Flashback Friday: 2019 PokerStars Players Championship Gave Average Joes a Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity

COVID-19 sure does ruin some good things, one of them being what was supposed to be the 2020 PokerStars Players Championship (PSPC). So, instead of reporting on the unique $25,000 buy-in tournament that was scheduled for this month, we’ll look back at the historic event that took place last year.

PSPC poker Ramon Colillas

Ramon Colillas went from unknown poker player to a $5 million winner at the 2019 PSPC. (Image: pokerstars.com)

Ramon Colillas of Spain won the inaugural PokerStars Players Championship last year for $5.1 million. But it wasn’t an ordinary tournament, and Colillas isn’t a high-roller.

Only a small percentage of poker players can afford to spend $25,000 to enter a poker tournament. Yet, the 2019 PSPC had 1,039 entries, the most ever for a tournament with a buy-in that exceeded $10,000. No, the average poker player didn’t all of a sudden strike it rich to afford the buy-in. Instead, PokerStars put hundreds of players into the tournament for free.

PSPC Gave Poker Players Free Opportunity to Play for Millions

Starting in 2018, numerous players around the world won a “Platinum Pass” from PokerStars, which included the $25,000 buy-in and $5,000 for travel expenses to the Bahamas where the 2019 tournament took place. To win one of those passes, poker fans had to compete and win various challenges. CardsChat ambassador Jacki Burkhart won a writing contest promoted by author and poker pro Maria Konnikova.

Burkhart put that Platinum Pass to good use. She cashed in 38th place for $86,400, the biggest score of her poker career.

What made the historic tournament so special was that it gave people who couldn’t even dream of affording a $25,000 buy-in to a poker tournament an opportunity to play in a high-roller event. And these “Average Joes” — hundreds of them — were playing for a shot to win millions.

Most high-roller events are small — 40-50 players — and most of the players remain the same from tournament to tournament. In any random high roller, you can expect to see pros such as Stephen Chidwick, Justin Bonomo, Isaac Haxton, Alex Foxen, and Jake Schindler among 15-20 others well-known names. But at the 2019 PSPC, we watched a plethora of unknown players competing for life-changing money.

The 2020 PokerStars Players Championship was scheduled for August 20-24 at the EPT Barcelona series. PokerStars was forced to cancel it two months ago due to COVID-19. Dozens of players had already won Platinum Passes, which will be good for next year’s tournament. No official date has been set.

Colillas Comes Out Victorious

Ramon Colillas hails from Spain and had just $11,000 in live tournament cashes prior to last year’s PSPC. He left the Bahamas that winter with $5,111,000 in cashes. And he wasn’t the only player who became a millionaire during the historic poker event.

Six of the nine players at the final table cashed for more than $1 million, including Julien Martini, the runner-up. A 2018 WSOP bracelet winner, Martini brought $2,974,000 back to his home country of France. Marc Rivera from the Philippines finished in third place and earned $2,168,000, seven times his previous career earnings.

Scott Baumstein, one of two American players, has more than $2 million in additional cashes beyond the $1,657,000 he received for fourth place at the PSPC. Another American, Jason Koonce, not to be confused with high-roller superstar Jason Koon, took fifht place and earned $1,304,000. Not bad for a poker player with just $7,000 in other live tournament cashes to his name.

The once-in-a-lifetime PSPC lasted five days in the Bahamas. While many of the regular high rollers paid their own way to compete in the Bahamas, hundreds of “Average Joes and Janes” won a dream vacation. And some of them went home with life-changing money.

Written by
Jon Sofen
Semi-pro poker player with 17 years experience on the felt and more than five years working as professional poker media.

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