The poker tournament bigger than a small country

On October 5 2015 PokerStars blazed a trail into the Guinness World Records once again when an incredible 253,692 players took part in the largest online poker tournament in history. To put that number into context there were more players in the Common Cents kick-off event than there are human beings in countries such as San Marino, Liechtenstein, Tonga, Grenada and Samoa!

Of course, PokerStars is no stranger to breaking world records for the largest poker tournament - last week we reported on the very first record-breaker - but the leap from 35,000 players in 2008 to over a quarter of a million players in 2015 is astounding. Mike Jones, Tournament Team Manager in Poker Room Management at PokerStars, talked about the mindset that showed such a huge progression within seven years. 'The biggest thing that changed with regards to World Record tournaments was the selective application of the Field of Dreams mentality: "If you build it, they will come."'


Unlike other World Record attempts though, that were often planned out in advance with the minutiae of a carefully orchestrated military attack, this moment of history came about as much by luck and chance. The PokerStars team had the idea of creating a micro-stakes tournament series with buy-ins of less than $1 across the board. The first event had a one cent buy-in... and a $100,000 guarantee! There was going to be an overlay - ten million players were needed to break even! - but Jones hoped, 'that this unusual approach would kick-off the series with a be honest, breaking the record was just an afterthought.'

As word spread, thousands upon thousands of PokerStars players started to register, many of them days and weeks in advance of the first cards hitting the virtual felt. One of those was Austrian Simon 'DaDumon' Grabenschweiger who told the PokerStars Blog last year that, 'I was playing a lot of other MTTs and totally forgot I registered for this a few days before. When it popped up I actually tried to get rid of it because I had 12 other tables running!"' Luckily for Grabenschweiger, he kept the table open.

Over on the Isle of Man, PokerStars office staff eagerly awaited the start of the tournament. Mike Jones described the scene. 'There is a sense of excitement in the office when something like this is starting. We are poker people and, it was encouraging for us to see over 250,000 unique people show up to play a single instance of the game we love.' There were two main reasons that Jones and his team could be proud of themselves; first, although the event wasn't marketed as a World Record attempt by PokerStars, 'it quickly became clear that we were going to break it,' and the huge turnout was also a sign to Jones that, 'poker is still going strong.'

tournament_room_ept12_26feb16.jpgBigger than this...

Meanwhile, as the tournament progressed at a rapid pace (there was a turbo structure) Simon Grabenschweiger went from viewing the event as a minor inconvenience to a major opportunity. He was on the final table, and it was going pretty well. Grabenschweiger reminisced, 'Every hand I won was a key hand. When there were four players left I jammed from the small blind versus the big blind with Q-3 and flopped a Queen.' Next to go was a short stack in third after Grabenschweiger flopped another Queen, this time holding the lowly Q-5.

tournament_room_prague_26feb16.jpgAnd this...

Over 253,000 players had been dispatched and now it was heads-up. Grabenschweiger was feeling confident: 'With that many players there were almost no regulars at that stage of the tournament, and even though the decisions are pretty easy from a mathematical point of view a lot of players are very inexperienced dealing with such short-stacks. I was very confident in my abilities and had the run-good to back them up.'

The confidence was well-founded as he went on to win the tournament, the largest ever played. In just under seven hours he had turned one cent into $10,000. Grabenschweiger pointed out that he might have hit another world record himself. 'I guess nobody has turned one cent into $10k in under seven hours before. That's one million times the buy-in. Nice ROI right there.'

lapt_grand_final_26feb16.jpgEven this...

Mike Jones at PokerStars was thrilled at another successful milestone moment for the company - it was an important event but all involved know there will be many more to come. Jones sees it as the responsibility of the business to keep pushing the poker boundaries. 'PokerStars is the undoubted leader in the poker world with over 100,000,000 registered customers. Every decision we make about the game has a ripple effect throughout the poker world. We take pride in that fact but, if you'll excuse the Spider-Man reference, with great power comes great responsibility. All eyes are on us and there is a strong desire to make sure we get it right.'

It's tough to imagine an online poker tournament bigger than the one that Simon Grabenschweiger shipped in October 2015 but that hasn't stopped Jones from dreaming. 'My dream is to host an online tournament that is richer than the 2006 World Series of Poker Main Event.' Or how about hosting a tourney with over one million players instead? Jones says, 'I can absolutely see that - and PokerStars is the place for it to happen!'

Ross Jarvis
@PokerStars in PokerStars news