The Highest Of High Stakes Poker: Rise Of The Super High Roller Poker Tournament

Posted on September 13, 2016 - Last Updated on October 3, 2022

[toc]The World Championship Of Online Poker at PokerStars has made history by hosting an ongoing event with a buy-in of $102,000 – the largest online poker tournament buy-in ever.

It’s not a surprise to those in the know, because the world of poker tournaments has been frankly insane for a while. Here’s how the stakes have been getting higher and higher for the past decade.

When $10,000 was the granddaddy of them all

The World Series of Poker Main Event is still the most prestigious poker title that can be won; it’s still called the “world championship” and all poker players want to top that field.

In the 1970s, the $10,000 buy-in had the purchasing power of roughly $62,000 today. It was still small compared to the cash games that the best of the best played as their main income, but large enough to offer significant incentive to win.

Now, despite tradition (and the relative openness of the field) keeping the Main Event buy-in at this level, a $10,000 poker tournament hardly turns heads thanks to the rise of High Roller and Super High Roller events.

The first High Roller events

As major poker tournaments began to become commonplace thanks to online poker, the 2003 poker boom and the increasing popularity of televised poker, the $10,000 buy-in of the Main Event became less special.

The World Poker Tour, once the king of televised poker tournaments, held several $10,000 buy-in events each year.

Their seasons culminated in a $25,000 buy-in WPT Championship event that was one of the first regular major high roller events.

The European Poker Tour, with buy-ins averaging €5,000 to €8,000 for their own events, followed suit with a €10,000 EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo. As the 21st century rolled on, $10,000 events became the norm.

Boy, that escalated quickly…

In 2011, online poker and poker in general was at an all-time high outside the US and still pretty damn popular within it.

That’s pretty much when everything went bonkers.

Aussie Millions host $100,000 event

Since 2006, the Crown Casino’s Aussie Millions tournament, held each January in Melbourne and sponsored by Full Tilt Poker, included a $100,000 Challenge event.

Just 10 players entered the first one, but in 2007 18 put up six figures and 25 did the same in 2008. It was a totally unique, unfathomably high stakes event, until…

PokerStars announce 2011 Super High Roller

The PokerStars and Full Tilt rivalry was in full swing as the giants of online poker poured cash into marketing and the poker world itself.

PokerStars added a $100,000 event to their own schedule in the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, taking place weeks before the Aussie Millions.

Full Tilt re-raise with a $250,000 Challenge

That didn’t sit well with Full Tilt, who immediately called their bluff and upped the ante (and other poker puns) by adding a $250,000 buy-in event to the Aussie Millions schedule.

This is when the poker world wondered just how much money these guys had to throw around…

A million dollar buy-in poker tournament

Guy LaLiberté, founder of Cirque du Soleil, is a huge poker fan and a regular in high stakes cash games thanks to his billionaire status. He is also the founder of The One Drop Foundation, and combined his passions in 2012.

In the 2012 World Series of Poker, 48 players entered a $1 million buy-in event (with $111,111 going to charity from each buy-in) in the largest poker tournament ever televised, and almost certainly the largest ever played.

Antonio Esfandiari won the event for $18.3 million.

$100,000 is the new $10,000

Since that war in 2011, the Super High Rollers have remained. Despite the online poker world almost imploding in April 2011 and the death of Full Tilt this past year, high rollers (and Super High Rollers) are now here to stay.

It’s now standard for every tournament stop to host a high roller or two alongside their main event.

The EPT often runs €50,000 Super High Rollers and €25,000 High Rollers; casinos in Las Vegas such as the Aria run $25,000 buy-in poker tournaments regularly; so far this year, there have been 17 poker tournaments with a buy-in of $50,000/€50,000 or more.

Beyond the million?

Poker is no longer booming and growing as it was, and many would argue it hasn’t been since the mid-2010s – and yet, the high roller tournament came some time after this. There seems to be no sign of the super high stakes tournament scene slowing down, either.

So, rather than asking (as we did in 2011) “is this sustainable” we have to ask now “can this get any bigger?

It’s difficult to imagine a reality in which $100,000 tournaments are no longer considered “super” and seven-figure buy-in events occur multiple times a year, but there is a lot of money and a lot of gamble in the world.

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Matt Perry

A veteran of the online gambling industry, Matt Perry has worn a number of hats since he first began working in online poker and iGaming in 2007. He currently writes for a variety of publications focused on legal online gambling, and in the past has served as an editor, copywriter, content manager and reporter.

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