PokerStars gearing up for winter festivals in NJ, PA
Online Poker Report

Winter Series Is Coming: PokerStars Announces Seasonal Events In New Jersey, Pennsylvania

PokerStars Winter Series NJ:PA

PokerStars players in Pennsylvania will soon be enjoying the site’s second major tournament series, fittingly called the Winter Series. The first was the Pennsylvania Championship of Online Poker (PACOOP), which ran in early December, soon after the site launched.

The Winter Series is an annual event for most PokerStars’ domains, including PokerStars NJ. The schedule there has been announced as well, marking the third installment of the New Jersey series.

For PA, though, it’s a first.

Timing is everything

The timing of the series differs in the two states, both from each other and from global PokerStars’ markets. The Winter Series is already over and done with for PokerStars.com and its European sites, having begun on Christmas Day and concluded just this week.

In New Jersey, the Winter Series will run starting tomorrow, Jan. 18 through Jan. 26. It typically runs in late January in order to coincide with the Winter Poker Open at Borgata.

Although Borgata’s online partner is PokerStars’ rival partypoker, the series brings hoards of traveling players to the Garden State. Many of those will be looking for online action on PokerStars or WSOP NJ in between live events.

The Pennsylvania Winter Series begins Jan. 25, just as New Jersey’s ends. We’ll likely see more of this: the running a PA series just before or after the equivalent in NJ. The two states share a border, and Atlantic City is barely an hour’s drive from Philadelphia.

Scheduling series consecutively rather than concurrently makes things easy for players who want to cross the border to play both.

It’s conventional for tournament series to hold the Main Event on a Sunday, traditionally the biggest day of the week for online tournaments. This year’s Super Bowl, however, falls on Feb. 2. Because of that, PokerStars instead elected to wrap up the Winter Series PA a day early, on Feb. 1.

Timing isn’t the only difference between the two series, however.

PokerStars Winter Series NJ

New Jersey is a mature market for online poker, and PokerStars has been active there since 2016. The marketplace is crowded, though, and PokerStars’ traffic there has generally been stagnant or declined since its brief honeymoon period after launch.

As a result, the Winter Series was scaled back for its second run in 2019. It was trimmed again this year.

Total guarantees for the series remain at $300,000, but the number of events has increased from 15 to 21. Looking at things on a per-event basis, then, the average guarantee is down almost 30%.

Other cutbacks include:

  • The guarantee for the $400 Main Event has been reduced from $80,000 to $60,000.
  • The High Roller buy-in has been reduced from $1,000 to $750 and its guarantee from $20,000 to $16,000.
  • Promotional giveaways related to the series have had their total value reduced from $20,000 to $16,000.

Aside from those changes, the schedule is fairly similar to previous years, consisting largely of vanilla Texas Hold’em events. There are, however, a handful of short-handed events, two Omaha events, two progressive knockouts, and one event with escalating antes.

See the full Winter Series NJ schedule here.

PokerStars Winter Series PA

Things are quite the opposite in Pennsylvania, where PokerStars had a very strong launch and continues to hold a monopoly.

When PokerStars announced the inaugural PACOOP, it mirrored the NJCOOP schedule closely and offered the same $1 million in total guarantees. Many found this surprising, as the average cash-game traffic in PA is more than quadruple that in New Jersey.

Indeed, PACOOP got off to a strong enough start that PokerStars raised guarantees partway through. Despite some small overlays thereafter, PokerStars has decided that tournament performance in PA is strong enough to justify a bigger series than in NJ.

The Winter Series PA promises $675,000 in guarantees to NJ’s $300,000. It also has more events (30 compared to 21), and the average per-event guarantee is 57.5% higher. The PA Main Event naturally guarantees more money — $100,000 — on a smaller $300 buy-in. If it was held on a Sunday rather than a Saturday, it might be bigger still.

The schedule in PA is also a bit more varied than New Jersey’s, in terms of event types. In particular, there is a greater density of progressive knockout events, which have become increasingly popular in recent years. Six events in PA — or one in five — use that format, compared to less than one in 10 for NJ.

Fox Bet tied to Winter Series PA

Though the Super Bowl is forcing an abbreviated end to the series, it provides a corresponding marketing advantage.

The Winter Series will use a sports theme to promote itself in Pennsylvania, and most events on the schedule have a football-related name. Opening day events include The Anthem and The Coin Toss, for instance, while later events refer to plays such as The Handoff and The Extra Point.

