The World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) is coming up in September, and PokerStars has just released the official schedule. It’s the biggest one yet, both in terms of events and buy-ins. There are a total of 70 events on the schedule, up from 62 last year, with a lot of big-ticket tournaments among them.
Last year, there were 11 events with buy-ins over $1000, and another 10 over $500. This year, those numbers have nearly doubled, with 21 events over $1000 and another 17 over $500. Naturally, this means much fewer $109, $215 and $320 events, even with the expanded schedule.
This change can be attributed in large part to the introduction of “Championship” events for most of the games available on PokerStars. Since the WCOOP is positioned as the online equivalent of the World Series of Poker (WSOP), this move makes sense, in that it mimics the format used by the WSOP, which has a single $10,000 championship event for most of the games played in the series.
In the original, tentative schedule, all the championship events had $2,100 buy-ins, higher than anything in the regular PokerStars weekly schedule. When this idea was run by the 2+2 forums for feedback, however, it proved unpopular. Many felt that at that price, only a few dozen top-level players would enter, mostly those shooting for the top spots on the series leaderboard. Moreover, it would be hard to create direct satellites for a $2,100 event in an unpopular format – either the satellite buy-in itself would be too high to tempt recreational players, or else it would be hard to draw in enough players to guarantee even one ticket.
It seems that the tournament organizers at PokerStars found those arguments compelling, because most of the Championship events have been reduced to $700 or $1050 buy-ins in the final schedule. Here is a complete list of the Championships at each buy-in level:
- No-Limit 2-7 Single Draw
- No-Limit 5-Card Draw Hi
- Limit 2-7 Triple Draw
- 7-Card Stud Hi
- Limit Badugi
- 7-Card Stud Hi/Lo
- Limit Omaha Hi/Lo
- Pot-Limit Omaha Hi/Lo
- No-Limit Omaha Hi/Lo
- Limit Hold’em
- Pot-Limit Omaha Hi
- No-Limit Hold’em (Main Event)
Aside from the lowering of buy-ins for the less popular games, there was one other last-minute decision made regarding the championships. This was to add a zero to all the starting stack sizes: the Main Event now has a 200,000 chip starting stack, rather than 20,000 as in previous years, while most of the others start with 100,000.
The blinds have also been multiplied by 10 throughout the structure, so this is essentially a cosmetic change, designed to appeal to casual players, who find it fun to see a large number for their chip count. It also lends an air of importance and specialness to the events.
Because it doesn’t actually affect the overall structure, the change is described as “harmless” by Bryan Slick, the Senior Manager of Online Championships at PokerStars. Not everyone feels this is the case, however: when the change was announced in the 2+2 thread, several posters pointed out that it will create absurd stack sizes at the final tables, particularly for the Main Event. Last year’s Main Event drew 2,142 players; a similar number this year with 200,000 chip stacks would mean final table stack sizes in the hundreds of millions.
The trouble with that it’s hard to tell how many digits a number contains once you get above seven digits or so. This isn’t such a big deal in most respects, because PokerStars includes commas every three digits when displaying bet sizes and chip counts. For players typing in their bets, however, it becomes an issue. If a player means to bet 12 million, say, it’s very easy to bet 120 million or 1.2 million by mistake, simply by hitting the 0 key the wrong number of times. With $10 million guaranteed and at least $1.5 million for 1st, an order-of-magnitude bet sizing error at the final table could have tragic consequences indeed.
The latest word – as of about an hour ago – is that PokerStars is discussing these concerns and may yet decide to reverse the change and go back to the original five-figure starting stacks.
Personally, I think they should do so. I like that special events get special starting stack sizes, like 5000 for most *COOP events, 10,000 for the Sunday Million, and 20,000 for *COOP Main Events. Adding another zero to make it 200,000 is starting to get silly, however. 20,000 is more than enough to distinguish a Main Event from everyday tournaments with their 1500, 2000 and 3000 starting stacks; is 200,000 really going to feel any more special than that?
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.