesn’t usually think of Spain as being the epicenter for a poker boom, but all signs are pointing to operators, both live and online, investing in the Spanish market, and it’s starting to pay dividends as well. This past week, if you listened to our last episode, Nick and I were broadcasting live from Barcelona where we attended the EPT Barcelona event there. It’s been a great success for PokerStars and other operators in the market are also seeing great success as well.

We just learned that the Winamax Poker Tour, which was previously a staple in the French market, is now moving over to Spain as well. With all eyes being on the Spanish market, it’s going to be interesting to see how things evolve in that way and if the operators themselves continue to invest in this market or if it’s going to be something that’s rather short lived.

Nick: Yes. We’re seeing, as you say, like next year is shaping up from the live scene to be potentially over-saturated in tournaments. As you mentioned, like the PSPC is going to be in Barcelona next year along with the standard EPT stock will be there as well. That’s going to be like a two, three-week event next year, and the Winamax Poker Tour. So that is 19 stops all around the country. It’s like they had in France, it was very successful.

It’s kind of free to play, so with promotions online, you can play feeder satellites, get through to round two online, then you get to play a live event, which in theory you can get, you’re completely free and then go into the grand final with €500,000 guarantee. It’s really very much like a grassroots local event that was smashing success in France. But it’s not just PokerStars and Winamax, a lot of the smaller operators as well are moving in online and also backing that up with some live investment.

Mike: Yes, and the players are responding. Look at EPT Barcelona for example, they set a record for total entries, falling just below the 2,000 mark to a massive prize pool of €9.6 million, the largest in their 16-year history. We also saw the EPT National, which opened, I believe the festivities over in Barcelona, also broke records this year as well. So, the grassroots effort is happening, players are responding and things are growing in Spain.

Nick: Yes. There’s some interesting stuff behind those numbers of both the main event and the national is that PokerStars, quite smartly, I think to get these headline numbers, changed their structure to basically encourage a lot more re-entries. We saw in the national, they switched to, I think four-day ones and four re-entries permitted this year up from just one last year. So we’ve actually saw the unique number of players declined over the last couple of years, but the total prize pool grow.

A similar thing happened in the main event, this year was up both in uniques and re-entries, but the overall trend isn’t growth in unique players, but they are encouraging more re-entries from these players. Perhaps the most pessimistic look from this investment that we’re seeing from operators, that we are going to see some kind of just oversaturation next year because on top of these tours, we have— they were just a lot already existing local tours.

In fact, Ramon Colillas who won the PSPC earlier this year, he won both of the Spanish live tours in 2018, one of them, which led to his Platinum Pass win, which was the Campeonato de Poker, I think, the CNP, but there’s another 888 one.

Mike: I’m glad you pronounced that one.

Nick: [laughs] Well, I can’t even remember the name of the 888 one which they sponsored that he won and they’re going to be running next year. Now we’ve got the Winamax tour, which like 19 stops around the country. I want to say that, Aconcagua Poker, which we had talked about before, that recently launched in Spain, is planning its own live event, if they haven’t done already.

Winamax is running there seismic event, they run it in the Costa Brava, PokerStars along with EPT Barcelona started EPT Madrid Open, and I would expect that to come back next year. We’re talking like every other week, there is something going on in some part of the country.

Mike: Yes, and it’s not just live events either, online is growing. The Spanish regulator recently released their figures for Q2, and 2018 saw huge growth in the Spanish market due to the advent of shared liquidity with France and Portugal. But 2019 is keeping pace with 2018 and it doesn’t seem like it’s slowing down. There’s been a very good response in the first two quarters, and given all the live events that are going to be happening and the cross-sell that these operators do successfully at these live events, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to think that the 2019 numbers, the revenue figures for online poker could exceed those of 2018.

Nick: Yes and we’re certainly seeing the investment in the online poker tournaments. Winamax is about to start their next Winamax series. It’s going to be the largest ever, I think 13 million or 14 million euros guaranteed across the whole series. PokerStars has got another galactic series, it’s 15 million. Again, even the smaller guys like 888 Party Poker are keeping their DNA things in the pie and running pretty big events considering their ultimate stature and obviously it’s a pretty tough competitive market now.

