The Big Issue: Live events need to focus on the players, not profit

EPT Barcelona boasted huge numbers but it also attracted a record number of complaints from players unhappy about payouts, structures and the direction that PokerStars are taking live poker

Why did you start playing poker? We’d bet that you didn’t expect to be able to quit the day job and start crushing the nosebleeds instantly, however appealing that might seem. Pretty much everyone starts playing poker because it’s fun. A lot of fun. And never more so than when you’re playing live, sat next to other people, pitting your poker skills against theirs.

It might be terrifying at times, especially if you’re new to the game or suddenly thrust into a situation where you’re playing for serious and even life-changing money, but it’s also exhilarating. We spoke to former snooker world champion Ken Doherty at a recent tournament and he told us that the buzz of playing live was as close as he’s ever got to playing at The Crucible in his heyday. And if that doesn’t whet your appetite for the game, nothing will.

Tipping point

It might be the thought of winning money that gets you to enter a live tournament but, for most players, it’s going to be the fun they have that brings them back. For some, that seems to have got lost somewhere along the line. There’s been a lot written about PokerStars recently, ever since the sweeping changes to their VIP system alienated once loyal pros like ex-sponsored player Isaac Haxton. More recently, they’ve been given a mauling over the way their live events – the EPT and smaller festivals like the UKIPT – are run.

Irish pro and ex-PokerPlayer columnist Dara O’Kearney made waves recently with a blog post titled ‘A tale of two tours’, where he savaged PokerStars for what he sees as the company putting profits before players.

O’Kearney played at the recent EPT Barcelona and then travelled on to MPN Tallinn, and he said the two events couldn’t have been any more different. “Players may come for the poker [at the MPN], but they stay and keep coming back to stop after stop for the experience.”

“Stars used to be very good at this,” O’Kearney went on to say. “Over time they decided they didn’t want to spend money on this any more, and the goody bags got meaner, the parties less impressive, the hotels simultaneously worse and more expensive, the tournaments simultaneously faster and more raked. In Barcelona I was told that Amaya no longer want to break even from live events: they want to make as much money as they can from them. And boy does it show.”

O’Kearney said that most of the tournaments he played in Barcelona would go straight into his top ten of “most ill tempered MTTs I’ve ever played… When the recreationals reach the point they are too pissed off with Stars to go on attending, they will at least have a look around at other tours rather than just give up on poker forever. Tours like WSOP, MPN, Party, Winamax, GUKPT, GPPT and Unibet who are all making a much bigger effort to make their events fun and profitable rather than merely profitable.”

This wasn’t a hastily scrawled trolling. It was an articulate and well thought-out piece that says what a lot of other players have been murmering for a while now. Players used to hold the power – it’s their money that pays for the tournaments, after all – but now, it seems, their voices aren’t being listened to.

Barcelona was one of the last EPTs before a major re-branding in 2017 will usher in a new two-tier system of tours from PokerStars – the PokerStars Championship and the PokerStars Festival. The former PokerStars Caribbean Adventure will be the first Championship and stops in Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Macau and Panama are already planned for next year. Festival events are more affordable and aimed at recreational players.

Beyond the loss that comes from the nostalgia attached to the EPT, there’s a real fear that these events will not be created with the players in mind. Stars recently switched to 20% payouts across all of its live events (although it has since rolled back on the Super High Rollers), and it means that a lot of players will make a considerable journey for a min-cash equivalent to their buy-in.

Stars say this is good for the poker economy as it will convince them to have another go at a future event. We think they might just put it back in their pockets and find something else to do. A cash is a cash, but once the euphoria dies off, the feeling of heading home with the same amount of money as you left, minus your travel and living expenses, isn’t a great incentive to hit the road again. Earlier start times, poor structures and more hypers might let Stars proclaim their events as the ‘biggest ever’ but are they the best? Or the most fun?

Bring the fun!

If that’s got you feeling thoroughly miserable, here comes the good news. There are still plenty of live tours that put the players first, offer value and see a smile on your face as a sign that you’ll come back and try again, even if you bust in the first level with set-over-set. Because, let’s face it, it’s tough to cash in a tournament.

O’Kearney mentioned the MPN Tour in his blog and this offers fantastic value with big prize pools for a modest €550 buy-in. There’s still one stop left this year, at the Mazagan Beach Resort in Morocco, November 10-13.

And there are other tours trying new and innovative concepts like the new WPT Multi Venue Series, which tries to make it easier for the bulk of players that don’t cash.

The next one, the Multi-Venue Series WPT National Iberia, plays out October 13-16 in Madrid, Barcelona and Vilamoura. Once the field is down to 5% – simultaneously across the three venues – the tournament is paused and the remaining players join up for the final two days at the Hotel Algarve Casino in Portugal (October 22-23).

It means that you can play for a big prize pool (the last Multi Venue event had an €80k first prize) for a small buy-in (€750) without having to fork out for travel and expenses before you cash. It’s a fantastic new idea and we hope it’s rolled out to other regions soon.

The WPT National Iberia adds extras on top too. In Madrid you can go and watch the Real Madrid basketball team play. In Vilamoura you get a free golf tournament with prizes. There are parties at all the venues, with music and entertainment on top, in a bid to ensure everyone has a good time – not just the players that are lucky (or good) enough to cash.

Join us for guaranteed fun (and sun)!

The key to finding the right tournament for you is to shop around. There are loads of tournaments in almost every country around the world, and some offer way more than others. As a poker player it’s your job to ensure the next one you play at is +EV, whether you win, cash or bust. Don’t settle for second best, and don’t settle for a tournament that’s just run to get your cash. The bottom line is, you don’t have to.

If you want some help, and you’re looking for a live event that’s prepared to go the extra mile, offers you more bang for your buck (Sklansky or otherwise) and guarantees to put a smile on your face, win or lose, join us later this month in Morocco.

Mazagan Beach Resort

Mazagan 10 High Roller

  • September 24-25*
  • Buy-in: €10,000 + €1,000
  • Includes 4 nights free hotel room with breakfast and dinner included

The Mazagan Beach Resort is a luxurious five-star resort in Morocco, home to the biggest casino in Africa and boasting kilometers of stunning private beach and a fantastic links golf course. Register for the €10k high roller and you’ll get free accommodation plus a free golf tournament on top. Mazagan are also putting on an exclusive VIP player party sponsored by Party Poker who certainly know how to make a party rock.

Take down the golf tournament and you’ll win four-nights for eight people at Desert Springs Golf resort in Spain, plus a round of golf per person, with extra prizes for the runners-up.

Fariss Sunset Poker

  • September 23-25
  • Buy-in: 11,000MAD (approx. £790)
  • Single package includes 1 x buy-in + 4 nights accomodation in a single room with half board
  • Package for two players includes 2 x buy-ins + 4 nights in a twin or double room with half board

If the Mazagan 10 is out of your bankroll, the Fariss runs at the same time at the Mazagan Beach resort, with a more affordable buy-in. The good news is that you can make use of all the fantastic hotel facilities – golf, buggies, horse-riding, and the rest – and you’ll also be invited to the player party with a four-night B&B accommodation package (Sept 22-26), or the party and the golf tournament with a five-night package (Sept 22-27).

Click here for more details.

*If you’re looking at the above dates and thinking WCOOP, Mazagan have got your back there too. The two tournaments are running over the final weekend of WCOOP but you can play online while you play the live events, with free, fast wi-fi throughout the venue.

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