The PCA is one of the European Poker Tour’s (EPT) most popular stops, despite the fact that the Bahamas are not part of Europe. Its main event has always been one of the biggest-turnout $10,000 events outside of the WSOP Main Event. Although it has dropped off since its peak size of 1,529 entries in 2010, the last few years have seen it holding steady at around 1000 runners.
Nonetheless, PokerStars has sprung a surprise on the poker world this time around, chopping the Main Event buy-in in half, while tripling – yes, tripling! – the overall number of events. These additional side-events are also much lower in stakes than has been typical of the PCA in previous years. Last year, for instance, there were only four events with buy-ins under $1000: three turbos and a ladies’ event, all for $600. This year, exactly half of the events have three-figure buy-ins, and there are many more $1100s as well.
Fun formats, low buy-ins
As with this year’s World Series of Poker (WSOP), which added the $565 Colossus and $777 Lucky 7s to its historically four-figures-and-up schedule, the goal appears to be to draw in more recreational players as the world of professional poker continues to slump in the wake of the boom years.
Even in past years, PokerStars has said that the PCA is “all about fun” as a series, and they’ve doubled down on that concept here, not only with the lower buy-ins, but also with the inclusion of a lot of oddball formats. Most of the tournaments are No-Limit Hold’em, as that’s what most casual players know these days, but the events include all sorts of twists, including many turbo, hyper-turbo and bounty events, plus variations like “four blinds” (essentially double auto-straddle, I assume), Win-the-Button and even Deuces Wild.
There are also three $120 “Flipout Triple Elimination” events every day of the series but the last. These are 30-man tournaments with a lottery-style first round in which all ten players at each table are all-in for three hands; the winners of those three hands advance to a 9-man final table which is played like a typical single-table sit-and-go. Each day’s offerings include one with straightforward payouts to the top 3, another with top 3 paid and $100 bounties in the second round, and one which is winner-take-all. Crazy stuff.
A mismatch between events and venue
Between the flipouts and all the fast structures on the menu, this is easily the most gamble-oriented series I’ve ever seen, which is probably what poker needs right now. Nonetheless, I see one big problem with the direction PokerStars is taking this year, which is that these lower buy-in events are a bit of a mismatch for the Atlantis Resort, where the series has always been held.
I’m exactly the sort of player PokerStars and the EPT are probably trying to capture for the PCA with the lower buy-ins. As someone straddling the line between recreational and professional, I’m definitely in the market for a winter “destination-type” tournament series and even before the schedule came out, I’d been considering the PCA. What ultimately made me decide not to go (unless I can bink a package on PokerStars, naturally) is that the Atlantis is a very expensive resort; enough so that if you’re not comfortable paying $1000 buy-ins, you’re probably also not comfortable paying for your room.
Rooms at the Atlantis start at around $250/night and are not all-inclusive. The series runs from January 6 through 14, so an eight-night stay to attend the whole thing even if you fly in and out on the first and final days. Assuming you go with your significant other and buy the cheapest two-adult meal plan, then you’re looking at $4200 after taxes, plus whatever your flights cost. If you play the lowest buy-in non-satellite event each day (not counting those crazy flipouts), that’s another $3000 in total ($300 each day and $600 on the final day), so including airfare you’re probably looking at something like $8000 to attend the series, even if you’re taking the cheapest available option at every turn.
The dream for a recreational player, of course, would be to pay off that $8000 with your winnings and just have a cool experience and a free vacation. The trouble is, with about a dozen events running every single day, the player pool is getting spread pretty thin. Even if you’ve got 1000 people in attendance throughout the series, those players are getting split between all the events on offer. And if a $300 event only gets, say, 100 players and pays around 20% to first, that’s $6000 for the winner.
You can see the problem, then: If you’re going to travel to play poker, then even if you’re going for the fun more than for the money, you’d like to have a reasonable hope of breaking even. Attending the PCA with the intent of playing these new, low buy-in events is therefore not a very appealing proposition, because you could easily win one outright and still come out behind. So, while I like the concept of this year’s series, I feel like it should be a separate stop on the tour, somewhere slightly cheaper, while the PCA should remain what it’s always been – a playground for those with money to burn.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.