With the 2009 Aussie Millions just around the corner, PokerNews is taking a look back at some of the Aussie Millions past, explaining how it grew from a modest AUD $74,000 event to the preeminent AUD $7,800,000 tournament it is today.
One can't talk about the emergence of the Aussie Millions, or even poker in Australia, without talking about the history of the Crown Casino poker room. The room opened in 1997 with 21 tables. At the time the room mostly spread Manila, which is a poker game uniquely played in Australia. Like hold'em, each player gets two cards and plays off a five-community-card board. Unlike hold'em, Manila is played with a 32-card deck, with card values of seven and up, called a sevens-up deck. The community cards are dealt one at a time, with a betting round after each.
As similar as hold'em is to Manila, it still took the Crown some time to win over its clientele to the game's virtues. But the Crown was determined. So when it held the first Australian Poker Championship, commonly known as the Aussie Millions, the main event game was hold'em. It was an AUD $1000 buy-in and drew 74 entrants, and was ultimately won by Australian Alex Horowitz.
The late 1990s were considered the dark years of poker, not just in the U.S, but around the world. Still well before the boom, the game was waning in popularity and most casinos were opting to convert poker room space to more lucrative slot machines. The toll was also felt at the Crown, where the poker room shrunk to just 12 tables at its lowest point. But the Crown staff was vigilant, running "Learn to Play" campaigns, literally walking people through the game.
The Crown's perseverance to keep poker alive in Australia can be measured by the continued level of participation in the Aussie Millions' main event. The buy-ins slowly increased over the first few years, from AUD $1000 to AUD $5000 in 2002, as did the prize pool, growing from AUD $74,000 to AUD $330,000 in 2002.
All the winners from 1998 to 2002 were Australians. Following Horowitz' inaugural victory, winners included Milo Nadalin (1999), Leo Boxell (2000), Sam Korman (2001), and John Maver (2002). In the first five years only five non-Australian players made the final table of the main event. But this was about to change, as the national championship was transformed into a coveted international title.
In 2003, the Crown upped the buy-in to AUD $10,000, making the Aussie Millions the richest tournament in the Southern Hemisphere and putting it on par with the most preeminent tournaments in the world. And of course almost everything would change in poker after 2003, which brought Chris Moneymaker's groundbreaking WSOP Championship and the advent of the hole-card television camera.
Check back with us soon for another Aussie Millions Flashback, where we'll examine the explosion of poker Down Under and the first non-Australian Aussie Millions winner.