Back in 2004, after the Chris Moneymaker boom ignited a new world order for the poker industry, all kinds of tournaments were popping up to take advantage and grab their share of the pie and the limelight. Many — like the World Poker Open and the partypoker Millions cruises — have long since disappeared from the scene. Others have endured.
One such tournament that has survived the ups and downs of the past 12-plus years is the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA). We chronicled the history of the PCA Main Event here on PokerNews. The tournament began on a cruise ship back in 2004 and then moved to Paradise Island in the Bahamas in 2005. There, it has morphed into a staple of the live circuit, an event circled by pros and amateurs alike.
The PCA has been a big deal for years now. I still remember when a friend of mine, who was also a bit of a poker mentor, qualified in a $33 rebuy satellite for the $10,000 tournament. He was rightfully thrilled. Winning a PCA seat meant a savory combo of a Caribbean vacation and a chance to win life-changing money, like when satellite qualifier Poorya Nazari shipped a record $3 million in 2009.
1. “SirWatts” Wins Smallest PCA Prize Since 2004
This year's winner, unlike Nazari, needs no introduction. Mike Watson is a true tournament great, having racked up over $9 million in live cashes now to go with his $3 million in online scores, according to PocketFives. "SirWatts" was always such a big name in the online tournament scene. He just fits as a PCA champion, no?
Watson defeated fellow crusher Tony Gregg heads up after the two made a deal. Amazingly, it was Gregg's third PCA final table and his second runner-up finish — he also came second to Nazari in 2009. Now, Watson has achieved the unofficial live triple crown of winning European Poker Tour, World Poker Tour, and World Series of Poker events. I say unofficial because his high roller win at WSOP Europe in 2012 didn't award a bracelet, but there's little doubt Watson will claim one, possibly as soon as this year.
Outside of Watson and Gregg though, another story to come out of PCA was the relatively lackluster final number of 928 entries. Tournament organizers decided to drop the buy-in from $10,300 to $5,300 this year, and the result wasn't what they had undoubtedly hoped for as the 50 percent drop was accompanied by only a 14-percent spike in attendance over last year's 816. As a result, even before the deal, the first-place prize money of $833,260 was the lowest in the event's land-based history.
Credit to PokerNews Editor-in-Chief Donnie Peters, who called this from the start on the PokerNews Podcast. He pointed out that any casual players with enough money to ship to Paradise Island for a poker tournament probably don't care if the buy-in is $5,000 or $10,000, and that looks to be the case.
On the pro side of things, with the amount of expenses they're incurring to stay in the Bahamas — having seen the food prices while covering the tournament the past two years, trust me, it ain't cheap — these players surely want as big a payoff as possible. Many were likely turned off by the price drop.
The question is, where does the PCA go from here? The move to a lower buy-in was understandable given the tournament's declining attendance in recent years. At the same time, 816 players is still a very nice number for a $10,000 event in the current poker climate. The mistake may have been looking at 2015's attendance in comparison to the boom years rather than simply where the industry is at as a whole.
2. Aussie Millions Underway
From one big tournament to another as the packed jam-packed January tournament grind continues with the Aussie Millions, one of the highlights of the poker schedule each year.
The beginning of the series is overshadowed by the PCA, but things are well underway at Crown Melbourne. Already, a bevy of preliminary events are in the books with some notable results.
James "Andy McLEOD" Obst, a longtime online crusher who has showcased his mixed-game prowess before at Aussie Millions by winning the 8-game event, took down Event #2: $2,500 H.O.R.S.E. for $35,100. David Yan, a young player whose breakout many have been anticipating for some time, took his first live win for $117,000 in Event #6: $1,150 Six-Max No-Limit Hold'em. In a result that should surprise nobody, British star Stephen Chidwick won the $2,500 8-Game for $47,250. As an aside, I have to give a shoutout to my friend Oliver Gill for finishing fourth in that event after winning it last year.
The good stuff is just getting started, too, as the $25,000 Challenge heads to Day 2 with Steve O'Dwyer — who else? — in the lead. Still, there's a long way to go with 26 of 122 players remaining as the tournament hasn't even hit the money yet, so it would be premature to crown O'Dwyer just yet. Keep an eye on the live reporting as things build toward the Main Event, the $100,000 Challenge, and the $250,000 Challenge.
3. PokerStars' New Security Standard
PokerStars players have had to make a slew of adjustments under Amaya's new leadership, and things continue to evolve on that front with the introduction of a new security standard making the rounds through players' emails.
In a story that surfaced on TwoPlusTwo, some players are now being asked to provide a 70-minute video of themselves playing a standard session, featuring video evidence of their surroundings, computer screens, and physical appearance. Those who don't comply within 10 days could potentially have their accounts closed from the sound of things.
The request has been met with some outrage from players. At least one player threw out the term "Orwellian," referencing George Orwell's famously controlling depiction of a "big brother" administration keeping a watchful eye on all.
Whether PokerStars is attempting to fight bots, third-party software, collusion, or all of the above isn't clear to me. But with some of the problems running rampant through the online poker world, it will be interesting to see if anyone is rooted out. The question I have is, how will PokerStars know if something is amiss?
They're reportedly looking for inconsistencies in play, and while it might be readily apparent that something is off if a player who normally 20-tables can't do so without a third-party tool, for others it won't be so obvious if they simply play a 70-minute session without using their normal tools. A lot of variance can govern a 70-minute sample size of play. How can they determine what is causing any inconsistencies that are spotted?
4. Phil Ivey to Launch DFS Site
Phil Ivey may be losing money at a record pace on the virtual felt, but evidently he's still liquid enough to throw cash at another new business venture.
The poker legend is reportedly putting his name behind a daily fantasy sports (DFS) offering called, well, PhilIveyDFS — creative branding sold separately. The site will apparently be part of something called the iTEAM Network.
I play lots of DFS and I've never heard of the iTEAM Network. Firing a DFS start-up at this point feels a little like trying to start an online poker site circa 2006. I'm not sure the opportunity to play DFS against Ivey is going to move the needle much for the masses.
I remember well covering my first WSOP in 2013, when Ivey Poker-branded pros could be found among the field in every bracelet event. Is Ivey Poker even a thing any more? I can't recall the last time I saw the purple crown patch adorn the clothing of a player.
Best of luck to Ivey in his new venture, and hopefully for his sake it has more staying power than the poker training site.
5. Aaron Jones Takes Down $5 Million DFS Prize
Speaking of DFS, another poker pro made headlines this week by winning the largest prize ever awarded in DFS. Aaron "aejones" Jones shipped the DraftKings Fantasy Football World Championship for a whopping $5 million, defeating a field of 10 finalists out of 200 qualifiers who won $80,000 packages.
Read all about Jones' win here, including a breakdown of his team and how he charged back from a huge deficit to win the prize.
I love DFS and enjoy writing about it for FantasyWired. That said, it's a little bit depressing to see a skilled pro like Jones win nearly 10 times his lifetime poker tournament cashes in one DFS contest. Granted, we're talking about a player known mostly for his high-stakes cash exploits, but it's really astonishing to see how much DFS resonates with the general betting public compared with poker even at its peak.
Big props to Jones on his win, and I continue to hope DFS can pave the way for poker on the legislation front.