PokerStars still has the advantage that they have a three-country liquidity pool that no one else has, Spain, France, and Portugal, but 888 is in there, they’re just gone live in Portugal, so they’ve got a Portugal-Spanish market. Winamax has got their Spanish-French market and it’s right up above there with PokerStars in terms of cash numbers. So it’s ultra-competitive. We’ll have to see what next year brings in terms of turnout for some of these events. If you are Spanish or like the country, you will be spoiled for choice in terms of location and buying levels if you want to come play live poker.

Mike: Yes. I want to circle back to one of the things that we touched on earlier with regard to the re-entries and unique players, because it felt like that was a change that was meant to artificially inflate some of the top end numbers, like the total prize pool, for example, but I don’t know. I look at that and because we’re talking in large part about these big tours which tend to be destination poker-type tours, I think that the total spend on poker is a fairly good measure of the success of the events.

Because not everyone could afford the initial layout to go to travel to Spain, then there’s the time spent there to play in all the events and your accommodations and food and such, where I think with re-entry is what we’re seeing, is we’re seeing investment in poker by the players themselves, whether it be coming out of their own pocket or whether it be coming through staking, which we’ve come to find is pretty prevalent in the industry itself. When I look at those numbers, I don’t necessarily look at them as a bad thing. Perhaps they’ve shifted a bit, but I think it’s still points to success in the market.

Nick: I wouldn’t say that adding in re-entries and then the range going up, artificially inflates the numbers, but I think it highlights the prior, it may have artificially suppressed them. You’re always going to get on the tour who will happily fire as many bullets as they can because each one they just fire is profitable, and as you say, if they are staked or backed , they will fire as many as they like. If they can only do one, they will do one, if they can do four, and they bust out three times, and they’re there for the whole two weeks anyway, they’ll fire four.

Before they didn’t allow that to retain the prestige and retain the attraction for people who prefer freezeouts, I’ve seen there’s nothing wrong with having re-entries in the mix of your schedule. That’s totally fine. I think you just have to be a little wary when you’re looking at year over year comparison going, attendance was 10% up for in reality act literal attendance might be down, but you’ve allowed them to spend more money with your product. Which I say is not a bad thing, it just makes it a little bit hard to predict, so next year, I can’t really see them being kind of— they’ve already maxed out what they can do there.

So at the National you can’t really go beyond, I think four-day ones and four re-entries. The main event has two-day ones, you can already fire a bullet in each day.

That’s the interesting thing with the PSPC next year, is where the PokerStars— I think what the problem they had with the PCA last year is they have the PSPC first and then the whole PCA festival, and I think just some of the media attention waned— No.

Mike: [crosstalk] Yes.

Nick: [crosstalk] the live streams waned and players ultimately did the PSPC and then flew home. Even the winners and stuff, they had their flights booked to return from the Caribbean. They hadn’t planned on a 20-day stop in the Bahamas. What they’ve done this time is they’ve sandwiched the PSPC between events, which I think is smart. I think it’s the National Super High Roller, then the PSPC, then the main event. So you’ll probably get people to come out for both the main and the PSPC.

That’s going to help not deflate the numbers this year, but it might be tough to see those numbers increase. Again, there’s always that thing that you can always increase numbers if you give away enough tickets online and run enough satellites with enough guarantee tickets. Even when these things don’t change, you never really know all the mechanics behind that one figure to know what’s going on. It’s obviously not a bad thing those numbers are going up, but I think next year, with all the attention on the PSPC, we can’t just expect them to grow, grow, grow, grow, grow.

Again with just all the action from Winamax from 888 from Party Poker or running tours or stops next year, it’s just going to be so much money being flooded into the Spanish live scene.

Mike: I think if operators around the world are smart, they’re going to be looking at what’s happening in Spain from a grassroots perspective. Hopefully, they’ll be able to learn the things that work and the things that don’t and implement those locally in other markets so that we can start seeing growth elsewhere.

