PokerStars made a stunning announcement when it informed the poker community it would be consolidating and rebranding its myriad poker tours in August. That included the incredibly popular and prosperous European Poker Tour (EPT). Moving forward, these tours would fall under the new banner of PokerStars Championship and PokerStars Festival events.
At the time of the rebrand, PokerStars also announced the first Championship event, PokerStars Championship Bahamas. That event would replace one of its flagship tournaments, the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, beginning in January 2017.
The first Festival, PokerStars Festival New Jersey, was also announced, and it would hold the distinction of being the first of PokerStars’ new live events. It was hosted at Resorts, PokerStars’ partner casino in Atlantic City. The Festival occurred several weeks ago, with mixed results.
No other Festival or Championship events were announced until Nov. 24. That’s went PokerStars revealed six more stops, two Festival and four Championship events, set to take place in 2017:
- PokerStars Championship Bahamas, Jan. 6-14
- PokerStars Festival London, Jan. 22-29
- PokerStars Festival Rozvadov, March 2-13
- PokerStars Championship Panama, March 10-20
- PokerStars Championship Macau, March 30-April 9
- PokerStars Championship presented by Monte-Carlo Casino, April 25-May 5
- PokerStars Championship Barcelona, Aug. 15-27
Considering the sheer number of tours and tournament series the Festival and Championship events are replacing, you can expect many more to be announced in the coming weeks and months.
Festival vs. Championship
The difference between Festival and Championship stops is mainly one of scope. Festival events have buy-ins, tournament structures, and entertainment options that will appeal mainly to local and regional players. Championship events have tournaments that will attract poker players from around the globe.
The best analogy I can think of is the difference between a circus and a theme park. The circus is fun, but it’s not so much fun that you’d travel halfway across the US to visit, so it comes to you. On the other hand, Sea World and Disneyland are big enough that they can have a fixed home; they’re a destination for people from all over the world.
What to expect at a PokerStars Festival
Festival events are week-long regional tournament series, with an emphasis on lower buy-in tournaments and an environment that is appealing and inviting to casual players. PokerStars Festival stops are meant to be experiential, and not simply about the poker.
Per the PokerStars press release:
The first PokerStars Festival event of 2017 will take place in the heart of London’s West End from January 22-29, at The Hippodrome Casino. The event boasts an eight-day schedule of 22 tournaments, including the flagship £400,000 guaranteed, £990 PokerStars Festival London Main Event, old favourites such as the £2,200 High Roller, as well as exciting new tournament formats such as the PokerStars Super Deep re-entry event that begins on January 23. Players can satellite into the PokerStars Festival London Main Event from November 27 on PokerStars.com.
Tournament highlights will include:
PokerStars Super Deep Re-Entry: January 23-25 – £275
PokerStars Festival High Roller:January 24-25 – £2,200
PokerStars Festival Main Event:January 25-29 – £990
PokerStars Cup:January 28-29 – £330
NL Hold’em Ladies Event:January 29 – £170
In the US, this regional approach to Festival stops has created a number of possibilities to integrate online and live.
One idea PokerStars tried out in New Jersey was to offer an online/live freeroll into the main event on the eve of the series. Anyone at Resorts on the Saturday night before the Festival could play in an exclusive online freeroll with several seats to the main event offered as prizes.
It’s an interesting situation: Nobody has ever had the opportunity to tinker with these kinds of ideas in a market with as many players as New Jersey, that is also fairly small geographically.
“There’s all kinds of opportunities that have never been explored,” said PokerStars Department Head of Live Poker Operations Neil Johnson.
Johnson went on to say he was excited about the opportunities of meshing live and online in a small, ring-fenced market like New Jersey, where players using the online client are close enough to the live tournament to be able to make the trip. This isn’t possible in a larger market, like Italy or France, where players in Naples are 10 hours away from Turin.
What to expect at a PokerStars Championship
Championship stops are more destination-type events, aimed at serious poker players. They still possess the fun and inviting atmosphere of Festival events. Championship stops run for roughly two weeks and feature a larger selection of tournaments and buy-ins. That includes the hefty high-roller and super-high-roller events that attract the cream of the poker crop.
Per the PokerStars press release:
Following on from PokerStars Championship Bahamas 2017, from March 10-20, the second PokerStars Championship event will bring 56 tournaments to the Sortis Hotel & Casino in Panama City, a fascinating melting pot of cultural history and 21stcentury life. This vibrant metropolis boasts plenty to see and do with great shops and restaurants and, of course, the famous Panama Canal. This is guaranteed to be one of the most exciting events in PokerStars Championship’s first year.
Key events to look out for include:
PokerStars Open: March 10-14 – $220
PokerStars Cup: March 15-19 – $440
PokerStars National Championship: March 11-14 – $1,100
PokerStars Championship Main Event: March 14-20 – $5,300
PokerStars Championship High Roller: March 18-20 – $10,300
PokerStars Championship Super High Roller: March 11-14 – $50,000
Will PokerStars use its mulligan in New Jersey?
Notably absent from the preliminary schedule released by PokerStars is a return to Atlantic City.
Despite the lackluster attendance, PokerStars brass made it very clear that the PokerStars Festival New Jersey wasn’t going to be a one-and-done event. Based on conversations with PokerStars representatives, the most likely timeframe for the second PokerStars Festival New Jersey will be in late May. This timing would create some overlap with the PokerStars NJ Spring Championship of Online Poker tournament series, which ran from mid- to late May in 2016.
A quick look at the announced events also shows a gap from May 5 through Aug. 15. Generally, tournament series try to avoid competing with the World Series of Poker. The WSOP usually begins at the end of May and runs through early July. This leaves a gap from May 5 to about May 31, and PokerStars will likely add a mid- to late-May Festival to the schedule. My guess is it will be in New Jersey.
A spring Festival would have a much better chance to succeed. Not only will PokerStars be able to learn from its missteps, but the late-October and early-November dates from the inaugural PokerStars Festival New Jersey are offseason for Atlantic City. They also directly competed with the World Series of Poker Main Event final table. The Festival also occurred in the final week of the presidential campaign, and right before the Borgata Poker Open.