$27.6 million prize pool blows previous records out of the water

WSOP, GGPoker Receive Guinness World Record For Largest Online Poker Tournament Prize Pool

Last month the 2020 World Series of Poker Online Main Event built a prize pool of more than $27 million. That amount was believed to represent the most money ever awarded in a single online poker tournament.

That fact has now been confirmed, in the most official way possible. This week, Guinness World Records awarded the event the record for “Largest Prize Pool for an Online Poker Tournament.”

In fact, the $27,559,500 won in the 2020 WSOP Main Event on GGPoker exceeded the previous largest online tourney prize pool by nearly $6 million.

23 starting flights, three entries per player, one record-breaking event

The 2020 WSOP Main Event culminated the more-than-three-month WSOP Online bracelet series in early September. The series started in July with 31 events on WSOP.com, available to players in Nevada and New Jersey only. Then came 54 events on the GGPoker‘s international site, allowing much of the rest of the world to play, but not the U.S.

The 2020 WSOP had originally been scheduled as a 101-event series. That plan included 87 live bracelet events at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, plus 14 online events on WSOP.com. However the COVID pandemic forced the WSOP to scrap the in-person series and instead offer an online-only alternative.

The $5,000 buy-in WSOP Main Event on GGPoker was announced with an attention-grabbing $25 million guarantee. That meant GGPoker was already eyeing the previous largest ever prize pool for an online tournament. That record was $21,780,000, set by the partypoker MILLIONS in Nov.-Dec. 2018.

The WSOP Main Event had 23 starting day flights and the ability for players to enter up to three times. Even so, there was some suspense over whether or not it could really hit its guarantee as the final group of starting flights approached.

Ultimately that mark was reached and then some when 5,802 total entries together built that record-setting prize pool. In the end the top 728 finishers cashed and split that money. Stoyan Madanzhiev of Bulgaria took the title and a $3,904,685 first prize.

Guinness delivers the good news

The huge prize pool led GGPoker submit an application to Guinness World Records to make their achievement official. Here’s a clip of Michael Empric, Official Adjudicator for Guinness, delivering the good news to GGPoker Ambassador Daniel Negreanu this week:

“This Guinness World Records title was on our radar from the beginning,” said Steve Preiss, Head of Poker Operations at GGPoker in a press release announcing the record.

“Breaking a Guinness World Records title shows what happens when you combine GGPoker’s amazing platform with the World Series of Poker brand,” said WSOP Director Ty Stewart. “This will be a tough record to beat.”

A record worth keeping for the WSOP?

Landing in the record books is certainly an achievement. However, it will be curious to see going forward just how important such accolades are to the WSOP. Looking ahead to a post-pandemic future, how much will staging the largest prize pool for an online poker tournament ultimately mean to the WSOP?

With a history stretching back more than half a century, the WSOP has set many records over the years. One list on which the WSOP has long ruled is the one ranking the largest ever live tournament prize pools. The 2006 WSOP Main Event with its prize pool of $82,512,162 tops that one.

In fact, the WSOP events have featured 17 of the top 19 largest prize pools ever. Only a couple of Triton Super High Roller Series events interrupt the WSOP’s dominance. The 2020 WSOP Main Event on GGPoker would rank 20th on a list combining both live and online tournaments.

If it were a priority for the WSOP, there could well be future large scale online bracelet series even after the pandemic when live poker and the annual gathering in Las Vegas become possible once again. However that would likely mean returning to GGPoker or another international partner to host such series.

For now, chasing online tournament records means leaving out Americans

For the foreseeable future, such a decision would again mean shutting out U.S. players from participating.

The scale of WSOP’s U.S. operations remain modest. In 2018, players on WSOP New Jersey joined their peers in Nevada and Delaware to create a tri-state player pool  thanks to a multi-state agreement. Unfortunately, Delaware players were excluded from the bracelet events, despite being able to compete in cash games with the other states.

Looking ahead, WSOP.com may become the second Pennsylvania online poker site now that state regulators have approved an interactive gaming manufacturer license for Caesars’ online poker partner 888 Holdings. However, a Caesars representative recently confirmed it will be at least early 2021 before WSOP.com PA will deal its first hands.

Michigan and West Virginia would be next on the potential list of new states for the WSOP. Even so, thoughts of further expansion appear dim and distant at present.

All of which means any further aspirations the WSOP may have to maintain or break online tournament records will necessarily exclude Americans from being involved. Further emphasizing global series could also potentially introduce a conflict for international players down the road. Would such players travel to the U.S. for the traditional WSOP? Or would they prefer to stay at home to compete in huge-field, record-breaking WSOP online events?

Stewart is right about the new record being a tough one to beat. It will be interesting to see whether or not the WSOP will itself be inspired to try.

- Martin Harris is a writer and teacher who has reported on poker, online gambling, and sports betting since the mid-2000s. Once a full-time academic (Ph.D., English), he currently teaches part-time in the American Studies program at UNC Charlotte. His book Poker & Pop Culture was published by D&B Books in 2019.
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