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There was a time when poker players were few and scattered in India, with few choices to play the game. Fast forward to November 2020, and the poker community just witnessed the gargantuan World Poker Tour Online India (WPTOI) series unfold its inaugural run on India’s largest online poker platform, Adda52. It was the fourth consecutive year for the globally acclaimed brand to host an India-exclusive edition, and the first time it forayed into the country’s virtual landscape.
While the dynamics change a lot in online poker vis.a.vis live, WPTOI was able to seamlessly mirror the essence of the annual WPT India live series that the Indian circuit sorely missed out on this year.
With one of Asia’s most experienced live event experts – WPT’s Danny McDonagh at the nerve of things, and WPTDeepStacks Director Cathy Zhao and the motivated Adda52 team comprising Neil Sequeira and Manish Adnani by his side, the team pulled off the challenge remarkably well.
The inaugural WPTOI series far exceeded expectations. The series offered some mind-blowing action, all accessible through cards-up coverage. If we look at the stats, the 154-event series promised ₹13.50 Crores in guaranteed prizes but ended up handing out over ₹15 Crores in prize money. There were more than 60,000 entries, and some of the single-day trophy events did so well- they drew over 900 entries!
The WPT2500 proved to be the biggest single-day event at the series, and even the multi-day WPT Madness that offered a ₹15 Lakhs guarantee at an entry buy-in of only ₹550 registered a massive turnout!
For the first time in India, a Mike Sexton Tribute tourney was hosted at the behest of Adda52, and the site donated the ₹3.95 Lakhs collected in rake to ‘Poker Gives,’ a charity supported by Sexton.
We had spoken to both McDonagh and Adnani before the series last month. And now that the WPTOI is in the history books, we sat down for a quick chat with McDonagh again to recalibrate how the series fared compared to his expectations and key takeaways from the series. Read on!
The entire Indian poker circuit had eyes on the WPTOI, and with ₹13.50 Crores in guaranteed prizes, there was a lot to be won. How did the series fare in terms of numbers, prize money, etc.?
The WPT Team, as a whole, and I personally was extremely happy with how WPT Online India fared. This was the first time I had closely followed an Adda52 online series, which gave me tremendous insight into the typical range of buy-ins and player demand for such an event.
To get just over 60,000 entries for the 154 events was a huge mark in my mind, and even more pleasing was the performance of the 31 trophy events in relation to guarantees set and in some cases exceeding the guarantee by a long way to result in total prize money of over ₹15 Crores.
Exceeding the ₹2.5 Crores guarantee for the Main Event was undoubtedly a highlight. However, a standout for me was the numbers generated for the single day trophy feature events, with four of them attracting over 900 entries. The trophy feature events were popular throughout the series. They finished on a very strong note on the final Sunday with the WPT2500 getting 970 entries for the series’s biggest single-day event and the Mike Sexton Tribute producing the next best prize pool after the Main Event and the two High Roller Events.
The Tribute event was at the initiative of Adda52, and they are donating the ₹395K in admin fees to ‘Poker Gives,’ a charity Mike (Late Mike Sexton) supported big time.
This was the first-ever WPT India on the virtual felts. As the WPT Live Events specialist, your key forte has been to plan and execute live events, so how challenging was this entire exercise for you and the WPT team?
The WPT approach is to try and mimic what happens at LIVE events wherever possible. That consists of, for example, pre and during event promotion of the series by WPT Talent, trophies being awarded to feature events, and significant added value for the Main Event Champion such as the Hublot Classic Watch valued at ₹7 lakhs, USD5K WPT Passport and the traditional WPTDeepStacks Trophy.
WPT Online India also featured heavily on WPT Social Media, exposing the event to an international audience.
Being the first WPT Online event in India was a challenge in itself; however, for many aspects of WPTOI, we relied on the Adda52 team, including India LIVE experts Manish Adnani and Neil Sequeira. This made all the planning a lot easier when it came to setting the schedule and structures and promotion of the series.
You were the primary brain behind designing and curating the WPTOI tournaments and their structures. What were your prime focal points while mapping out the structure/schedule, etc.?
Sounds super impressive for me, but more accurately, the Adda52 team and I all had a big part in the tournament and structure designs.
The prime focal points were:
– capitalizing on the ability to set wide-ranging buy-ins catering for all player bankrolls:
– including feature events that were typical of previous WPT India LIVE tournaments to keep the feel of the first three years of WPT in India:
– creating the 31 feature events to not only award WPT designed trophies but also make them attractive enough to really stand out in the schedule;
– a ‘Player of the Series’ award was important to be part of the series, and setting two leaderboards meant that at least one would be of appeal to as many Adda52 players as possible; and
– structure-wise, the focus was on making the Trophy Events stand out in players’ minds.