Nick: In fact, something that we could just finish on, just worth touching on is PokerStars haven’t really announce what they’re doing next year in terms of the live events in the build-up to the PSPC, but it sounds like what they did last year with the Moneymaker tour in the United States, that that is going to be going global or at least with a European focus. They have announced a Moneymaker tour stop I think in Sochi during the EPT Open at the end of this year or beginning of next year.

I think there’s also a live satellite during their stop in casino Namur which is in Belgium. Something else, they have MegaStacks, which is kind of their grassroots series which is UK focused but also has stops in France, in Spain and stuff which had €200 buy-in. I don’t think any ran this year and haven’t done for a while and there’s no plans next year. I wonder if that scrapped and everything is going to be the road to the PSPC satellites. We’ll probably see that a lot in Spain and France and the UK and in other European locations. Many with, I think Moneymaker there as the face of it.

Mike: If I understand correctly, there have been no plans announced for live tours or tournaments for PokerStars for 2020? I know PCA or Bahamas is usually one of the first ones but I don’t recall seeing any announcement around that, but there haven’t been any for EPT stops either?

Nick: No, not at all but I think it might be too early for that. As you say, everyone is questioning the PCA in January because I’m not that up on my schedule for these announcements but it strikes me as very late not to have announced the PCA in January. Now, when we were at Barcelona after the PSPC announcement, we asked directly whether that meant the end of the PCA and we got a very clear no. That it was still running but absolutely on the website, it is not mentioned on

I will say beyond the ones that I just mentioned which are the PSPC itself and a few live events which tie into that, they got the Italian Poker Open, they’ve got the Campeonato España de Poker, which we talked about the Spanish poker tour they sponsored the Brazilian Series of Poker. There’s nothing announced for the EPT next year. Now, I’m not sure if they normally would have announced much, but they haven’t announced the schedule for 2020. It looks like things like MegaStacks has potentially died and will be replaced with Road to PSPC.

Again, the whole festival championship thing has gone now completely, I think. It’d be really interesting to see what, just broadly speaking, PokerStars does next year. They’ve still got Sochi in October and I’m just finding this now, and they’ll still finish Prague in December

Mike: But that’s it so far?

Nick: That’s it. Yes. Nothing for 2020, yes. Again that might be completely common, that they might not have announced the schedule by now. It does strike me as off that they don’t have the PCA announced yet. There are some suggestions that it is over.

Mike: Yes. I’ll be curious to see how they mix in these Platinum Passes as well. Last year they gave a fair number

of those away to the people that had actually won these live events. Which in one way gets people out to these live events, but it also tends to skew the player pool for the PSPC more towards the high-skilled players rather than the recreational players which seems to be the whole marketing drive behind this.

Nick: Yes. There are some hints at what they’re doing with the Platinum Pass giveaways. They’ve already given away 15, 16, which is already like half a million euros in giveaways. So, they started pretty fast. Still, it’s worth stressing, still know as of how many they’re going to be giving away. The longer this goes on, the more that we’ll include that they won’t be talking about that. With that said, they have this awesome section on PokerStars live where you get a big map of all the ones they’ve given away, so it’s not like they’re hiding away from counting.

They’re given away, they’re not just saying how many it will be, which is interesting. I think one of the big reasons they announced it upfront was like, we’re injecting 10 million into this prize pool. If you’re a professional poker player, you’d be insane not to come here for this stop. They gave people a year to make sure they’ve got- there backers lined up, if they need them there the cash saved up for that trip. If they don’t do it, people are going to be sitting around wondering how big this tournament is and whether it’s worth their time.

That’s obviously a strategy that PokerStars is- they’re aware that that’s what they’re doing, so that’s obviously part of their plan there. Nothing beyond Prague in December 2019. Wait and see.

Partypoker launches slate of weekly satellites for MILLIONS Online

Nick: Coming that we finally do have more details on is partypoker MILLIONS Online which is returning this December 2019. They ran it last year. As the most fastidious of our podcast listeners will remember, they ran it last year in December. It had a $20 million guarantee. A pretty audacious figure for a single tournament and it has matched that guarantee with a $22 million ultimate prize pool. A huge success for the operators, as costly as it might have been to put on nine months ago, we’ve got some details back in May that they would be doing it again with a $20 million guarantee.

