As the calendar reaches its end, the staff here at PokerNews has sifted through the most interesting and compelling occurrences in the poker world to bring you our Top 10 Stories of the Year. Our list was compiled through voting by each member of our staff, and we’ll spend the next days counting down what we believe to be the biggest stories of the year. After debuting the No. 10 story on Monday, today is time to reveal No. 8. Coming in at this spot this year is the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open $10 Million Guarantee event that smashed expectations and created immense buzz within the industry.
In April, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida swung for the fences, announcing that they would host a $10 million guaranteed tournament in August.
Ten. Million. Dollars.
Prior to 2013, only 20 live poker tournaments had ever generated a prize pool of $10 million or more. Nine of those were World Series of Poker Main Events. Four were PokerStars Caribbean Adventure Main Events. Three were European Poker Tour Grand Final Main Events. Three were World Poker Tour World Championships. One was the WSOP $1 Million Big One for ONE DROP.
None of those tournaments guaranteed the eight-figure prize pool.
Prior to August, three events generated a prize pool of $10 million or more in 2013 alone — the GuangDong Millions ($15.3 million), One Drop High Roller ($17.8 million), and 2013 WSOP Main Event ($59.7 million).
Initially, the idea of a property willing to guarantee such a large prize pool seemed crazy, but the buzz surrounding the event started to build. The Seminole Hard Rock even purchased billboards in Las Vegas during the WSOP, which could be seen driving north or south on I-15. When the event finally arrived, there was no doubt that they were going to make the guarantee.
In fact, it quickly became evident that they were going to smash it.
“A million [dollars] just isn’t enough anymore,” WSOP bracelet winner Jon Aguiar said during his Day 1 flight. “Throw out a 10 million-dollar guarantee, you have to go. Everyone has to go.”
And everyone did go. The $5,300 buy-in reentry event attracted an eye-popping 2,384 entries, creating a total prize pool of $11.92 million — nearly 20 percent more than the eight-figure guarantee. Blair Hinkle, the eventual winner, walked away with over $1.7 million. Each member of the six-handed official final table walked away with no less than $378,000.
The only person in the entire state of Florida that didn’t seem surprised at the success of the event was Bill Mason, the Seminole Hard Rock’s director of poker. When PokerNews spoke with him during Day 1b of the event, he was all smiles.
“With the Hard Rock, you’re looking at a venue that’s complete,” Mason said. “We’ve got activities, we’re in South Florida so the lifestyle is unlike anywhere else — it’s fast paced, and people want to come to Florida.”
The timing of the event was also a huge factor in its success. The Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open began just long enough after the WSOP to give tournament grinders a much-needed break, but they snuck it in right before the start of the EPT season. Additionally, players that planned to travel to EPT Barcelona after the $10 million guarantee could catch a direct flight to Spain from neighboring Miami International Airport.
There are also the aforementioned sun and summertime activities associated with South Florida. Couple the timing, location, and atmosphere, and you have a perfect storm for a massive poker tournament.
PokerNews asked Mason if this was a one-off event or if the Seminole Hard Rock planned to run another big guaranteed event in the future, and he put on his best poker face.
“I definitely believe that there’s going to be more opportunities like this to come,” he said. “We’ve made a bigger commitment, and once this is over we’re going to take a look and see what we can do even bigger and better.”
Evidently, the executives at the Seminole Hard Rock were very pleased with the results, because in October they announced a second $10 million guarantee to take place in April of 2014.
April 2014 @SHRHollywood Showdown just announced, $10 Million WPT Main Event Guarantee w/ $5300bi @SHRThePokerRoom #SHRPOFollow @SHRHollywood
Unlike the first event, this will be an official stop on the World Poker Tour (the first ever WPT Alpha 8 event took place at the Seminole Hard Rock during the first $10 million guarantee) and it will be televised. Matt Savage, Executive Tour Director of the WPT, suggested on Twitter that the event will feature the same three-day re-entry format, and the standard WPT structure of one-hour blind levels until the start of Day 3.
Savage also hinted that the stop would be adding mixed-game side events, in response to a question from WSOP gold bracelet winner Owais Ahmed.
Unlike the first $10 million guarantee, the surrounding schedule will be less friendly in April. The WPT Seminole Hard Rock Showdown is set to kick off on April 10, and will be forced to compete with EPT Sanremo (April 14-20), and subsequently the PokerStars and Monte-Carlo® Casino European Poker Tour Grand Final (April 23-May 3). Players who travel to Italy for the first EPT stop are likely to remain in Europe for the Grand Final.
If players choose to travel to or stay in the United States, they will most likely travel north to Borgata in Atlantic City, New Jersey and play in the WPT World Championship (April 22-26).
The poker calendar is so jam-packed in April, the WSOP opted to push the second-annual WSOP Asia-Pacific at Crown Casino in Melbourne, Australia back to Oct. 1.
It’s hard to argue against the success of the first $10 million guarantee, but there are concerns regarding sustainability. The first event worked extremely well because of the surrounding circumstances, the second event was scheduled during one of the busiest months on the poker calendar.
“If you tried to do something like this every month, there’s no chance,” Brian Hastings, a new Florida resident, said back in August. “Once or twice a year, depending on where it is, how well the event is run, how many satellite winners there are, and how much value is there. It’s possible.”
The first $10 million guarantee was a must-play, can’t-miss event that attracted the who’s who of poker. In order to replicate that success, the Seminole Hard Rock will be tasked with spreading that same type of contagious excitement that spread across the U.S., and even in to Europe.
Only time will tell if the property’s eight-figure gamble will pay off once again.
PokerNews Top 10 Stories of 2013:
Stay tuned for more of the Top 10 Stories of the Year right here on PokerNews.