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Disappointing Participation in WPN's Million Dollar Sundays

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Near the end of November 2017, the Winning Poker Network announced that it would be running $250 + $15 Million Dollar Sunday (MDS) tournaments for 12 straight weeks starting in January 2018 at 2:00 p.m. ET on Sundays. The MDS tourneys can be played from Americas Cardroom and other network skins. The first three of these events have concluded, and they've failed to garner enough entrants to meet their ambitious $1,000,001 guarantees.

The Numbers

Numbers

The first MDS occasion in 2018, held on Jan. 7, saw 3,854 players take to their seats, generating a prize pool of $963,500, which was $36,501 short of the $1,000,001 mark. However, when we take the $15 tournament fee into account, the WPN actually collected more than $21,000 in excess of what was needed to cover the prize amount.

The next week's tourney, which ran on Jan. 14, saw the number of entrants drop to 3,407: a figure that caused the poker site to have to cough up nearly $100,000 of its own money to make good on its promises. Turnout was a bit better on Jan. 21 at 3,483 players. This resulted in a prize pool of $870,750. Put another way, it was $130,000 short of the guarantee. Taking into account the tourney juice, WPN still had to eat $77,006 in overlays. Yuck!

Lobby of the Million Dollar Sunday: Jan. 14, 2018

Tournament Lobby From the Jan. 14 MDS, Showing Large Prize Pool Shortfall

MDS Background

Books

The Winning Poker Network is the only U.S.-friendly poker operator that has even attempted to hold tournaments with seven-figure guaranteed prize amounts. The first of these MTTs came in February 2015, and others followed at intervals of a few months. They tended to overlay quite significantly until April 2016 when the $500 + $40 Million Dollar Sunday garnered 2,118 registrations and $1,059,000 in total prizes. Since then until the end of 2017, all instances of the MDS have met their guarantees.

In October 2017, tournament staff decided to cut the buyin by about half to $250 + $15. The number of participants was 4,368, creating a pool of $1,092,000 in prizes. It was the success of this special, lower-priced event that probably gave management the idea that weekly tournaments of similar size could be sustained over the course of the first three months of 2018.

Satellite Opportunities

Satellite Tournament Flowchart

The Winning Poker Network has been running quite a number of satellite tournaments to promote broad participation in the MDS. There are satellites every week on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday awarding 50, 100, and 150 seats respectively for a buyin of between $33 and $44. Furthermore, qualifier tournaments are listed throughout the week that feed into these satellites and cost as little as $4 + $0.40 to join. There are a few open-to-all freeroll sattys too as well as several for top affiliates that are password-protected. Users can also win their tickets through SNG Steps.

It's one thing to offer ways for people to earn their entries inexpensively; it's quite another to see players actually signing up for them. In a thread on the Twoplustwo forums about the promotion, posters reported that several satellites were canceled due to not meeting the minimum allowed field size. The WPN tournament director even stated that he was monitoring these qualifiers and in some cases pushing back their start times to allow more people to register and thereby avoid cancellation.

Server Downtime

Server Hardware

Recent reports of customers being unable to log in and having their tournaments frozen don't exactly help matters. The latest such server woes came on Wednesday, Jan. 24. Between about 6:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. ET, many players began experiencing disconnections and an inability to take their seats in tournaments that they had entered. What's more, the websites of the Winning Poker Network member rooms were not loading correctly and were instead presenting viewers with a 504 Gateway Time-out error. The network ended up shutting down all tourneys and opted to pay out their prize pools in accordance with the policy for handling such situations.

Even when server issues don't affect the MDS itself, they can and do interrupt the running of MDS satellites. Such problems make the network as a whole look bad and most likely deter some potential customers from opening up accounts in the first place. Nobody wants to play for several hours straight only to find that their efforts were for naught when their MTTs are declared void.

Other Factors Possibly in Play

Interlocking Gears

There are a couple of other reasons why the latest Million Dollar Sunday events don't seem to be fulfilling their potential. First of all, previous installments of the MDS either had a couple of months between them or were part of an exciting tourney series, like the Online Super Series. This allowed them to create buzz and anticipation in advance of the tournament dates. By contrast, running 12 of them in a row makes them just another Sunday Major albeit a very sizeable one. Another thing to consider is that the tournament staff haven't cleared out the normal Sunday schedule to highlight the MDS. In particular, the normal $200 + $15 Sunday Special is still taking place with a guarantee of $150,000 just an hour and a half after the MDS begins. This latter event may be stealing a bit of traffic away from the MDS, and many players can probably only afford to play one or the other but not both.

What Can the WPN Do?

To ensure the success of its Million Dollar Sundays and avoid overlays going forward, there are a number of steps the network can take:

  1. Invest in the necessary infrastructure - There hasn't yet been an explanation from the network as to the unexpected outages, but the Winning Poker Network has seen its share of DDoS attacks over the years, and this may be what happened on Jan. 24. Whatever the case may be, having an online poker site be basically unplayable for more than three hours is unacceptable, and the network should invest resources to see to it that this doesn't happen again.
  2. Revamp the satellites - If a satellite that requires 50 participants to start only gets 40, then that's 40 people who aren't going to be able to win an MDS seat. It would be better to reconfigure the satellites so that they actually fill without the tournament director having to babysit them and fiddle with the starting times.
  3. Make the MDS special again - In the past, the WPN has made million-dollar tourneys the centerpiece of whole days of tournament fun, including supporting events and careful thought put into the surrounding schedule. The January 2018 MDS events, by contrast, seem to have just been thrown into the mix without really doing anything to make them stand out.
  4. Cut the generous guarantees - Reducing the guaranteed amounts of the Million Dollar Sundays is our least favorite remedy, but it is a way for the network to stop losing money in them. This should only be done as a last resort, in our opinion, because it would be an admission of defeat and a sign that the network hadn't done sufficient market research and preparation before launching the tournaments. Also, “Three-Quarters of a Million Dollar Sunday” doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

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Great Value to Be Had

While the weekly Million Dollar Sundays have thus far been somewhat of a disappointment for the Winning Poker Network, there is a silver lining. The five- and six-figure overlays represent excellent value for any serious tournament poker player. If you want to scoop up your share of this added cash, then now's a fine time to register your account. You'll get a 100% up to $1,000 bonus at Americas Cardroom that clears at a 20% rakeback rate and a free $50 credit on your first deposit. Read our Americas Cardroom Poker review for all the details. We've also compiled reviews on ACR's sister sites: BlackChip Poker review, True Poker review, Ya Poker review (non-US), PokerHost review.