Garden State Super Series: Party / Borgata’s Ambition Reaches New Heights

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Last Friday, and released a draft schedule of their upcoming Garden State Super Series (GSSS).

The two-week long event is slated to kick off on September 7, positioning it neatly around the Borgata’s flagship live tournament series – the Borgata Poker Open.

Featuring $1,000,000 in guaranteed prize money, a three tiered buy-in structure, and an exceedingly diversified schedule, the GSSS will undoubtedly become the most ambitious event hosted in the Garden State since regulated online poker was first given the green light some nine months ago.

But seeing as though last April’s NJ Championship of Online Poker (NJCOP) struggled to meet expectations, logic dictates that the GSSS may also have trouble finding its footing in what has proven to be a highly unpredictable market.

Well, at least that would be the case if Party / Borgata hadn’t already gone to great lengths to fix most of what was wrong with their previous foray. As it stands, the GSSS appears to be the breath of fresh air needed to reinvigorate the state’s online MTT industry – and to keep Party relevant in a post-PokerStars New Jersey.

Now, all the network needs to do is ensure that players are aware of it.

Comparing the GSSS to the NJCOP

The most notable difference between Party’s latest attempt at hosting a prestigious tournament series and its last is the introduction of a tiered entry structure.

Each of the GSSS’s 20 events are broken down into three different buy-in levels – low, medium, high – with entry fees running the gamut from a paltry five dollars all the way up to $1,000. That’s more akin to what players would expect to see on a heavily trafficked network, not one that averages between 150 to 200 ring game players.

This tiered format should allow those who would otherwise be shut out due to budgetary limitations to partake in the fun, while also appealing to the state’s most dedicated grinders.

Also noteworthy is that a fair percentage of GSSS events are of the non-NLHE variety. PLO, PLO8, 7 Stud and Fixed Limit Hold’em all make appearances on the schedule, with PLO being represented twice (one rebuy, one freezeout).

Of the fifteen NLHE events, only one third are full ring freezeouts, with rebuys, 6-max freezeouts, 6-max rebuys, and bounty tournaments making up the remainder. This is roughly on par with what we saw in April, except the NJCOP hosted one extra bounty tourney and did not spread a 6-max rebuy.

Worth pointing out is that the GSSS’s Main Event will take place towards the middle of the series, and will overlap with the first day of the live Borgata WPT Championship. By contrast, the NJCOP’s main was held shortly after the live WPT Championship concluded.

Most weekday GSSS events will get started somewhere between 7 and 8 pm. Scheduled weekend tournaments will tend to begin a tad earlier.

GSSS schedule first impressions

Generally speaking, reactions to the draft schedule ranged from cautious enthusiasm to jubilation. I’ll take it as a good sign that the most common request was for the network’s daily schedule to more closely reflect that of the GSSS’s.

Several players expressed their desire to see a heads up tournament included in the schedule, with a select few preferring that the starting times not be staggered.

One point in which I wholeheartedly agree is that three tiers might be pushing the envelope, especially when the buy-in amounts for the low and mid tiers tend to be close together. I’d much rather see one $10 or $20 dollar nightly tournament with a $10k guarantee than a $5 and a $10 tournament featuring $2.5k and $5k guarantees, respectively.

As is, I feel Party / Borgata’s ambitious is somewhat misguided, and that the network would be much better represented combining the low and mid tiers.

Another point of contention is the mid tier’s main event buy-in. At $200, it’s equivalent to that of the network’s Sunday Major. For some players, including the always vocal Michael Gagliano, the price point comes across as too conservative and uninspired.

In my estimation, the real problem is that the guarantee for the high level main event is only a fraction (one quarter) of the mid’s. Why bother hosting a $1,000 event, if you are barely confident that 50 people will register?

That being said, the first draft of the GSSS is still a vast improvement over the NJCOP. But I’d argue that it’s the intangibles that will ultimately determine its success.

Making the most out of the GSSS

The one area in which the NJCOP truly failed was planning. Deciding to host the main event after most out-of-state players already packed their bags was confounding, at best.

This time around, Party / Borgata is hosting the main during the lull between the deep stack $1 million guarantee and the WPT Championship. That’s a step in the right direction, but it’s hardly a catch-all solution.

Here’s where Party needs to copy a page out of’s playbook. WSOP’s Nevada success during June can be only partially attributed to the flood of poker tourists in town for the annual festivities – one needn’t look further than Ultimate Poker’s relatively flat traffic numbers throughout June to illustrate that.

Instead, the bulk of its success came through its exemplary cross-promotional efforts, which served to drastically heighten both brand and regulated iPoker awareness.

Party is in a position to do something similar. Perhaps this will entail setting up banners, or advertising during live streams. Maybe the Borgata will set up a grind station, similar to the one found at the Rio.

It would also be nice if the network’s mobile application could support tournament play by then. This would encourage players to mix it up online while seated at a live Open event. Laptops are too bulky to lug around.

How about leaderboards? Or maybe gift Open players with a free ticket into an small-to-mid buy-in GSSS event? The list goes on and on.

Whatever the case, Party must do more to ensure that players a) know about the GSSS and b) can make a compelling argument for playing in it.

More importantly than anything, Party needs its software to leave a good impression on new players.

Right now it’s still a laggy, glitch-ridden mess that plays more like a beta version than one a year removed from release. An August software patch that addresses common issues may be the most effective way of ensuring the GSSS’s success.

GSSS expectations

Should Party / Borgata launch a sufficient marketing campaign, I have no reason not to think that the GSSS won’t be at least moderately successful, fulfilling the guarantees of at least 80 percent of its events.

I think that number jumps to 90 percent if the three buy-in tiers are reduced to two and a few of the price points and guarantees are readjusted. The introduction of one additional format would also be a nice touch.

Granted, I would also have liked to see more satellites to the bigger events and at least one other six-figure guarantee, but it’s not a deal-breaker.

More concerning is the main event hangover that could occur during the GSSS’s final week. I realize the decision to host the main during the middle of the series was a calculated one, but there’s a small chance that it ends up backfiring.

Speaking of the $200,000 guaranteed main event, I expect it to outperform the NJCOP’s, if only because the timing is better. Whether it smashes the guarantee or not will ultimately depend on the effectiveness of Party’s marketing efforts.

Under neutral-positive conditions, I suspect it will draw somewhere along the lines of 1050 and 1100 runners.

- Robert DellaFave is a game designer and avid poker player. He writes for several publications centered on legal US online poker and the regulated online gambling industries in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
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