All eyes in the poker world will be on the PokerStars tables this month as we celebrate the 13th anniversary of the most revered online tournament of them all: the PokerStars Sunday Million. It takes place on April 14, 1pm ET. As you may have read, there’s a $10 million guarantee and a guaranteed $1 million first-place prize. But who’s going to win it?
Predicting a winner in a tournament with many thousands of entrants is nigh-on impossible. So let’s say this right from the start: the eventual champion almost certainly isn’t going to get a mention in this article series. But it’s still worth taking a look at some of the most likely contenders. If we were drawing up a betting market, here are a few folks who would at least attract a specified price.
Last time, we glanced at some of the established megastars of poker, both online and in the live environment, all of whom should be strong contenders in the anniversary event. But with the help of the PokerStars card-room staff, we’ve also been able to look at some of the top performers in tournaments just like the Sunday Million, and from that group have been able to select another few names worth watching.
The poker data specialists ran a search for tournaments with a $215 buy-in, the same as the Sunday Million, which had a guarantee of at least $1 million. From this, we’ve been able to determine which players have won the most money from these events; who has the most outright victories; who plays the most; and who has the best ROI. Our future champion may be lurking among them.
As we saw in Part 1 of this series, some of the greatest names in online poker have never won the Sunday Million. But there are some players who have done so more than once.
According to our data analysts, seven players have won a $215 buy-in $1M guaranteed tournament twice over the past five years. And one of them, Russia’s Artem “veeea” Vezhenkov, has done so three times. His total haul through 297 tournaments played at this level is $646,609, and when you also factor in that veeea has multiple Super Tuesday victories, plus a WCOOP title, he emerges as a clear frontrunner.
According to PocketFives, veeea’s lifetime cashes across all sites online total $8.4 million. He also popped up at the recent EPT Sochi Main Event, cashing in 61st, shortly after making the final table of the EPT Open. Vezhenkov is a real talent.
The other six multiple winners are:
“Internett93o” (Brazil), “thx4urm0n3y” (Canada), “VinceVegaMFR” (Brazil), Rob “robtinnion” Tinnion (UK), Mantas “bagoch” Bagočius (Lithuania), and Scott “Aggro Santos” Margereson (UK). Of those, Aggro Santos is best known to followers of live poker as Margereson makes regular appearances on the European tournament circuit. All of these six can all claim to have been here before, and thus all will rightly be considered ones to watch.
Over the past five years, three players have won more than $1 million from tournaments at this level: “Xavi666” (Panama), “DrUPSWING” (Denmark/Germany) and “Daenarys T” (Netherlands). To the surprise of perhaps nobody, they owe their seven-figure totals primarily to previous anniversary Sunday Million events.
Xavi666 won the 11th Anniversary event in April 2017. DrUPSWING won the 8th Anniversary event three years before that. And Daenarys T won the “Take 2” version of the 2018 tournament, telling PokerStars Blog shortly afterwards that he slept for one hour and then bought a Rolex.
None of these three play what might be called high volume at PokerStars anymore, at least not at the $215 buy-in level. They have each registered for fewer than 100 tournaments of this size in the past five years, and a return to the winner’s circle for the 13th Anniversary tournament would represent a lightning striking twice occurrence. It’s not impossible, but it’s not particularly likely.
However, if we look a little further down the table topped by these three previous anniversary winners, we do find some more serious contenders. The British duo of “hdjgkfkgsdl” and Richard “ThEcLaiMEer” Trigg have each played close to 300 tournaments of this size in the past five years, registering cashes of $935,615 and $752,159, respectively. Similarly Sweden’s “Sasuke234” has $730,902 tournament cashes at this level, from a career resume that shows a lifetime total of more than $10.5 million across all sites.
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ThEcLaiMEer and Sasuke234 in particular need to be considered very seriously as contenders to win any online tournament they enter. Both are consistently in the global top 10 of tournament players (Sasuke234 has been as high as second; ThEcLaiMEer was as high as fourth in 2014). Sasuke234 has won 126 online tournaments outright; ThEcLaiMEer has won nearly 300. And, most importantly, their big $215 buy-in tournament totals represent only a fraction of their overall hauls.
Neither has won the Sunday Million, at least not in the past five years, but these two undoubtedly have the pedigree to put that right this month.
You’ve got to be in it to win it, and over the past five years there is no one in world poker who has been in it more than Johannes “Greenstone25” Korsar.
Records show he has played more than 300 tournaments on PokerStars at the $215 buy-in level — and has booked a decent profit, too. In a 12-year professional career, Korsar has $12.3 million in online tournament cashes. He’s never won the Sunday Million, but he at least has had the practice.
On the subject of high volume players, we find Greece’s “Velouxiotis” with more than 390 buy-ins (and a $50,000+ profit) at this level, and also Russell “rdcrsn” Carson. From the 78 players who are in the 300+ club, it’s probably worth also picking out Johan “busto_soon” Van Til. His username has been promising something it hasn’t delivered for more than 12 years. He’s a former Sunday Million champion as well.
Looking more closely at our list of tournament results, it’s probably worth dwelling for a moment on the column labelled ROI (or “return on investment”). Arguably this is the way we really figure out the consistent performers.
At the top of the ROI list, we of course find players who have essentially hit and run on the Sunday Million. Bulgaria’s “kapchin”, for example, finished second in the 12th Anniversary Sunday Million this time last year and won $707,574. That was kapchin’s first and last tournament at this buy-in, securing the kind of ROI it might be tempting not to ruin by actually playing again. Greece’s “moutsoun75” is in a similar boat. He finished fourth in the same tournament last year and was similarly playing at that level for the only time.
(According to our records, the two players who have actually won Sunday Million-level tournaments the first and only time they played it are Hungary’s “mrw8419” and “EVERFR0ST” from Finland.)
However, if we restrict our searches to players who have played at this level more than 100 times, we find Lithuania’s “benislovas” whose 109 appearances have earned him an average $7,828 each time, with one outright win.
“a.urli” of Canada is not far behind — he won the 10th Anniversary Sunday Million — while there’s another familiar name in the top five of this list: Kyle “KJulius10” Julius, whose 103 tournaments at this level have netted him $381,100, including one win.
When we restrict this search further, to players who have a minimum 200 or 300 appearances at this level, we begin to see some established bosses rising to the top. Just take a look at the following lists:
Average win, more than 200 tournaments played:
Average win, more than 300 tournaments played:
Again, it is worth reiterating that the attempt to pick a winner from this event — which will have tens of thousands of runners — is essentially impossible. However, everyone mentioned above has reason to consider themselves well positioned for a crack at the title… and a first prize guaranteed to be at least $1 million.
NB: All stats correct at time of writing.