PokerStars Big 20 – 2020: Poker during a pandemic

December 04, 2021inPoker

PokerStars Big 20 - 2020 - Poker during a pandemic

PokerStars is celebrating its 20th Anniversary: 20 years as the best known and most trusted online poker site.

To join the celebrations here at PokerStars Blog, we are looking back year-by-year on those two decades, noting the landmarks and remembering all the remarkable moments, fitting them into the wider landscape of poker’s sensational development.

Today we look back at 2020 when a global pandemic changed all aspects of everyday life, poker included.

It’s safe to say that 2020 was a year that did not go as anyone planned. For most of us, 2020 was like being dealt a nice pair of queens and seeing a flop come A-K-3. Soon we had to put aside whatever visions we had for the year and take a different approach.

The threat posed by the COVID-19 outbreak was officially declared a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. Soon we were all “folding,” so to speak. We sat tight and waited for vaccines to be developed. It would take most of the year before the first one appeared.

For many, the pandemic meant cutting down or even eliminating altogether face-to-face interaction with others. We all became accustomed to washing our hands, wearing masks, and practicing social distancing.

A change of plans

Such a circumstance obviously affected poker in an unprecedented way. After all, gathering together and interacting over cards and chips is not only a necessity of live poker, but for many one of the game’s chief attractions. How could the game go on?

PokerStars had a full calendar of events planned for 2020, among them a second running of the PokerStars Players No-Limit Hold’em Championship (PSPC) originally set to take place in Barcelona in August. There were also other European Poker Tour series, Road to PSPC stops, Lex Live events, and more.

PokerStars wasn’t alone, of course, having to postpone live tournaments and other events. All major and minor tours did the same in 2020.

Indeed, for a few weeks casinos around the world shut their doors altogether. Gradually many began reopening and operating at reduced capacity, although oftentimes poker rooms remained closed. Live poker was destined to take a bit of a hiatus, for the most part.

Sure, poker teaches patience. But how long were players going to have to wait?

From kitchen tables to virtual tables: Home games move online

I play in a fun once-a-month home game, and while there was an early March 2020 game by April no one was all that inclined to meet in person to play. So we moved the game online, creating our own club in PokerStars Home Games and continuing the game all year and into the next.

We did what a lot of folks did, playing online while also sharing a Zoom call so we could see each other, talk trash, and more or less enjoy the same camaraderie we do when playing in person.

We weren’t alone, either. Many other home games moved online in 2020 as well, including the “Hollywood home game” hosted by Hank Azaria.

Moving their game online gave Azaria and his friends an idea. “If there was ever a time to design an online charity poker tournament, this is it,” Azaria told the PokerStars Blog when he and Andy Bellin discussed with us what they had in mind.

In May 2020, Hank and about 90 of his celebrity poker buddies played an online charity event at PokerStars called Stars Call for Action. The event raised more than $1 million for a number of different charities, with winner David Costabile earning a cool $100,000 for the World Central Kitchen.

Action from Stars CALL For Action (May 2020)

Action from Stars CALL For Action (May 2020)

Hank’s Home Game continued thereafter as well, with Hank continuing to host smaller groups for games on PokerStars earlier this year.

The pandemic introduced a lot of changes like this one with more businesses finding ways to allow people to work remotely and groups finding other creative ways to get together while remaining apart. Even now with vaccines prevalent, many of these changes in our routines have remained in place.

Indeed, our home game has now taken on kind of a hybrid format, alternating between in-person and online meetings. It’s the sort of thing we probably never would have imagined doing had not circumstances made it necessary, but now adds a neat wrinkle to the games while also allowing those who don’t live close enough to play in person to participate as well.

Online events additionally fill the void

Online poker filled a need in 2020, providing an alternative to many desirous to play their favorite card game.

PokerStars had its usual line-up of online tournaments series in 2020, with SCOOP, WCOOP and the Micromillions events all drawing big fields as usual.

Meanwhile new series appeared online during the year as well. The first BSOP Online series debuted in April. The first ever Summer Series followed in June. Then came the first Stadium Series during July and August.

There were online series on PokerStars’ US sites during 2020 as well. PokerStars had launched in New Jersey some years before in 2016. Then near the end of 2019, PokerStars launched in Pennsylvania as well, meaning players in both NJ and PA were able to play in their own “COOPs” plus other series throughout 2020.

Now three states have PokerStars rooms, as PokerStars Michigan launched in Jan. 2021.

The year 2020 tested us all, with the effects of the pandemic wide-ranging and dramatic. For many, how the pandemic affected poker was not of great concern. There was much else to worry about, things for which the stakes were considerably higher than whatever a pile of chips accumulated during a hand of hold’em represented.

That said, during the pandemic playing poker online became one way many were able to remain together while staying apart.


2019 – The greatest (and most unlikely) poker achievements
2018 – The year of platinum hunting
2017 – The oral history of the Fintan and Spraggy stream
2016 – The poker community gives back
2015 – The rise of the global game
2014 – The art of the streak
2013 – Is this the best final table ever?
2012 – A look back at some of poker’s best (and worst) innovations
2011 – Isuldur1 and the nosebleed cash games
2010 – Poker as a TV and streaming spectacle
2009 – The live poker boom hits its highest point
2008 – Where future superstars cut their teeth
2007 – The changing face of the sponsored pro
2006 – How poker prize pools ballooned
2005 – Reporting on poker will never catch on…
2004 – The Year of the EPT
2003 – Chris Moneymaker wins WSOP, sparks ‘poker boom’
2002 – The year of WCOOP
2001 – Electronic poker before PokerStars

The Big 20 Rewind


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