2021’s poker war: PokerStars New Years $60m Blowout Series is the first move

Jon Pill
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Posted on 12/09/2020

2020 has been a rough year. The U.S alone has been living through overlapping adaptations of Journal of a Plague Year, It Can’t Happen Here, and Michael Jackson’s 1984 Pepsi advert.

To say goodbye to all that, and usher in the 20s proper, PokerStars is running an enormous online series. The Blowout series will run from December 27th, 2020, to January 17th, 2021 and includes $60 million in guarantees.

The star attractions of the series are the four $5 million guaranteed events running on consecutive Sundays. These cornerstone events will have buy-ins of $109 (Dec 27th), $215 (Jan 3rd), $530 (Jan 10th), and $1,050 (the main event on Jan 17th).

Raising the stakes

More of us will be having a lonelier Christmas this year. And attending a New Year’s party seems like a deathtrap. So Stars hosting a series that bridges the holidays makes good business sense. We will have nowhere else to go, not even work.

Or at least that’s their official line.

In reality, it looks like a last-ditch to rake what they can while the nights are long and none of us are vaccinated. And just as importantly, to put one in the eye of GGPoker who are Stars’s toughest competitor for market share.

The start date — a week or so after the WSOP “Main Event” final table — doesn’t seem like co-incidence either. GGPoker seems to court bad publicity every time they poke their head up. Many are disappointed by the compromises WSOP made in their partnership with GG. And Stars did well out of this with their post-WSOP WCOOP.

Hosting an enormous online tournament, lighter in tone, but very much in the spirit of the real WSOP seems like a calculated move by Stars to upstage a competitor. The choice of $5 million guarantees is aimed squarely at the Hybrid main event which has garnered $6.4 million in prize money.

This is a substantial comedown. GGPoker took $27 million for their Online Main Event offering in the summer.

The next 10 years of poker

Poker is at a crossroads right now. For gambling operators, 2020 must feel like the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. The standard ecology of poker has been so mauled by the disaster that it isn’t entirely clear what the industry’s equivalent of the rise-of-mammals will be. But PokerStars is making a clear play at being the smallest and furriest for as long as the sun’s stays blotted out.

It’s not just that covid has shut down the brick-and-mortars intermittently all year. Though you cannot discount the impact that has had. In driving people online. In putting Macau, Atlantic City, and Vegas on life support. And in forcing the WPT and WSOP to take online poker seriously.

It’s also that the U.S. seems to be coming back to online poker. The courts let Isai Sheinberg off with time served. ACR are very openly targeting U.S. customers and educating them on the nuances of U.S. regulations.

And the shifts overseas. Germany and Switzerland have legalized online poker and revamped gambling regulations. Both India and China have gone the other way, tightening up and cracking down. Stars and Party have pulled out of grey markets, including the enormous far-eastern-bloc of China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau.

So what happens next?

If Jurassic Park has taught me anything — and it has — sure, life finds a way, but there’s no way to predict which way. We’re all looking at Stars and GGPoker right now, but who knows what clever girl is lurking in the underbrush to screen right.

Image source: Flickr