It just isn’t a brand new one.
The conversations I had with PokerStars and European Poker Tour executives almost a decade ago were all off the record. However, I feel comfortable revealing the details of those conversations here, because all of the people involved have moved on.
It was a time when what was good for the game trumped corporate greed. They fostered the growth of poker like it was their own child. PokerStars felt like a place that would always protect players and the game they loved. They have since been replaced by experts in corporate doublespeak. People that, until details of this new event were revealed, always seemed to put the shareholder well ahead of the customer, no matter what the cost.
The WSOP heads to Europe
The year 2007 was the first one in which the World Series of Poker left the friendly confines of Las Vegas, Nevada and headed across the pond to Europe. The inaugural WSOP Europe was by no means a huge event. However, it did mark the start of the WSOP’s foray into European poker. Of course, the PokerStars sponsored European Poker Tour was just hitting its stride at that time. It was quickly becoming the richest poker tour on the planet, outside of the WSOP.
PokerStars and the EPT had Europe on lock. Event entries and prize pools were ballooning wherever they went. The European appetite for poker appeared insatiable. So when the WSOP came over and looked to expand across Europe, executives at PokerStars and the EPT didn’t object. They had their piece of the pie. Instead, they were at least willing to share the rest of it, for the good of the game.
A meeting was set up between EPT executives and WSOP brass. For the EPT, the idea was to lay out its plans for tournament locations and dates over the next few years. That would allow the WSOP to fill in the gaps. If there were conflicts, they’d work it out. Instead of competing against one another, by sharing information, they could avoid each other. Both would have the chance to prosper. Ultimately, the big winner would be European poker players or anyone willing to travel there to play.
The EPT did exactly that, letting the WSOP know its entire plan. The WSOP said thanks and left the meeting without ever revealing any plans of its own.
The PokerStars $100 million freeroll
When PokerStars founder and original owner Isai Scheinberg got wind of the snub, the word is he wasn’t pleased. If the WSOP wanted to fight for pieces of poker’s pie rather than share it, he had an idea that could end the entire battle in one fell swoop.
The plan would be to run a live $100 million freeroll at a Las Vegas, Nevada casino at the same time as the WSOP Main Event. The WSOP Main Event would still have the prestige of being poker’s World Championship. However, a significant number of players would surely have walked away from that given the opportunity to win pieces of a $100 million prize pool without having to risk a dime.
Without a doubt, entry numbers would have been down at the WSOP Main Event. Plus, PokerStars, which had already built a reputation as an organization that put poker first, would have reaped an immeasurable amount of public relations goodwill.
Of course, it never happened. Over the years, the WSOP never really tried to take over Europe from the EPT. Perhaps, as a result, Scheinberg never tried to take away poker’s World Championship away from the WSOP.
The PokerStars Players No Limit Hold’em Championship
Fast forward to today and PokerStars’ plan for the PokerStars Players No Limit Hold’em Championship at the 2019 PCA. It’s significantly less than the $100 million Scheinberg seemed willing to give away. Plus, this event isn’t exactly aimed at smiting the competition.
Still, $9 million is a lot of money in today’s splintered poker economy. Plus, if the event is aimed at repairing the image of a company that recently pulled the rug out from underneath its highest volume players, reneging on a promise to pay out tens of thousands in bonuses, raising the rake, and generally promoting new variants of the game that rewards luck over skill, it’s likely to succeed.
And if it doesn’t, they can always roll out Scheinberg’s $100 million freeroll idea again.