Live poker tournaments first started seeing their numbers explode about a decade ago, when online poker satellites allowed players to earn seats from the comforts of their own homes.
Now, with global online poker traffic seemingly falling year-over-year, one would expect that to hurt those same live tournaments. Instead, it appears that these events are doing better than ever.
In the last few months, tournament poker has seen record fields in events around the world, surprising many in an era when it seems as though poker is in a lull (though, of course, still far above the participation levels of any time other than the highest points of the past decade).
The most recent evidence of this trend is coming in from Spain, where the Estresllas Poker Tour (ESPT) Main Event at the Barcelona Poker Festival, a precursor to the European Poker Tour (EPT) Main Event that will follow, has broken records to become the largest unique field (not counting re-entries) in the history of live events held on any tour run by PokerStars.
The amazing part is that this became true even before the final numbers were in for the tournament. The ESPT Main Event had three starting days, with slightly over 1,300 playing in the first two days. Early on the third day, the tournament announced over 1,000 additional entries, more than enough to push it past a 2013 Brazilian Series of Poker event that attracted over 2,100 players.
There’s a lot of excitement around the tournaments in Barcelona, as the EPT Main Event will be the 100th event in the tour’s storied history. That has many wondering if that tournament will attract the largest European EPT field (it is unlikely to surpass the biggest PokerStars Caribbean Adventure fields).
That monumental event could be seen as a fluke tied to the tour’s centennial tournament. But it’s far from the first poker tournament in recent months that has put together a field that made the record books.
In July, the Asia Pacific Poker Tour Beijing Millions managed to attract 2,732 total entries over six opening flights, breaking the record for the largest live poker field ever outside of the United States. That tournament was ultimately won by Chen Qin, who took a prize of over $100,000 as a result. That record fell again when the Grosvenor UK Poker Tour Goliath tournament attracted 3,394 players just weeks later.
Records were broken inside the United States as well. At this summer’s World Series of Poker, a Monster Stack tournament (Event #55) drew a massive field of 7,862 players. That’s the largest field ever for a tournament other than a WSOP Main Event.
This sudden increase in the number of very large fields comes at the same time as many poker tournaments have been pumping up their prize pool guarantees. The WSOP Main Event offered a $10 million guarantee to its winner this year, and while other tournaments can’t afford to go that far, they have been able to put up $10 million guarantees for their prize pools.
It’s hard to say whether the player interest is driving these guarantees or the other way around, but $10 million guarantees at the PCA Main Event and the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open have certainly kept live poker in the spotlight.