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Ryan McLane

Ryan  McLane
Ryan McLane was a poker reporter for Casino City. Although he has a strong background in reporting, the same can't be said for his poker skills. He has never won a major tournament nor is he a professional player. Currently, Ryan lives in Boston and occasionally makes international treks to cover tournament poker and news.

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PokerStars hosts largest poker tournament in history

20 Mar 2007

By Ryan McLane

The largest poker tournament in history took less than 11 hours to complete.

PokerStars, celebrating the one-year anniversary of their weekly Sunday Million, drew 10,508 players for their $1.5 million guaranteed event, creating the largest field for any big-buy-in-tournament live or online.

The prize pool, which exceeded $2 million, was also a record for an online tournament that was not part of a special series (World Championships of Online Poker –WCOOP or the Full Tilt Online Poker Series - FTOPS).

"I was astonished," PokerStars Poker Room Manager Lee Jones said. "I didn't think we'd hit 10 - eight or nine thousand maybe, but then again, I've been underestimating the size of fields for the last three to four years."

Quick results

The Sunday Million winner was decided in a matter of hours, unlike the massive World Series of Poker and World Poker Tour events that can take days or weeks to complete.

Online tournaments do not have dealers or chips, thus, shuffling time and minutes spent stacking and counting are eliminated.

This allows online tournament players to see an average of three to fours times more hands per hours than their live-player counterparts. It also allows online tournament directors to have shorter levels without sacrificing the level of poker.

The Sunday Million averages a run time of 12 hours.

"I think the reduced time definitely makes people more likely to play in a large online event," Jones said. "Look at the WSOP. They had 8,800 players in the Main Event and it took them 14 days to finish. We can do that with relative ease in 9-10 hours. Our players don't have to set aside two weeks of their lives. They can play in the largest tournament in history in the course of one Sunday evening."

A History of Records

The Sunday Million launch was the third significant achievement for PokerStars in March of 2006.

The site hit a mark of 100,000 players logged-in at the same time, an astonishing feat considering they first hit 10,000 players at one time in November 2003.

"I remember when we hit the 10,000 player mark," Jones said. "It was a big deal at the time. Now we have 10,000 players competing in one tournament."

Poker Stars also reached the 5-million player benchmark that month.

Las Vegas native George Draper, a 35-year-old chef who was new to online poker, joined the poker room in early March as the record-breaking player. That made the PokerStars population larger than the 46th biggest city in the world, larger than Baghdad, Toronto and Washington D.C.

The launch of a weekly $1 guaranteed tournament was a naturally conclusion.

Several sites, including Paradise Poker, Party Poker, PokerRoom, and Ultimate Bet were running large buy-in events every Sunday, and experimenting with major monthly/seasonal events.

But Poker Stars was the first to do it weekly.

In May, June and July of 2006, PokerStars averaged around 5,200 players per Sunday Million. Those numbers created prize pools just over the $1 million guarantee, but hinted at greater success considering the events were still drawing players during the WSOP.

A record-breaking crowd of 5,921 on Aug. 21 put PokerStars on the precipice of cracking the 6,000 player figure, but it didn't break until after they ran the record-breaking World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP).

That series drew 27,399 and created an $18.5 million prize pool, including a Main Event figure of $6.2 million. Professional J.C Tran took home $670,194, the largest single-person payout in online poker history.

The largest boost of calendar 2006 came after Party Poker dropped out of the U.S. market because of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement act.

PokerStars broke the 6,000 player barrier in October, and then broke their own participation record five straight weeks starting two weeks after the UIGEA passed.

The first non-holiday event in 2007 (Jan. 7) saw PokerStars break the 7,000 barrier.

PokerStars peaked the following week at 7,632 players. Then the NETeller arrests, coupled with the NFL Playoff schedule, slowed the growth once again, bringing the poker room back under the new benchmark.

Overall, the Sunday Million has stood the test of time. PokerStars has two-overlays in the history of their Sunday Million – Father's Day and Christmas Eve (Both 2006).

"Breaking records is not something we planned," Jones said.

"When bad things happen you deal with them, you put your head down and go on running a poker site. Our job is deliver a fair and honest poker game and give players promotions that will keep them happy and keep them playing at PokerStars."

Lee added, "You can't control things that happen outside. You can only hope that the players can respond to adverse situations. And they have in spades."

The Future…for now

Lee said there are no plans to increase the Sunday tournament guarantee. He believes player participation drives the process.

PokerStars will increase their guarantee when player demand warrants the jump, Lee said. He doesn't believe the site will make incremental raises like a $1.2 million guarantee, choosing instead to wait for a significant increase like $1.5 or $2 million.

"I don't see much point of increasing until there is another big threshold. "$1 million brings them in," Lee said. "If it seems likely that we can reach $1.5 million every week, we might guarantee that and put another stake in the ground, but personally, I appreciate the ad hoc nature in the growth. We don't decide the levels, the players do."

Mucking McLane
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