WCOOP 2013: Inside Story

WCOOP 2013 was the biggest and (almost) richest online World Championship yet, and a worthy counterpart to the live WSOP. But how has it grown to become one of the must-play events of the year? PokerPlayer investigates…

Every September thousands of poker players – from the micro-stakes dreamers to the nosebleed grinders – fire up their laptops, stock up their fridges and cancel all social plans for three weeks of tournaments as PokerStars hosts its annual World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP).

From humble beginnings in 2002, WCOOP has become the one truly unmissable online poker festival of the year, where life-changing amounts of money can be won, tourney structures are the best around, and just about everyone can find a game and format they want to play.

Fairy stories

While WCOOP events are often dominated by big-name pro players, from main event winners like JC Tran (2006), Yevgeniy Timoshenko (2009), and Tyson ‘POTTERPOKER’ Marks (2010) – who with his $2,278,097 win still holds the record for the largest ever online tournament cash – there are some astonishing rags-to-riches stories too…

Last year Russian Marat ‘maratik’ Sharafutdinov entered the $5,200 NL hold’em main event on the back of a 40 FPP (Frequent Player Points) satellite entry. After two days he was at the final table and declaring, in his best pigeon English, ‘I wont million’. After taking the event down, he duly got it, in what must rank as one of the biggest return on investments in poker history.

Bigger, Better

This year, the WCOOP added one more tournament to the schedule to make it the largest World Championship to date and the conservative $40 million guarantee was easily surpassed. It was the second biggest WCOOP prize pool to date of $62,363,757, just $800k short of what it was in 2010, pre-Black Friday, when thousands of Americans were also playing. It’s an impressive figure. So how did WCOOP come to be the online tournament behemoth that it is today?

PokerPlayer spoke to the man responsible for putting the schedule together, Bryan Slick to see how the festival has grown to become one of the highlights of the poker year…

Q&A: Bryan Slick

PokerStars tournaments team manager, Bryan Slick, tells the inside Story of the WCOOP…

WCOOP has been around since 2002, but when did it become a must-play event on the poker calendar?
Bryan Slick: I’d say by 2007 or 2008. The total prize pool first eclipsed $20 million in 2007 ($24.2 million), while in 2008 the series expanded from 23 to 33 events; having said that, even as far back as 2005 WCOOP was the third biggest poker series (live or online) during the year.

How do you go about planning the festival schedule?
First, we look at what we ran the previous year. We take a look at what was very popular, and what underperformed or overperformed. That review allows us to decide what to keep and modify, etc. We then consider what we have developed in the previous year that might be worth including in the World Championship, whether that’s a new format entirely, like Ante Up or Progressive Knockout, or a format that has been growing in popularity throughout the previous year, such as when we added NL Omaha Hi/Lo.

Who do you think WCOOP is mostly for these days?
WCOOP is for a wide swath of the poker population, from mid-to-high stakes grinders who play nearly every event, to the low-stakes recreational player who sees a particular WCOOP event as an aspirational goal.

Do you see WCOOP as the online equivalent of the WSOP?
We do. Online poker players build their schedule around WCOOP just like live poker tournament players clear out time to play the WSOP. In some ways, such as the structures, I see WCOOP as superior to the WSOP. In terms of experience, even as an absolute devotee and booster of online poker, I have to admit that it’s hard to compare the two experiences. There’s nothing quite like playing in the WSOP, as I found out last year when I played for the first time. We hope people will think of winning a WCOOP bracelet as the pinnacle of online poker achievement, just like winning a WSOP bracelet is the ultimate goal for live tournaments.

What are the future plans for WCOOP? Are there any thoughts of fusing some live elements with the core online series to bring more mainstream appeal?
We have discussed live elements of WCOOP but we recognise that this is the online championship. That being said, we’re always open to new and creative options. As for the future, we hope that WCOOP will continue to grow. Our reach into the world gets larger all the time, and as our player base expands, our need to service those players will continue to expand along with it.

For more WCOOP articles, get the latest issue of PokerPlayer Magazine on iTunes here.

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