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The Scoop on the WCOOP -- Inside 2009's Biggest Online Poker Series

PokerStars Poker Room Managers Talk About New Features, New Tournaments, and How You Could Wind Up a Millionaire


WCOOP logoIn 2008, two poker players logged off of their PokerStars accounts each more than $1 million richer. That was after the conclusion of last year’s World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) main event. The good news for online poker players is that this year’s series promises to be even bigger.

“Despite the issue with the economy in the world, we still had good growth in our business over the last year,” said PokerStars Poker Room Manager Mike Jones, “So, I think that we can expect that — to some extent, at least — to translate into participation in the main event.”

The 2009 WCOOP, which will run from Sept. 3-21 (see the full 2009 WCOOP schedule), is made up of 45 events. The main event alone guarantees a prize pool of $10 million, and across the totality of the series, a minimum of $40 million will be won by those who participate. Guarantees of $1 million or more are featured in 14 events.

PokerStars also launched for this year, a site providing information about the tournament series, including news, video highlights, event listings, satellite listings, statistics, history, leader boards, and a hall of fame.

Card Player caught up with Jones and Alex Scott, a fellow PokerStars poker room manager, to talk about the upcoming Championship and what players can expect.

Shawn Patrick Green: What are you most excited about with the upcoming WCOOP?

Alex Scott: All of us are poker players ourselves, so it’s very exciting to work on something like the WCOOP, which is making history every year, always pushing the boundaries, and always trying to do something new. We set a pretty high standard with the WCOOP last year, but this year I think we have better structures than last year and we’ve got a wider variety of games, and I think we’ll have bigger prize pools, as well.

SPG: How cheaply can I get into the main event this year?

Mike Jones: The cheapest way that I can think of is to start in a Step 1 sit-and-go tournament, which has a $7.50 buy-in. You can work your way up through the Step system and translate that $7.50 into your $5,200 main-event buy-in. And in that final Step 6 tournament, you’ve got, literally, a 1-in-3 shot of winning your seat. The top three in that Step 6 satellite win their $5,200 entries, and then the fourth- and fifth-place finishers actually leave with $1,200. So, it’s not a bad way to start off cheap and work your way up.

AS: We are also running frequent player point (FPP) buy-in tournaments that satellite people directly into other WCOOP tournaments. We have a 100 FPP satellite to the $109 no-limit hold’em event, which is event No. 6.

MJ: And also, regarding the Step satellites, you can actually buy into Step 1 for 500 FPP, and that’s just another chance to get in cheaply and work your way up.

SPG: What are some of the new features of the 2009 WCOOP that are particularly exciting for you at PokerStars?

AS: I just touched on one of them, which is the “Stimulus Event,” as we call it, event No. 6. That’s one of the lowest buy-in events we’ve ever had in the WCOOP; it’s a $109 no-limit hold’em event with $1 million guaranteed. We reckon the first-place prize in that event will be around at least $130,000, and maybe up to $180,000, depending upon how many players we get. The chance to win that much money for $109 is good value, I think. The success of a similarly styled event at the World Series is very encouraging, since that was one of the inspirations for our event.

From a more technical standpoint, we have some new features, as well. We’re going to have a much-improved extended registration system, we’ll have faster dealing (which we introduced with the SCOOP Spring Championship of Online Poker earlier in the year), we’ll have better payout structures than ever before, better structures than ever before, and something which is new news today — we’ll have synchronized breaks, as well.

SPG: What’s the riskiest addition to this year’s schedule, and why do you think that?

MJ: There are a few things that we’re doing differently this year. In the past, we’ve had our WCOOP tournaments always start at either 14:30 or 16:30 ET. This year, we’ve included five tournaments that begin at 8 p.m. ET (20:00), which possibly reduces the number of European player’s well have in those. Then, on the other end of the spectrum, we’re going to have four tournaments that start at 12:45 p.m. ET, which means that in those we’re not going to have as many North and South Americans. So, it’s riskier for us in terms of making the guarantees, but we wanted to make sure that more people in more time zones could be accommodated.

AS: One of the more interesting events in the schedule is event No. 34, which is the $215 no-limit hold’em with big antes. That event has some interesting beginnings; it came about as a result of a little competition that we had in poker room management here at PokerStars. Four of us who work on the tournaments team had a competition for who could create the most popular tournament. They all ran at the same time with the same buy-in; this was on April Fools day. We used the feedback we got from that to develop this big-antes structure, and the idea is that it forces people to mix it up, get involved, and make post-flop decisions. We don’t expect a tight player to win that event at all [laughs].

The reason that it’s a little bit risky is that it’s a little unorthodox; it hasn’t been tested as much. It’s almost like a trial, if you like. But we think it should be popular. We definitely expect a great player to win that event.

SPG: Were there any lessons learned from player suggestions or mishaps in previous editions of the WCOOP that have been applied to this year’s event?

AS: We’ve touched on two things already. One was the extended registration, which didn’t work as well as it could have previously. Another thing is that we’re offering a wider variety of starting times to accommodate more people around the world, particularly players from Australia, who have asked for events that start later, and Europeans have asked us for events to start earlier. We also have two $109 events.

MJ: We’ve also had a lot of requests in the past for a turbo event. We haven’t quite gone to the extreme of offering a turbo event, but event No. 6 that Alex mentioned earlier, the $109 no-limit hold’em, is using a structure with 10-minute levels and much bigger jumps in the blinds and antes from level to level than is typical for a WCOOP event. It’s faster, but I think that a lot of people are going to be very excited about that and enjoy it.

AS: We also have a number of events that have 20-minute levels. We’ve had a lot of feedback in the past where people have said, “We understand that the WCOOP is the World Championship, and we want a good structure, but we don’t necessarily want to sit and play for 18 hours without a good break. So, we looked at the schedule from last year, and tournaments that lasted for a very, very long time — I think 16 hours or more — we made an effort to keep a good structure with those, but in those cases we either have gone with a two-day event or we’ve gone for 20-minute levels.

SPG: People within the online poker community are asking why PokerStars decided against going with tiered buy-ins for the WCOOP, as you guys did (with success) for the SCOOP this year. What was your reasoning behind that decision?

AS: Certainly one of the major reasons was that we wanted to keep the prestige of the WCOOP intact. The WCOOP is the World Championship, and, for example, at the World Series you don’t have a $10 event or a $100 event. It’s supposed to be the biggest, most prestigious tournaments on the online poker calendar. At the same time, we’re offering cheap ways to get into these tournaments.

That’s not to say, by the way, that we didn’t consider doing something similar to SCOOP. We definitely did.

MJ: I think that it’s apples and oranges. SCOOP was great, and it is what it is, but that’s SCOOP, and this is WCOOP. This is a different event, and it’s a different goal. It helps to concentrate the participation into fewer tournaments, which makes for bigger prize pools and more exciting poker for the players.

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