Mystery Bounty: Will It Replace PKO As PokerStars’ Sunday Million Format? Mystery Bounty: Will It Replace PKO As PokerStars’ Sunday Million Format?

The Mystery Bounty tournament format, which was first introduced during the 2021 Wynn Fall Classic, has become incredibly popular with tournament players over the last couple of years, with every major live tournament festival now offering at least one event of its type regularly.

It has also now a staple online. Tournaments now run on GGPoker and 888poker (read our guide to MBTs for more details), it is available in the US, European and Ontario online poker markets, and even smaller upstart operators like 4poker are adding the format.

Basically, MBTs are everywhere.

And now PokerStars has joined the party. After a brief trial, the operator jumped in with both feet and ran a special edition Mystery Bounty Sunday Million tournament. It drew over 16,000 players — one of the best Sunday Milly turnouts in a long time — that showed the demand for the format is as strong online as it is live.

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Which raises the question: Could online poker’s most iconic weekly tournament make a permanent switch to the Mystery Bounty format? That may sound inconceivable, but there is certainly precedent for these kinds of changes — particularly at a time when the operator is struggling to meet the seven-figure guarantee with consistency.

Inaugural Mystery Bounty Sunday Million Smashes the Guarantee

While pokerfuse revealed many months ago that PokerStars was working on its interpretation of MBTs, it did not rush to market. Indeed, it seems like PokerStars was looking for the right opportunity to give Mystery Bounty tournaments their proper debut.

That moment came during this winter’s New Year Series. PokerStars ran a special edition Mystery Bounty Sunday Million, retaining the usual buy-in, structure and famous guarantee while offering mystery bounties for knocking out players. It also spread a smaller $11 Mystery Bounty Event with a $250k guarantee alongside.

Both events were a huge hit. The flagship attracted 16,234 entries and smashing the guarantee by over $600,000. The $11 Mystery Bounty tournament receiving 29,964 entries for a total prize pool of $293k.

Tournament Buy-in Guarantee Turnout
Mystery Bounty Sunday Million $109 $1 million 16,234 Entries
$11 Mystery Bounty $11 $250,000 29,964 Entries

With both events smashing guarantees, it is clear that PokerStars players are eager to play the Mystery Bounty format. It leaves to the operator to decide how to schedule more of these events — and whether to introduce them as a part of the regular weekly schedule.

Could it even consider a permanent replacement to the Sunday Million format?

Adaptations of Sunday Million Over the Years

The first-ever Sunday Million was played at PokerStars back in early 2006, although the tournament only received its world-famous name after already running for a few months.

Back in the day, freezeout tournaments were all the rage, and Sunday Million mimicked the likes of the WSOP Main Event in providing a one-shot-only format that made players feel like every chip they played for truly mattered.

The $215 buyin and freezeout format with a $1,000,000 guarantee were the fixed format of Sunday Million for over a decade. It became the most popular recurring tournament in the world.

PokerStars weathered events like Black Friday (losing US players) and European regulation (segregated many players into siloed sites) while keeping the Sunday Million untouched. But it could only hold out for so long. When it also started facing fierce competition from the likes of GGPoker, it finally acquiesced, and took measures to maintain a high turnout.

In January 2019, the operator took the Sunday Million buyin down from $215 to $109. Later that year, it introduced the single re-entry format, allowing players to buy a new stack of chips after busting out. In mid-2020, it switched to a two-day format.

PokerStars’ Sunday Million: Ten Major Changes in Eighteen Years

  1. March 2006: First edition runs
  2. June 2006: The tournament gets its Sunday Million name
  3. July 2008 — April 2011: Operator ups its guarantee to $1.5 million and sometimes even boosts it to $2 million and $2.5 million.
  4. January 2019: Buy-in cut to $109 permanently
  5. March 2019: Played as a bounty (PKO) format for the first time
  6. June 2019: Transitions from freezeout to single re-entry.
  7. July 2020: Switches to two-day tournament.
  8. 2021: Sees multiple overlays when run as a classic vanilla edition.
  9. June 2022: Becomes a PKO edition on a permanent basis.
  10. January 2024: One-off Mystery Bounty version of Sunday Million pulls in huge turnout.

That helped for a while, but by 2021 it started to miss guarantees again. In response, PokerStars ran PKO special editions. Every time it did, it saw a bumper turnout. After a year of running it on-and-off specials, in June 2022 it took the plunge and switched permanently to the Progressive Knockout format.

This PKO boost lasted a year. But going into 2023, and numbers were dropping yet again. In the quieter summer period, guarantees were missed.

So here we are again. It is 2024, it PokerStars has just one Mystery Bounty Sunday Million under its belt — but one that generated a $1.6 million prize pool.

Will Sunday Million Become a Mystery Bounty Tournament?

PokerStars has made no official announcement as to the future of Sunday Million at this time. But it is clear that the MBT format was welcomed by the player base. With it covering the guarantee by over 60%, it will leave PokerStars wondering whether it can replicate the turnout with this format more regularly.

If history is anything to go by, an immediate switch is unlikely. Mystery bounties might be drawing in the crowds now, but the format is untested, and its novelty factor could wear off quickly.

As noted, when PokerStars made the switch over to PKO, it didn’t do so overnight. It ran dozens of PKO tournaments — including one-off PKO Sunday Millions, special events during major tournament festivals, even dedicated PKO series — before making the switch.

It seems likely we could see the same approach this time around. Already, PokerStars has added more MBTs to the New Year Series “afterparty”, and its introduction to the regular weekly schedule seems almost certain. We expect to see a regular MBT Sunday Major launching soon too.

Then there’s more Special Edition MBTs. Its forthcoming Anniversary Edition, with a $8 million guarantee, looks likely to stay traditional, but look out for more MBT Sunday Millions working their way throughout the year.

And could we see — say, in a year’s time — that the Sunday Million has made a full transition to the Mystery Bounty format? If the format remains as popular as it is today, I wouldn’t bet against it.