But for the last four or five months, it’s been really really quiet. Last year we had a whole years worth of ramp up to giving away MILLIONS Online tickets. This year, there’s been very little. Finally, this week we have started to see some kind of concrete details on how they’re going to be giving away tickets to this $10,000 buy-in tournament.

Mike: When exactly is this happening?

Nick: The tournament is December, I want to say first to fourth.

Mike: And they’re just now starting to run satellites. Wow, yes, that does seem kind of late.

Nick: What they have is this- let me get the terminology right, PP LIVE Dollars which are partypoker’s kind of unique satellite currency. They run these generic satellites online and when you win, then you win PP LIVE Dollars. These dollars, like an in-game currency, can be used to buy into any satellite tournament. I think they can be used for expenses and hotel bookings and stuff as well. So rather than you win a satellite to an event, you have to go there. You can store these dollars up and use them for a live event that’s more- fits your schedule and your locale.

They can also be used for MILLIONS Online. Partypoker will be hoping a lot of people have been earning these PP LIVE Dollars and are storing them up to buy into MILLIONS Online when it comes around in December. In fact, they’ve started running a promotion where if you use it to buy into day 1A, they will give you $1,050 in more PP LIVE Dollars to encourage people to use it that way. But beyond that, that’s until next week when the— what seems like the proper satellite schedule starts, that seems to be about it in terms of trying to get people in seats.

Mike: So, last year the unique players-

Nick: Before we get into that, they also made some changes this year. It’s a $10,000 buy-in rather than the $5,000 buy-in. We’ll see that in the sense of the number of people they need, half the number of people to buy-in, although it costs twice as much to buy-in. But also they’ve restructured, and you have two day ones, A and B and they’re both freezeouts. If you bust out day 1A, you can reenter day 1B, but that is it. Last year, I believe you could fire four or maybe five bullets at day 1. So this requires- I mean total 2,000 unique entries. Last year, they got 4,300.

They needed 4,000, they got 4,300 and something. Only about 2,200 unique players. So, in average everyone fired almost twice or just over twice. This year obviously they can’t expect that kind of re-entry rate. Probably we’re getting that they need at least 1,500 unique players which are third fire again on day 1B to get 2,000 players to cover. So it’s a pretty tall order, although it’s double the buy-in, they have not made it easy on themselves, again, to get players in seats.

Mike: Yes, that seems like those are some pretty significant changes to make in such a large-scale tournament. I mean $20 million guarantee is nothing to laugh at. I could see, all right, you’re changing the buy-in, but now you’re changing the number of re-entries, it just seems like the more changes you make, the higher the risk.

Nick: Yes, they are obviously not ones to shy away from such risk, I think. They wanted to make the MILLIONS Online more akin to MILLIONS, the live tour. They said at the start of the year there’ll just be freezeouts and they, I believe, they walked back on that a bit because some did allow some re-entries, but they were all 10,000s in the local currency buy-in, pounds, euros, dollars, and broadly speaking, they didn’t allow a lot of re-entries. I think many total freezeout, some just allowed a bit on day 1B, that kind of thing.

So they wanted to ape that online. There’s definitely been a big push, we talked earlier about Patrick Leonard and his influence. The pros don’t like the re-entry so much. I’m not sure. I’m not sure if it’s the pros that don’t like re-entry, there’s definitely a large contingent of players who don’t like the idea that people can fire multiple bullets. I think they wanted to take that online as best as possible. That’s the structure of MILLIONS Online. They’ve just launched their specific satellites for this event, which start next week.

I believe they start off with an $11 feeder satellite that goes through to a $100 semi-final, which you could just buy-in to directly if you’d rather. That feeds into a final, which does not allow direct buy-in, so you have to come in through the $100 or $11 satellites. So, the field is going to be fairly casual heavy, recreational friendly. Those Sunday tournaments, I think it’s Sunday, guarantee 10 tickets, so $100,000 guaranteed every week. They’re running it every week for the next 10 weeks up until the start of this tournament.

