PokerStars the clear online tournament series leader
By Ryan McLane
The PokerStars World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP), with more than 25,000 participants, is still the premier online poker tournament series.
But Full Tilt Poker and UltimateBet are not that far behind.
The Full Tilt Online Pokers Series (FTOPS I and II) tournaments attracted more than 18,000 players and boasted payouts of more than $3 million this fall.
And the UltimateBet Online Championships (UBOC) drew 6,254 players, giving away more than $2.5 million in cash in it inaugural run.
The promising starts for Full Tilt and UltimateBet mean the WCOOP has some competition for the title of best online poker series, but each site needs to increase their visibility and prize pools if they want to match the top dog.
Overall: WCOOP – PokerStars
Participation: WCOOP - PokerStars
Prize Pools: WCOOP - PokerStars
Special Features: WCOOP - PokerStars
By the Numbers
PokerStars is the clear leader in online series participation. The WCOOP began five years ago with a structure similar to the popular land-based World Series of Poker. The first series was a small one, but as poker boomed, so did the WCOOP.
In 2006, PokerStars attracted 27,399 players for their 18-tournament series, including an impressive 4,495 players for the No-Limit Hold'em Event # 2.
Full Tilt first offered their FTOPS series in August. The initial run was a hit, attracting 7,798 players for nine events. In November, Full Tilt ran FTOPS II and drew 11,279 players for nine events. The 3,010 players who entered FTOPS II Event #2 comprised a near-record field for a Full Tilt multi-table tournament.
UltimateBet held its first tournament series in December. Much like Full Tilt, UltimateBet drew strong numbers in each of the 10 events, ending up with 6,254 participants.
The tournament series participation levels reflect the three poker sites' standings in the U.S. friendly online poker site rankings, according to www.pokersitescout.com. Among U.S friendly sites, PokerStars, Full Tilt, and UltimateBet rank one, two, and three respectively.
Going by pure numbers, PokerStars is the clear leader. However, with entrant levels well above two, three and even four thousand players for the bigger No-Limit Hold'em events, players may find the smaller tournaments offered by Full Tilt and UltimateBet to be more appealing and easier to win.
PokerStars, which already holds a weekly $1 million guaranteed tournament, guaranteed $3 million in cash for their WCOOP Main Event in 2006 --, the largest guaranteed payout in online history. If it wasn't for a deal at the Main Event final table, PokerStars would have been the first online site to hand one player $1 million in a single event. By way of comparison, the 2006 WCOOP had four tournaments with guaranteed monies of more than $1 million. Full Tilt and UltimateBet just started holding $1 million guaranteed tournaments in the last two months.
The FTOPS II Main Event allowed Full Tilt to join PokerStars, Party Poker, and Paradise Poker in the $1 million guaranteed club. The poker room has capitalized on their U.S. friendly stance in the post UIGEA era and can now comfortably offer a $1 million tournament and expect to meet the guarantee.
Before the UBOC, UltimateBet was a small-timer in the multi-table tournament scene. While they do hold a weekly $200,000 guaranteed tournament, their player numbers have never warranted a larger promised payout. That all changed during the UBOC.
UltimateBet became the fifth site to offer a $1 million guaranteed tournament (the UBOC Main Event), but the field of 1,400 players ($700,000 in entrant monies) fell significantly short of the guarantee. A $300,000 overlay is good for players, but it's bad for a site trying to prove it belongs with the big boys.
Players looking for the big prizes need to go no further than PokerStars. Eight players reached the six-figure mark in this year's WCOOP Main Event final table, including a record single-person payout of $670,194. Full Tilt looks to be headed in the right direction. The poker room is drawing more players and increasing guarantees.. But UltimateBet, which did well in their first attempt, needs to work on drawing more players.
Got to have those special features
PokerStars relies mostly on huge player turnout and large prize pools to attract attention. But the WCOOP gold bracelet, modeled after the WSOP gold bracelet, is also an excellent draw for players looking to add a little prestige to their resume. PokerStars was also the first site of offer live commentary at its final tables.
Full Tilt awards their FTOPS winners a custom gold avatar for use on the site. The only other ways to get a custom avatar is to spend one million Full Tilt Points or become a Full Tilt professional. Like PokerStars, Full Tilt highlighted their professional player presence throughout the FTOPS series. But Full Tilt took it one step further, offering a bounty on each of their paid professionals.
UltimateBet borrowed a little bit from PokerStars and Full Tilt for its well-rounded special offerings. Using the star power of professionals Phil Hellmuth and Annie Duke, UltimateBet marketed their pro-player bounty in order to draw players. They also had a solid professional commentary and analysis available towards the end of every UBOC event.
If you could combine the creativity of Full Tilt, the final table commentary of UltimateBet, and the professionalism of PokerStars, you'd have the perfect tournament series. However, when it comes to special features, PokerStars has it right -- and it should, considering they've been in the WCOOP business for five-years.
The popularity of the WSOP was driving force behind creating these online poker series. With each of the major sites now entering the tournament series market, the prestige of these events should grow. And while none may ever match the popularity of the WSOP, the convenience of playing at home while competing in a major tournament should makes these events "must plays" for amateur and pro alike.