Super High Roller Bowl Lottery Flub Forces Field Expansion to 56

What happens when you offer an ultra-high roller poker tournament with a lottery-style cap on entries that, through the whims of chance, happens to bar some of the most marketable players you’d hoped would participate?  If you’re the Super High Roller Bowl, the answer seems to be: Change your own rules after the fact, to get those players in anyway.

SHRB Champion Rainer Kempe

2016 Super High Roller Bowl winner Rainer Kempe

If you’ve missed this funny little tale amid some of the poker world’s larger and stranger events in recent days, don’t be surprised.  The SHRB, which returns in late May with its third annual nosebleed-poker soiree, continues to play around with its format.  The event, hosted at Las Vegas’s ARIA Casino and put together by PokerCentral and Poker PROductions, originally offered these entry protocols, per a press release issued month:

– May 28 – 31 at ARIA in Las Vegas.
– The first place winner receives an estimated $5 million.*
– ARIA begins accepting deposits on Thursday, Feb. 2.
– Buy-in is $300,000. Player deposits are $30,000 and are non-refundable.
– The Super High Roller Bowl is an open event; invitations are not required.
– This is a zero rake event.
– There is a cap of 50 players in this year’s tournament.
– Of the total 50 seats, 15 are reserved by ARIA for non-professional, super high rollers.

*The $15 million prize pool and $5 million first prize assumes that the tournament will reach its maximum of 50 players.

A rake-free event featuring a handful of whales that many top “working” poker pros can still afford to enter is sure to draw many of those pros, and that’s exactly what happened.  Purportedly, that cap of 50 players was locked in, with 15 seats reserved for ARIA’s promotional purposes.  One would have thought that the other 35 seats would have been assigned on a first-come, first-served basis, though that didn’t happen, perhaps because (in lieu of any other explanation) some of the very biggest pro names were just a tad slow in depositing their $30,000 and locking up seats.

In all, 54 players tried to reserve seats, virtually all of them “name” pros.  A few wealthy poker-playing business types (David Einhorn, Dan Shak, Haralabos Voulgaris, Bill Klein) were among them, but yeah… all pros, really.  Einhorn, Klein, Shak, and Haralabob are all very wealthy men who also play poker at an elite level.

Faced with the overage, and with the ARIA’s 15 reserved seats still looming, the SHRB’s organizers appear to have dropped the first-come/first-served thing and run a lottery for those 35 seats instead.  The 35 lucky seat winners represented a rather solid lineup:

Christian Christner, Antonio Esfandiari, Igor Kurganov, Matt Berkey, Connor Drinan, Steffen Sontheimer, Jake Schindler, Pratyush Buddiga, Rainer Kempe, Sean Winter, John Juanda, Dominik Nitsche, Christoph Vogelsang, Stefan Schillhabel, Andrew Robl, Brian Rast, Bryn Kenney, Fedor Holz, David Peters, Jason Les, Ben Tollerene, Tom Marchese, Erik Seidel, Sam Soverel, Scott Seiver, Ankush Mandavia, David Einhorn, Nick Petrangelo, Haralabos Voulgaris, Isaac Haxton, Andrew Lichtenberger, Doug Polk, Ben Sulsky, Byron Kaverman, and Koray Aldemir.

Great lineup indeed, including both previous winners, Brian Rast (2015) and Rainer Kempe (2016).  Except that the 19 others who were unlucky in the initial lottery might have had even more star power:

Adrian Mateos, Talal Shakerchi, Stephen Chidwick, Max Silver, Jason Koon, Sergio Aido, Jonathan Jaffe, Daniel Negreanu, Zach Hyman, Justin Bonomo, Daniel Colman, Jan-Eric Schwippert, Dan Smith, Darren Elias, Max Altergott, Bill Klein, Dan Shak, and Jason Mercier.

Even if the ARIA could be persuaded to give its 15 reserved seats to some of these pros, there was still a significant chance that a Negreanu or Mercier or Colman or Dan Shak (who was probably the type of player the reserved seats were designed to include) would be left out.  That’s the type of potential ratings hit a newish venture such as the SHRB must avoid.

And so… change the rules.  Let them all in.  The cap thus wasn’t a hard cap at all, but was bumped up to 56, the next multiplier of seats per table (8) that would work in the format.  The bump leaves ARIA with only two reserved seats instead of 15, with one of the two still earmarked for an unnamed celeb.  The other could go to a Phil Hellmuth type, or Hellmuth himself, who was mentioned in the SHRB’s initial presser but did not pony up the deposit.  (Truth be told, against this field, Hellmuth might not be +EV.)

All this makes for a rocky prelude to SHRB III, which will end up being a bit more pro-heavy than its organizers might have wished.  Yet that’s how it goes in poker, right?

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