Talking specifically of prize pool guarantees, the series offered all levels of players a chance to win big. How successful do you feel the WPT was in catering to all buy-in preferences?
This was a big win in my mind for the series. The fact that the multi-Day 1 ₹550 WPT Madness with a ₹15 Lakhs guarantee was 1% the size of the ₹55,000 Super High Roller demonstrated this was a series for all poker players, be they regs or aspiring new converts to the games.
In a year when live poker has been badly affected, the series has offered Indian players the opportunity to win a coveted WPT trophy and to win from a good range of prize pool guarantees. How was the player’s response in your observation?
From the interactions I had with players and personally following numerous Indian social media poker groups, player response – overall – seemed very positive. Plus, we have so much to learn from this first series, which will hopefully translate into an even better offering next time.
With WPTOI, you managed to attract many new players and even pull those who weren’t very active on the felts. Tell us more?
That’s the beauty of the WPT in my mind. I have been part of many WPT LIVE events in the Asia Pacific these last three years that have been held for the first time in several countries.
In each case, the WPT brand has been a significant factor in making the inaugural event a success, just as WPT India was back in 2017.
With WPTOI, we had the chance to attract players from a much larger market and the result, as your question states, was both many new players and the less active supporting the series.
Elaborate on the unique/ innovative marketing and player-centric moves that made this possible?
Kudos must go to WPTDeepStacks Director Cathy Zhao, who worked closely with Manish and the Adda52 design team in this area. This included a detailed player guide unique for an Indian online series, creating some fantastic imagery to market the event, numerous videos by well known, India-based WPT Royal Flush Member Barney Trouble, and live streaming throughout the series. The Opening Bell was also an excellent innovation to get the ball rolling.
Along the same lines, there were so many new faces on the podium at this year’s edition. Your comments?
Lots more events and the wide range of buy-ins gave every opportunity to have new faces on the podium, which is fabulous in my mind as it provides other less experienced players the confidence to know that “I can win one of these events!” And I am sure a thrill for these players to feature in the Daily Majors PokerGuru report.
What have been the key takeaways from the entire experience of hosting the inaugural WPT Online India series?
Firstly, build on the legacy of the successful Trophy Events derived from WPT INDIA LIVE and attempt next time to promote them even more as the MUST PLAY events on the schedule.
The leaderboards were very close, especially the MEGA Leaderboard, so I feel we can dedicate more attention to this for future events with the prize money on offer.
The success of Cards Up for the first time means that next time, we can consider holding the final table to the next evening for some of the key feature events.
But the most important takeaway in my mind is ensuring WPT Online India continues to be accessible to all player bankrolls in the future so we can attract even more emerging Indian poker players.
The WPTOI offered ₹35 Lakhs in leaderboard prizes across the MEGA and MINI leaderboards. Tell us more.
Each Leaderboard awarded the top 10 prizes. The MEGA Leaderboard winner received a very sizable ₹10 Lakhs, while ₹4 Lakhs for the MINI Leaderboard was also a great payday. The Mega covered the 31 trophy feature events, while the MINI Leaderboard covered the other 124 lower buy-in events.
Interestingly, 2019 WPT India Main Event champion Ashish Munot took the honors in a very closely contested MEGA Leaderboard while the 2018 WPT India Main Event runner-up Arjun Arora was on top for the MINI Leaderboard.
The WPTOI has come as a continuation of WPT’s working equation with Delta Corp and Adda52. How happy are you with how the series was hosted?
To be part of Adda52’s most successful online series says it all for WPT’s presence in India. The WPTOI has clearly demonstrated that there is a place for WPT on the virtual felt even when we return to a regular LIVE poker calendar, which is hopefully in the not too distant future.
Looking at how poker is becoming more popular in India, how do you feel has the WPTOI impacted the Indian poker sector?
All the data points to WPTOI having a clear impact on poker in India, reinforcing the inroads WPT had made on the Deltin Royale the previous three years. The real “proof in the pudding” will be once LIVE poker returns in India, and my expectation is that the next WPT INDIA in Goa will challenge previous records.
Going forward, what are the plans for India? Can we hope for an online sequel anytime soon!
Adda52 and WPT are currently brainstorming ideas on the next steps!
Realistically, holding the next WPT INDIA LIVE is not an option until well into 2021, but for sure, it’s worth hoping for an online sequel in the interim.
Any parting words?
One important comment is a major thanks to the Indian Poker community for their strong support of WPT ONLINE INDIA. Hopefully, in 2021, I will see many of you in person at a LIVE event.