Branding more than the tournament

January, 8, 2010
1/08/10
1:16
PM ET
You'd think the whole world-economy-decline thing, the exhaustion-after-Christmas-and New Years thing and even the buying-a-plane-ticket-for-right-after-the-narrowly-missed-Christmas-plot thing would discourage masses of people from heading to a tournament in the Bahamas, but the numbers are in and it just isn't so. In total, 1,529 players showed up for the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure main event, up 182 players from a year ago, and on Thursday, the $1,000 six-handed hold 'em event incurred a 160-player wait list.

Economy what?

What makes this event so different from those of a similar scope held in continental North America that have seen a steady decline in their numbers? I think the 18- to 20-year-old American demographic is the obvious first answer, as its youthful enthusiasm and youthful recklessness would surely populate the Bellagios of the world were the option available. There's also the appealing destination and the time of year to consider. Calling a visit to the tropics in January an attractive notion would be an understatement.

Jeffrey Haas, director of the Global Poker Tour and PokerStars' point man for all things live tournaments, continues to work on the property.

"The increasing supply or selection for players, in tandem with the diminished capacity for participation, is responsible for the decreasing registration patterns for most tournaments," said Haas. "And while this is going on, most tournament operators and promoters aren't innovating or being creative with their programming, or offering players more value or a better experience.

"We looked at all of this and thought of how we could stand out against the cold to create something bright, fresh and interesting for players."

In retrospect though, I don't think either of those two factors is as singularly crucial to PCA's growth as another pointed out to me. Daniel Negreanu, always happy to share his thoughts and well-studied on all things PokerStars, started answering my inquiry not with the aforementioned demographic and travel brochure, but with this telling little tidbit: "I think the key reason is because 'Stars has done a really good job of going global, getting exposure in places that have never seen poker before. Poker's emerging in Latin America, in Europe, with the APPT, creating new poker players."

He's absolutely right.

With a great satellite system already in place, 'Stars has done a phenomenal job of branding itself as the conduit to all things poker in parts of the world where poker hasn't been a major cultural influence for 160 years. I don't buy "tissue," I buy Kleenex, and what 'Stars seems to be doing in those areas is making its brand in the poker world's growth areas the absolute in all things related to this game.

The result is players from 57 nations including Turks and Caicos, Latvia, Belize, Malta and Lebanon among those in attendance. Don't be surprised if you find yourself in a conversation with a foreigner and hear "PokerStars" when they're asked to name their favorite game.

PCA update

Two hundred eighty players began Day 3 and the surge to the money. Due to a change in payout structure from 2009 to 2010, winning this event will be worth only $2.2 million. Even with the additional 182 players from last year, the tournament staff flattened the structure, making it not as top-heavy as it was when Poorya Nazari won a first prize of $3 million last year.

Two hundred twenty-four players make the money and guarantee themselves at least $15,000. Considering that many satellited into this event for a greatly reduced cost, we'd expect to see play be extremely tight around the bubble as many will hope to secure their first major poker payout.

Praz Bansi held the chip lead going into Day 3, but he had one of the toughest table draws around with Phil Ivey sitting only a few seats away. It didn't take long for Ivey to take advantage, either.

Ivey entered the day with approximately $224,000. After the first level of play, he is among the chip leaders with $725,000 after he doubled through Bansi in an interesting hand that faced Ivey's 7-7 against Bansi's Ad-7d. The flop brought Ivey a set, but Bansi a flush draw. The two got all the chips in the middle and Ivey's hand held, giving everyone else in the room a slightly smaller chance of winning this event.

Notables still in contention include Matt Graham, Peter Feldman, Jeff Madsen, Bill Gazes, Carlos Mortensen, Kathy Liebert ... OK, you get the point. There are a lot of big names still remaining in this field, but Dennis Phillips and Daniel Negreanu were eliminated early on Day 3. After having a great Day 1B, Annette Obrestad failed to make it out of Day 2, as did Gavin Smith, Kevin Schaffel, Eric Buchman, Darus Suharto, Peter Eastgate and Eric Baldwin. ESPN.com's Bernard Lee also was eliminated when his pocket kings fell to Amnon Filippi's A-Q. Filippi is currently one of the chip leaders after one level on Day 3.

Six levels will be played on Friday and those who make it through will be one step closer to the first NAPT title.

Gary Wise has contributed to ESPN.com since 2007. He is well-studied in the history of poker and presents a unique tableside view of the goings-on in the poker community. Google author profile
Andrew Feldman is ESPN.com's Poker Editor. He is the host of the Poker Edge Podcast and co-host of ESPN Inside Deal. Andrew has covered the poker industry for ESPN since 2004.
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