Free money? Most famous overlays of poker history

Terrance Reid
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Posted on: February 23, 2023 6:19 pm EST

The upcoming GGMasters Overlay Edition put on by GGPoker features a massive $10 million guarantee. Daniel Negreanu is so sure it won’t cover that number that he’s guaranteeing there will be at least $1 million dollars of overlay, and he’s putting up his own money if needed to make it happen.

You can get a seat to the GGMasters Overlay Edition for free and play for your share of the huge $10M GTD prize pool.

All you need to do is sign up for a new GGPoker account through these links for players in .com territories and UK residents, and deposit $20. Check out our article about the event here for more details.

In honor of the immense value offered by the monumental event, I’ve decided to dive into some of the most famous overlays of our game. Some of them were handled better than others.

#5 – The Big Blowout on PokerStars features the largest online overlay ever

In 2020, PokerStars ran a series called “The Blowout.” The series featured four mega events, each of which boasted a $5 million guarantee, with the price point increasing each week. So, when the first week featured a $109 buy-in requiring 50,000 entrants to meet their guarantee, I’m sure they knew an overlay was possible, if not likely. They likely didn’t count on the massive number for which they were on the proverbial hook.

Only 37,673 entrants jumped into that event, missing the guarantee by an incredible $1,232,700. That set the record for an overlay in an online poker tournament, breaking their own previously held record of 1,205,000 in the Sunday Millions a couple of years prior.

#4 – Venetian cancels over $1 million in guarantees in PokerGO’s Stairway to Millions series

The Venetian in Las Vegas may host more substantial tournaments in a year than any other venue. When they ran the PokerGO Stairway to Millions series in 2022, they made headlines for all the wrong reasons.

There were only two tournaments left on the schedule, both of which were “step” events where those who made the money would receive a ticket for the next, bigger event. There was still a $25,500 event and a $51,000 event left to be played. However, after the previous two step events in the series missed their guarantees by $20,000 and $30,000 respectively, The Venetian decided to axe the remaining two events.

That was especially frustrating for the players who had already won entry into the $25,500 tournament.

Ryan Laplante, Adam Hendrix, and the rest of the poker community voiced frustration at The Venetian

Overlays go hand-in-hand with the word “guarantee,” and the Venetian fiasco brought into question just what that word means. If a casino can simply nix a scheduled event the day before for fear of missing the guarantee, what weight does that word mean? The Venetian freerolled the poker community that day, and when they had the losing hand, they left the game without paying what they promised.

#3 – The Lodge honors a large, missed guarantee amidst others not doing so

During the time that The Venetian and Hustler Casino (coming up next) backed out of holding events for fear of overlays, Doug Polk and team’s new card club The Lodge ran into a similar situation. They adjusted the buy-in for their Spring Mayhem Main Event, increasing the buy-in to $3,000 and promising a $3 million guarantee. In the first few flights, they soon realized they likely would miss the guarantee, and not by a small margin.

Brad Owen and fellow owners tried to make a last-minute push to reduce the likely overlay

The event ended with an overlay of $334,100, creating massive value for players, but leaving a dent in the series payoff for the Austin-based club. They may have missed the mark on their guarantee, but they did gain respect for sticking to their word and eating the cost themselves, especially as other casinos did the opposite. It didn’t hurt that Doug Polk made a deep run in the event, taking home $142,000 for his fourth-place finish in his own club.

#2 – Hustler Casino cancels $250k guarantee after poor turnout

Near the one-year anniversary of its popular live stream show “Hustler Casino Live,” Hustler Casino was making headlines for very different reasons.

They ran a “Larry Flynt’s Grand Slam of Poker Memorial Tournament,” featuring over $400,000 in guarantees. The majority of that guaranteed money was placed on the final event, a $350 buy-in event with 12 starting flights. That would be the one to get them in trouble.

Hustler Casino cancels their $250k guarantee “due to unexpected circumstances”

“Unexpected circumstances” is a clever way of saying we’re going to lose money. They weren’t fooling anyone; they poorly forecasted the turnout for the event and instead of passing on the value to the players they canceled the event instead. All of this was after four starting flights had already been played.

Yes, players had chips in bags, some having battled for big stacks in hopes of getting the guaranteed $50,000 first-place prize. But, because of the increasing likelihood of the overlay, they decided to cancel the eight remaining flights, remove any guarantee previously promised, and let the players “play for the current prize pool” instead. Obviously, the poker community was furious.

Ari Engel was one of many to call out Hustler Casino for the decision

To their credit, after the outrage, Hustler Casino General Manager Shaun Yaple took action to correct the decision. They provided a “full refund for all players who registered in the $250k,” and allowed the players who survived the four already-played starting flights to play for the $27,000 in the prize pool as a freeroll. The casino still ate a loss, but the public relations backlash may have been worse than whatever the overlay may have been.

#1 – Seminole Hard Rock Main Event produces a massive $2.5 million overlay

The overlay that will live on in infamy. The record no tournament organizer wants to break. In 2014, the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open (SHRPO) hosted a $5,300 buy-in Main Event with a $10 million guarantee. A bold promise, but the same event surpassed the mark by plenty the previous year. 2014 was a very different story.

Dan Colman won the 2014 SHRPO which featured the largest tournament overlay on record

The 2014 iteration saw a decrease of 37 percent in entries, leaving the casino on the hook for $2,505,000 worth of overlay. Yes, that money would come straight from the casino’s pockets, a massive blow. Most players blamed scheduling. Poker was booming, and multiple other events were happening around the world. Additionally, tournament organizers pushed the event ahead one week from the previous year, increasing the competition they were up against. All of that resulted in an overlay number that has yet to be seen since.

Overlays and guarantees have always been a gamble for tournament organizers. But, when organizers feel they can get away with canceling or modifying events to avoid paying overlay, the community suffers. We must speak out against such practices and let our wallets and our bankrolls do the talking as well.

Will the GGMaster Overlay Edition break the record set by the SHRPO that day in 2014? I don’t know. But, I do know that they will run that tournament as planned, and that the full prize pool will be up for grabs.