That’s a million dollars in tickets will be given away through this avenue which is 5% of the way there. As I’ve said, because they don’t allow direct buy-ins into the final, I think it’s really going to get a lot of casual players in there, which obviously again has that impact of hopefully attracting the High Roller pros to buy-in directly to the tournament.

Mike: That type of structure for a tournament, I find to be very interesting. I believe on the live circuit, that was something that the Heartland Poker Tour had implemented way back in the day, where you could not buy directly into their final big event, you had to win your way in. I think creating that has a certain prestige and, like you say, it also prevents a bit of what some of the recreational players might deem as a predatory structure by allowing those with big bankrolls to just buy right in and compete with them.

Making someone win their way in, I think is a really interesting way to hold this in and I think it will attract a lot of attention to those lower-level satellites, even if it is by some of the more seasoned professionals.

Nick: This satellite system does only make up 5% of the guarantees, so it needs to be one part of a much bigger puzzle in getting players through different routes to this. Last year we saw, and I’m sure we’ll see again, dedicated Spin & Go tournaments, which today on partypoker are called SPIN. They’ll have a dedicated $10 one or $20 one, they’ll give away tickets. There’s probably going to be more expensive satellites, more guaranteed ticket satellites at the weekends, more promotions, which give it leaderboard promotions that award it.

Last year, we saw, I think, every kind of tournament series they have, the top leader prize was a ticket to MILLIONS Online. To the best of my knowledge, we have not seen that this year. Maybe they will start now. Their KO Series starts next week, $30 million guaranteed, really goes up there with, again with PokerStars’ WCOOP with, I think we talked last week, GGNetwork’s $50 million insane GGS. Maybe we’ll see something injected into that.

I’ll be honest, what was interesting with their KO Series, I think they only announced the schedule for it like four days ago, five days ago, like a week or two out at the most before the start of the event. I’m not sure if they just forgot about it or there was some last-minute decision-making needed to be done. Hopefully, they haven’t forgotten about MILLIONS Online because they definitely want to be starting to get some tickets in players’ hands ASAP.

Mike: Yes, it could be. I know that there was some talk in years past about operators waiting for other operators to release their schedule so that they can piggyback on top of them. Maybe this is related in some way that they’re trying to shorten the amount of time between the announcement and the actual event itself just to reduce the possibility that one of their competitors comes in and tries to steal their thunder.

Nick: Yes, it’s possible. I think they announced the dates and the series guarantee a little while ago, like a few weeks ago. So it was just like-

Mike: It just not the events themselves.

Nick: Yes. The events themselves, how many events there would be. Again, maybe it doesn’t matter so much with things like that. People, when it starts, they go and see what times to play that day and they’ll play a bunch of them. It was just interesting how late that came, and similarly how late, just 10 weeks out they’re starting their primary satellites to this event, but they knew what they were doing last time.

They got enough tickets in players’ hands to go 10% over the guarantee. We’ll have to see what happens this year, but I think its players might well have forgotten that this was even a thing happening. They did a very good job of making it a really big deal last year. I think everyone waited around to be it a total mess, it wasn’t. They really rode high on that successful wave, I think, of running— of really stealing like PokerStars’ thunder of doing a “biggest ever,” which is often the PokerStars territory.

They’ll be obviously hoping that they can beat last year prize pool and set a new world record for largest-ever single online poker tournament. I would want to see some more ramp up and more drama ASAP if they’re going to achieve that.

Mike: That was what? 22 million last year, right? That’s what they shipping for, to surpass this year. Well, good luck to them. That will be some very aggressive promotion that they’ll have to do to get that many players in seats between now and the time that tournament kicks off.


Mike: Well, that wraps it up for the week. Thank you, everyone, for tuning in. As a reminder, please give us a like and a subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. You can also follow us on Twitter. Nick is @pokerprojones. I am @SpookyBugs and we’ll see you next week.