Million Dollar Tournaments
The two largest online poker rooms, Party Poker and PokerStars, now both host a million dollar guaranteed tournament each Sunday. Winning a Sunday Million can have a profound effect on any poker player's resume (let alone bankroll!). World Champion Greg "Fossilman" Raymer even recently got into the mix by adding $183,000 to his staggering net worth after finishing second in the PokerStars Sunday Million. While both PokerStars and Party Poker share the same guarantee and initial buy-in ($200+$15), there are a few notable differences between the two tournaments.
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Every Sunday at 4:30 pm ET at PokerStars, more than a million dollars is exchanged through what has typically been in the past the largest weekly multi-table poker tournament. Traditionally the PokerStars Sunday Million Guaranteed has featured a $200+$15 buy-in. The relatively low buy-in coupled with a massive guaranteed prize pool has typically yielded enough entrants so that PokerStars has hardly ever needed to supplement the prize pool.
When an online poker site guarantees a tournament prize pool, they are responsible for adding money to that prize pool if an insufficient number of players buy in to the tournament. This situation is referred to as an "overlay". Recently, the PokerStars Sunday Million tournament has overlayed several times. On Father's Day of this year, only 4,299 people showed up for the tournament, well short of the needed 5,000 players for PokerStars to avoid adding money to the prize pool. This resulted in a whopping $140,000 overlay.
Overlays are a poker player's Camelot, but generally online cardrooms do not allow them to go on forever. In order to combat the reoccurring overlay problem, PokerStars has modified the buy-in to the Sunday Million. Rather than a $200+$15 freezeout, the tournament now features a $200+$15 plus one rebuy and one add-on buy-in structure. [Editor's Note: The PokerStars Sunday Million will return to being a standard freeze-out tournament (no rebuy or add on) Sunday, July 23, 2006.] Essentially this change has turned the Sunday Million into a wonderful marriage between PokerStars and sharky well-bankrolled tournament aficionados.
By allowing players to rebuy and add-on, the Sunday Million prize pool will likely never overlay again, thus making PokerStars happy. In return, sharky players now have a larger advantage over the fish. Rebuys and add-ons are just a way to get more chips in play. It is fundamental poker knowledge that when more chips are in play, more skill is needed to rise to the top. Therefore, very good poker players are now at an even higher advantage.
While this new buy-in structure was only very recently implemented, initial indications tell us that far fewer players will be participating in the Sunday Million as opposed to when the tournament was a simple freezeout. To be specific, the Sunday Million has traditionally drawn well over 5,000 players. Only recently did the regular number of participants start dwindling down below 5,000 on a consistent basis. This could be attributed to a number of things. The most likely explanation is that good summer weather is luring many casual poker players outdoors on Sunday afternoons. In the first weekly one rebuy/one add-on tournament, PokerStars drew only 2,850 players to the cyberfelt. However, with close to 2,300 rebuys and add-ons purchased, PokerStars got its wish of avoiding an overlay.
So why was there a drastic drop in attendance following the introduction of the one-rebuy/one add-on structure? It is likely that a very large number of casual (possibly even quite fishy) poker players, who normally would have played the $200+$15 freezeout, are too privy to the downsides of the $200+$15 one rebuy and one add-on tournaments.
In order to "keep up with the pros" (as far as initial chip stack goes), casual players must now sink $415 into this tournament, rather than just $215. So now when Joe Q. Hold'em sits down to play the Sunday Million, assuming he is unwilling to invest more than $215 into the tournament, his disadvantage against better players will be completely evident. This is simply because most of the good players will instantly use their rebuy thus creating a starting stack that is double the one of our good friend Joe. It will be interesting to see how much more stringent the competition will be at the PokerStars Sunday Million since it will probably now be losing Joe and his friends.
During the last week of each month, the buy-in for the Sunday Million escalates while the number of entrants declines. Eight times per year the last-of-the-month buy-in is $500+$30. Four times per year it reaches $1000+$50. Although only two of them have been played since being added to the schedule, the quarterly $1000+$50 tournaments seem to be very popular. Generally only about 1,300 players register for these tournaments. This results in two nice things: a prize pool which far exceeds one million and a field of players that doesn't seem impossibly too massive to defeat.
Just recently Party Poker joined PokerStars as the only other site to offer a weekly Million Dollar Guaranteed tournament. Party Poker's tournament has many similarities to the Sunday Million on PokerStars. Both tournaments start at 4:30 pm ET on Sunday and both have had some recent troubles attracting enough players to avoid an overlay. For the moment, Party Poker is sticking to the $200+$15 freezeout structure for their tournament. However, it's unlikely they will blissfully continue with this set-up.
Lately Party's Sunday Million tournament has been drawing around 4,600 entrants, resulting in overlays around $80,000. If this trend continues for long, one wouldn't be surprised if Party Poker makes a move similar to PokerStars in order to ensure their big guaranteed tournament isn't regularly overlaying. Of course, $80,000 to Party Poker is about $.80 to an average person. Party Poker might just view this money as a promotional mechanism to help make it the premier online poker room for multi-table tournaments.
The Sunday Million tournaments are not for the impatient. Each tournament takes about 9 hours to complete. Recently both tournaments ended within 3 minutes of each other. However, it should be noted that these similar run-times do not imply equivalent playing time for the participants. On the occasion where the two tournaments ended within 3 minutes of each other, PokerStars had nearly 2,000 fewer players than Party Poker. The PokerStars tournament takes so long (relatively speaking) due to the extra chips in play that were purchased under the one rebuy/one add-on structure.