The PA Main Event is known as The Big Game, and players who deposit using the promo code WINTER receive an entry into a freeroll satellite on Feb. 1. PokerStars PA is further offering second-chance all-in shootouts for players eliminated shy of the money in all Winter Series events.

The PA series coincides with the Road to Miami promotion from Fox Bet.

PokerStars Winter Series PA schedule

DateTime (ET)NameBuy-inGuarantee
Sat., Jan. 255 p.m.The Warm-Up - NLHE$50$20,000
Sat., Jan. 259 p.m.The Anthem - Nightly Stars SE$100$30,000
Sat., Jan. 2511 p.m.The Coin Toss - Turbo PKO$200$15,000
Sat., Jan. 261 p.m.Kick-Off - Deepstack$100$25,000
Sat., Jan. 264 p.m.The Return - 6-Max$50$20,000
Sun., Jan. 265:30 p.m.Play Action - PKO$150$30,000
Sun., Jan. 267 p.m.The Blitz - Sunday Special SE$200$50,000
Sun., Jan. 268 p.m.First Down - Mini Sunday Special$30$15,000
Sun., Jan. 269 p.m.The Handoff - PLO$100$12,000
Sun., Jan. 2610 p.m.The Block - Supersonic SE$75$12,000
Mon., Jan. 279 p.m.The Juke - 4-Max$100$15,000
Mon., Jan. 2710 p.m.The Spin - Battle Royale SE$50$20,000
Mon., Jan. 2711 p.m.The Tackle - Variable Levels$150$15,000
Tues., Jan. 289 p.m.The Sack - Super Tuesday SE$250$40,000
Tues., Jan. 289:30 p.m.The Punt - Mini Super Tuesday$30$15,000
Tues., Jan. 2811 p.m.Half-Time - Turbo PKO$100$15,000
Wed., Jan. 297 p.m.The Turnover - High Roller$500$35,000
Wed., Jan. 2910 p.m.The Drive - PLO, 6-Max$50$8,000
Wed., Jan. 2911 p.m.The Redzone - Turbo$150$15,000
Thurs., Jan. 307 p.m.The Touchdown - Thursday Thrill SE$200$35,000
Thurs., Jan. 307:30 p.m.Extra Point - Mini Thrill$50$20,000
Thurs., Jan. 3011 p.m.Deep Hyper-Turbo$100$15,000
Fri., Jan. 317 p.m.The Onside Kick - Vanilla$100$10,000
Fri., Jan. 3110 p.m.The Snap - PKO, Big Antes$150$15,000
Fri., Jan. 3111 p.m.Hail Mary - Turbo$50$8,000
Fri., Jan. 3110 p.m.The Catch - Deep Hyper-Turbo$100$10,000
Sat., Feb. 13 p.m.The Comeback - PKO, 8-Max$100$15,000
Sat., Feb. 15 p.m.The Big Game - Main Event$300$100,000
Sat., Feb. 16:30 p.m.Overtime - Mini-Main$50$25,000
Sat., Feb. 18 p.m.Victory Parade - Turbo PKO$100$15,000

Bigger things to come?

Although significant for New Jersey, the Winter Series has never been as big an affair as either NJCOOP or its spring counterpart NJSCOOP. Those two are usually similar in size, and the latter traditionally spans roughly the first two weeks of May.

If we assume PokerStars will run a PASCOOP immediately after NJSCOOP, that would have it running over the second half of the month and wrapping up just around the time that the 2020 World Series of Poker gets underway in Las Vegas.

PACOOP was a last-minute announcement, landing just as the holiday season began. That’s likely part of why it wasn’t bigger than it was, but the same won’t be true for PASCOOP. Assuming the Winter Series is a success in Pennsylvania, we can probably guess that PASCOOP will be at least twice as large as NJSCOOP — perhaps with $2 million or even $2.5 million in guarantees.

There’s also the matter of Platinum Passes to the PokerStars Players Championship (PSPC).

PokerStars held the inaugural PSPC in January 2019, and the follow-up will be in Barcelona this August. Two passes to the original — worth $30,000 apiece — were given away during NJSCOOP 2018 and three more during NJCOOP.

None were awarded during last year’s events, partly because the sophomore PSPC had only just been announced, but also because PokerStars PA hadn’t yet launched. From this, we can probably infer that we might see passes awarded during the presumed twin spring series.

Those will represent significant value added to the prize pools and should make NJSCOOP and PASCOOP bigger still. It’s virtually a guarantee that May will set a record for online tournaments in the US market.

Alex Weldon
- Alex is a freelance writer and artist living in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. He has been doing data-based analysis of the online gaming industry since 2016.
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