The NJ Poker Classic II was one of those rare sequels that was leaps and bounds better than the first.
Guaranteeing a lofty $800,000 over two plus weeks and 57 events, the series resonated deeply with the New Jersey online poker community, who anted up approximately $1.1 million worth of buy-ins, and saw to it that nearly every event reached its guarantee.
There was no dearth of notable NJPC II moments, with the WSOP/888 network notching multiple landmark successes:
- Event #7 — Sunday Biggy [re-entry]: The first big GTD event on the schedule generated a $68,400 prize pool and an $18,810 top prize (won by eddiegood86). The guarantee was $60k and the buy-in $320.
- Event #16 — Tuesday Showdown: This event drew 100 entries at a $250 buy-in level, which was quite striking for a weekday event. The event shattered its $15k guarantee, with a final prize pool of $23,300.
- Event #24 — Friday Kickstarter: A nuanced event with the casual player in mind, Event #24 had a “show me” theme, where all players at the table saw the winning cards, every hand. The gimmick worked, as the low buy-in event attracted 114 players in creating a $5,200 prize pool.
- Event #39 — High Roller: $1k buy-in events are something of a tough sell in the NJ market, attracting mostly regs. However, Event #39 made the grade, attracting 57 entries en route to a $54,435 prize pool.
- Event #49 — Friday Fight III [Knockout]: Bounty tournaments, on the other hand, attract the masses. All three Friday Fight MTTs performed well, with both the second and third rounds beating out their guarantees by 100% or more. Event #49 drew 71 players, and generated a total $10,082 prize pool ($5k GTD).
- Event #52 — Main Event: The Main was nothing short of a slam dunk, with 184 players (88 rebuys) creating a $127,024 prize pool off a $100k guarantee. The buy-in was set at $500, and the first prize of $34,296 went to pure_reason.
A comparison to similar and recent events on PokerStars NJ illustrates the success of the NJPC II.
- The Main Event of Stars’ Winter Series, also a $100k guarantee, produced a $112k prize pool — roughly $15k less than what the NJPC’s Main managed.
- The High Roller was also more successful than a comparable event on Stars, which generated a nearly $50k prize pool vs. nearly $55k on WSOP/888.
- WSOP/888 also gets the nod for hosting the bigger inaugural weekend event.
The NJPC II was also far more successful than its predecessor, which ran in November. The inaugural NJ Poker Classic guaranteed $500,000 and had a total prize pool of $660k, less than two-thirds of the prize fund for the most recent iteration.
The secret of the NJPC II’s success
Given its third-place status in the struggling NJ online poker industry, the network’s ability to pull off a $1.1 million MTT series comes off as something of a minor miracle.
We attribute its success, in part, to the following:
- Innovation: WSOP/888 took some risks with several of its MTTs, rolling out rarely-seen before formats like Show-Me and Teams tournaments — where winning team players took home an extra slice of the prize pool. These one-off MTTs all performed admirably, and may have proven a draw for recreational players.
- Tournament stacking: Each day featured at least three events, and as many as five, staggered in such a way that players who busted early from one tournament could easily jump into another. Weekday events never started later than 9:00 pm, with the later events typically boasting a fast enough structure that working players could feel comfortable registering.
- Rebuys galore: By now, it’s apparent that the NJ market can’t support high guarantee freezeouts. Virtually every NJPC II events featured re-entries, or rebuys and add-ons.
- Notice: Players weren’t given a ton of prior notice about the NJPC, but more than they were for the inaugural Classic, which saw its schedule released just a few days ahead of time.
Notably, there were only two non-No Limit Hold’em events on the slate, and they were both Pot Limit Omaha tournaments. Normally, we’d criticize the network for this lack of diversity. And while the schedule certainly proved disappointing to those who fancy alternative game types, there’s something to be said about knowing what games the market can reasonably sustain. Unfortunately, the answer to that question is “not many” beyond NLHE, as even PLO MTTs rarely generate attractive prize pools.
The NJPC II was by no means perfect. If anything, the series guarantee was set too conservatively, failing to max out its potential as a marketing device. Increasing the series guarantee to $1 million, or even matching the PokerStars NJCOOP at $1.2 million, may have proven a more effective draw. And the network would have incurred little risk by doing this, as many of the smaller events beat out their guarantees by 100% or more.
Granted, we do understand why the network opted for a more conservative approach as it really hasn’t hosted any major MTT series with regularity before. We just hope it’ll push the envelope next time around, especially now that tournaments are proving a more effective source of attraction than cash games.
What’s next for NJ online poker?
Tournaments grinders will hardly get a chance to catch their breath over the next few months, with at least three more series expected to hit by May.
- PokerStars kicked off its Turbo Series last Thursday, and it will run through Sunday, March 4. The series will guarantee more than $250k across 28 fast-paced events.
- Then there’s the annual GSSS Spring Edition on Borgata Poker, which will guarantee $365k over just 17 events. The kickoff date is set for March 18.
- In May we expect the third annual NJSCOOP to run. The NJSCOOP is one of Stars’ two flagship MTT events, and is likely to guarantee at least $1.2 million, maybe more now that WSOP/888 has upped its game.
As for WSOP/888, it wouldn’t exactly shock if the network goes big with a $1 million+ series that runs concurrently with the live World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Normally, poker tourism in Nevada leads WSOP to run the bigger series in that state, but given the site’s recent push in New Jersey, it wouldn’t shock if the NJ and NV effort were roughly in parallel.
Of course, there’s always the outside chance that the New Jersey and Nevada/Delaware markets share online poker liquidity by that point. No firm date, or even hint of when the pooling will go live, has been announced.