Cracks show in PokerStars strategy with $1.2 million overlay in Winter Blowout

Jon Pill
Posted on: January 03, 2021 17:29 PST

PokerStars broke online records this week when their $5 million guaranteed $109 Big Blowout event fell short of the guarantee by $1.2 million. This is the biggest overlay for a single event in online poker history.

PokerStars should have seen this coming. To cover the guarantee, the event needed to attract 50,000 players. It got 37,673 entries. That's quite a shortfall.

In fact, that shortfall meant Stars kicked back all the rake from the event, and then threw in an extra $23.72 per player.

GGPoker ran their online WSOP 2020 Big50 event in a similar buy-in range ($50) that garnered 44k entrants.

Similarly, recent turnouts for the Sunday Millions may have been behind the optimism on PokerStars's part. The Millions, which has a higher buy-in ($215), still attracted over 60,898 players in the Anniversary event in March. With re-entries, the number of buy-ins came to 93,016. And that was before online poker's COVID Spring.

Mistakes were made

With the expected holiday boom, Stars had some reason to expect they might hit the expected $5 mil. But it was a costly error.

They have cautiously avoided mentioning the overlay in their own coverage of the event.

An unusual tactic. Since if people hear about overlay in one event, it does wonders for attendance at the next. News of a probable overlay is often self-defeating in this way.

The closest the Star's blog came to admitting their failure was the line: ""pilaa" was the largest stack when the last four of a 37,673-entry field decided to do a deal, and negotiated a guaranteed payout of $331,174. This tournament cost only $109 to enter and had a $5 million guarantee."

Under most circumstances, a circa 40,000 entry event is an impressive turnout. Especially in these post Black Friday days. But overhyping stole the event's thunder.

What went wrong for PokerStars?

The Winter Blowout was supposed to be PokerStars's big end of year send-off. Having somehow let the online WPT and online WSOP go to competitors, partypoker and GGPoker respectively, this was their reminder of who the top dog in online poker is supposed to be.

$65 million in guarantees across hundreds of tourneys. It's a bold way of seeing out 2020 and see in 2021. The line up includes 88 events. Most of which actually come in three different sizes meaning the number is actually much higher than that.

No less than four of these events, the Big Blowouts, come with $5 million guarantees.

Stars will no doubt rally. They've dealt with overlays before. There were a total of $2.2 million across the Stadium series this summer. And they have room to make up for it in the next three $5 million events. But they probably want to work out why this went the way it did.

A live WSOP this year was liable to create a lot of noise. After everything live poker has been through, the poker news cycle is gasping for some high profile events involving real baize.

But a string of confusions and controversies have turned the WSOP coverage up to eleven and pushed out what little room Stars were hoping to make for their events. Perhaps they'll do better next week when PokerGO has packed up their set.

Twenty-fifth safety second

It also cannot have helped that this Christmas huge numbers of people ignore the advice of scientists, medical professionals, and elected officials to visit other households for Christmas. PokerStars were probably counting on there being a load of players looking for something to do alone in their apartments between Xmas and NYE.

Instead, after a year of isolation, many of those people were spending time with loved ones.

Whatever the reason, Stars will want to try and plug the leak before the $2 million guaranteed New Year's Bash. At $11 a pop, they'll need 200,000 players to show for that one.

The largest ever online tournament remains a $1 buy in event run on PokerStars in 2013 with 225,000 entrants. There was an overlay that time too. The guarantee was $300,000.

Featured image source: Twitter