WPN Halves Million Dollar Sunday Guarantees, Doubles Number of Tourneys

We have heard all about the Winning Poker Network’s (WPN) problems with its Million Dollar Sunday tournaments. They have, to put it lightly, not gone well. WPN realizes that, which is why it is making a change to its Million Dollar Sunday schedule, reducing the guaranteed prize pools while at the same time attempting to provide the same overall value for the network’s players.

The Winning Poker Network, which consists of a dozen poker rooms including America’s Cardroom, True Poker, and Poker Host, began a run of ambitious tournaments last month, scheduling five million dollar guaranteed tournaments, the only million dollar guarantees for a U.S.-facing online poker network. One took place in September while the next four were set for each Sunday in October at 3:00pm ET. After having to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars in overlay because of a lack of interest, WPN has decided to slash the guarantees for the Million Dollar Sunday events in half, from $1 million to $500,000. The buy-in has also been reduced by 50 percent, from $540 to $270.

winning-poker-network-logoTo make up for the reduced guarantee, the network is extending “Million Dollar” Sunday an extra two weeks, thus still providing $2 million in guarantees, just spread over four weeks instead of two. Starting with this past tournament, the final one with a $1 million guarantee, the events have also been pushed back to 5:00pm.

There really is no other reason for the change (presumably) except to try to avoid having to pony up gigantic overlays. In the September tournament, the overlay was $224,500, in the first Million Dollar Sunday of October, it was $197,500, and this past Sunday, it was nearly $150,000. Shelling out almost $600,000 in overlay across three tournaments is a good way to go broke quickly.

It is possible that the improvement in overlay this past Sunday had something to do with the two hour time shift, but it is more likely that it was the first Million Dollar Sunday that avoided a significant Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. As explained in previous articles, a DDoS attack occurs when someone floods the target machine – in this case, WPN’s servers – with a barrage of false communications requests. So many requests are thrown at the machine that it has trouble filtering out the bad ones from the legitimate ones, causing major slowdowns and system seizures. They are called “Distributed” because the attacker uses multiple source machines (usually compromised machines, at that) from different locations to initiate the attacks, making it even more difficult for the target to identify the fake messages.

The Winning Poker Network was hit by DDoS attacks during the September Million Dollar Sunday and the first one in October. An initial attempt at the same tournament was also victimized in December. The DDoS attacks caused table slowdowns, freezing, and player disconnections, either preventing players from registering or just driving them to quit. It was so bad in December that WPN CEO Phil Nagy decided to cancel the tournament mid-stream and refund all buy-ins. He had the tournament paused several times so his staff could try to get things under control, but they were never able to do so. The first two tournaments of this recent five-tourney run were hit, as well, but despite some problems and some required pauses, the problems did get resolved and the tournaments were able to run to completion.

During the September event, Nagy went on Twitch to provide updates as to what was going on. He was clearly upset, revealing this tasty nugget:

In the beginning of the tournament we had to pause the tournament for five minutes and then we resumed the tournament…and we’re getting some extortion messages where they want us to send Bitcoins to stop the attacks. Well, um…no. Not gonna do that. I just can’t imagine paying the terrorists to stop. That’s just the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.

There were no reports of a similar DDoS attack for the October 12th Million Dollar Sunday, which was probably the biggest reason why the overlay was not as bad as before (though still bad). WPN’s problem with the Million Dollar Sundays, even without DDoS issues, is probably as simple as lack of player traffic and interest. WPN isn’t a tiny network, but isn’t particularly large, either. According to PokerScout.com, WPN has a seven-day average of 550 cash game players, placing it in a tie for 15th in the industry’s cash game traffic rankings. When you need 2,000 players to meet the guarantee (the buy-in was $500, while the entry fee was $40), you might have problems when your tables aren’t filled to capacity. $540 isn’t chump change, either.

The reduced entry cost will almost certainly be more palatable to WPN’s player base, possibly increasing turnout despite the slashed guarantee. In turn, the hope for the network is that larger fields will be able to hit the guarantees naturally, or at least lesser the pain of the overlays.

Cover image: “Cut off” by Hernán Piñera is licensed under CC BY 2.0


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