The Online Tournament Scene


*This is an article I wrote for Bluff a few months back that tries to introduce what we do on this site to a broader public. Lots of members have emailed me asking where they can find this article, so I decided to post it up here on the site. PocketFives will be doing a monthly piece with Bluff, you can check out our contributions and the rest of the magazine at Here's the first of many PocketFives contributions to Bluff Mag:*

Anyone with a television knows that tournament poker has hijacked almost every channel. The hefty prize pools, the celebrities, and the intense drama of the final tables offer a perfect recipe for entertainment. But what you might not realize is that a similar phenomenon is occurring in the online tournament scene. Players compete for millions of dollars in prize pools across dozens of sites every day (that’s right, I said millions). The best players are piling in the money and some have become legitimate online celebrities.

I work for and we focus on online tournament poker and its players. The online tournament scene is a powerful force in the poker universe, so when the guys at Bluff approached me to write an article about online tournaments, I nearly sent them chocolates. Anyone who enjoys watching tournament poker on TV will find playing online to be even more exciting. Here’s why.

To understand exactly how big online tournament poker has become, log on any Sunday and check out the major sites. PokerStars runs a $200 buy-in tournament that has a prize pool guaranteed to be at least $500,000. PartyPoker’s Sunday tournament guarantees $350,000 per week. UltimateBet, Paradise, Pacific, and Bodog also guarantee at least $100,000 in their major Sunday tournaments. That’s well over $1,000,000 just between six tournaments! In short, you have multiple chances every Sunday to win a year’s salary while you sit in your underwear in front of a computer.

The enormous growth of online poker tournaments has mirrored the growth of live poker. For example, take PokerStars, the site that has produced the last two champions of the World Series of Poker. In the four months leading up to Chris Moneymaker’s victory in the 2003 WSOP, PokerStars averaged 258 players per week in their $200 buy-in Sunday tournament. That made for an impressive prize pool of $51,000, which was excellent at the time. In the four months directly following Moneymaker’s win, that same tourney tripled to about 750 players every week. After Greg ‘Fossilman’ Raymer’s $5,000,000 victory in 2005, it was undeniable that online poker produced quality live players. Immediately following the tournaments first airing on ESPN, PokerStars’ weekly attendance in the $200 tourney jumped to 1,850 players.

The best part is that the bubble shows no sign of bursting. In the first four months of this year, ‘Stars averaged an enormous 2,375 players per week. In two short years, the prize pool has jumped from $50,000 to over $500,000. This tournament is bursting at the seams, and the pros have taken notice. Carlos Mortensen won it two weeks in a row last November, Michael ‘The Grinder’ Mizrachi won it a week after final tabling the WPT World Poker Open, and TJ Cloutier reached the final table in May.

While the live pros have begun cashing in on the growth of online tournaments, the sites themselves have produced their own breed of professional player. These highly skilled net-jockeys, most of whom are too busy to keep an active live tournament schedule, are making small fortunes in online tournaments. They jump from site to site, playing in all the big tournaments and scoring big every week. specializes in tracking these players and recognizing their accomplishments. The ranking system is designed to promote the guys that dominate online tournaments on a daily basis. If you don’t follow online poker, you probably haven’t heard of the ranked online players, but they are GOOD. Many of the top guys are pulling in $3,000-$6,000 per week in pure profit, often playing four to six tournaments per day.

Let’s profile Chris ‘brsavage’ Savage, for example. He had an incredible 2004 and was at the top of our list when we first released our tournament rankings. You can find him playing in the big tournaments on UltimateBet, PokerStars, ParadisePoker, and PartyPoker on any day of the week. Here are some of his accomplishments over the last year and a half: Twelve Ultimate Bet Aruba Tournament victories in 2004, most of which paid $10,000 cash; two victories in the PartyPoker daily specials, each paying over $25,000; three WSOP seats; six victories in the daily $30 rebuy tournament on Paradise, which totaled about $50,000, and third place in the Bodog Superbowl Special for $30K. In his best week online, he won over $70,000, including final-tabling the above-mentioned $200 tournament on ‘Stars. Chris also has had success in the live realm, winning a bracelet and $81,000 in the $1,500 Limit Hold’em Event in this year’s World Poker Open in Tunica. These are only a few of his big wins. You can find him cashing in tournaments on a daily basis. Coincidentally, as I was writing this article, brsavage won his 2005 WSOPpackage in a $650 satellite on ‘Stars.

Another incredible online player is Brett ‘Gank’ Jungblut. You’ve probably already heard of Gank. He’s a former member of ‘The Crew’ and the 2004 Omaha 8/b WSOP Champion. What you may not know is that he is an absolute force online and is ranked in the Top 10. Gank regularly plays in up to eight tournaments at once, sometimes playing 30 tournaments per day. He has two 19″ monitors that he uses simultaneously to keep the multitude of tables from overlapping. He’s literally making final tables every day and has become quite a celebrity online. His engaging personality has created a large following, and you can often find dozens of observers in his games, chatting on the cyber-rail or simply watching and learning from his aggressive play.

Numerous other online pros have garnered widespread respect and fan bases. The chat boxes on all the sites allow anyone with a computer to interact with the best online players.

Jim ‘KrazyKanuck’ Worth was one of the earliest online celebrities. He was simply a nice guy that people noticed winning – a lot. When someone would ask a strategy question, he would give an honest answer. He gained respect and adulation on all the sites he played, and he even got a job with as their Tournament Ambassador. Click on any of his tables when you see him playing on UB and you’re likely to find a full room of 200 observers, some chatting, and some just learning by watching him play. Todd ‘NSXT2’ Arnold is another player who has earned a huge following. He mainly plays on Paradise, where he can always be found chatting it up with his opponents and observers. His mastery of the psychological side of online poker has earned him the respect of the entire online poker community.

Mark ‘P0kerH0’ Kroon’s super-aggressive style has made him a fan favorite. He’s one of the few players who has figured out how to call huge raises with 7-4 offsuit and win consistently. Pete ‘TheBeat’ Giordano is perhaps the most consistent winner since the inception of online tournaments. He’s had great success in live events and could be a touring pro, but he prefers the flexibility and quality of life that his online poker skills provide him. Ask any serious online tournament player to tell you the top ten players, and Pete will surely make the list.

Accessibility to these online pros is something that has no parallel in live poker. Not only can you chat with the best players, but you can also watch their game and learn from their play. With online poker, you can observe any table of any tournament at any time. If you’d like to know how a great player plays in the middle rounds of a tournament, simply find one of our ranked players and observe. You can see how many hands they’re playing, how they play their big/small stack, when they shift gears, what kind of image they portray, etc. The pace of online poker is so quick that observing a big online tournament can be extremely entertaining, and if you take the time to watch one of the ranked players play a tournament from start to finish, you’re likely to pick up on something which will help you improve your own game.