Lee Jones on the Sunday Million Anniversary

March 09, 2007

PokerStars Poker Room Manager Lee Jones is like the rest of us. He’s a poker player. He’s a night person. He’s the type of guy who can stay up all night. That said, if he’s anything like me, getting up in the morning has to be one of the least pleasant things he can do. Still, he does it at least once a week as the host of the PokerStars Sunday Million.

This weekend, PokerStars is celebrating the one year anniversary of the Sunday Million with a $1.5 million guarantee and a Tournament of Champions. I thought that was as good an excuse as any to chat up Jones about his early mornings with the Sunday Million and what he’s seen along the way.

PokerStars Blog: So, how do you do it? Caffeine? Toothpicks?

Lee Jones: I think most of your readers realize it, but I’ve been doing most of the Sunday Million final tables from the Isle of Man, which is on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). So that means that I have to get up around 5:30-6:00 AM on a Monday morning to do the final table. Yes, folks, I’ve handled many of the Sunday Million final tables in pre-dawn darkness, wearing sweats and clutching a cup of coffee to keep me warm and awake.

I need to shout out to my colleagues who have stepped in to work the Sunday Million, both as my backup and to cover for me so I could sleep in on a Monday morning once in a while. Bryan, Jeanne, Jeff, Mike, and Thomas are invaluable.

A big shoutout also to the Costa Rican staff who give me a wake-up call when we’re down to 12-13 people. I go to sleep on Sunday night secure that somebody will call me and wake me up when it’s time to go to work. Although I must admit that I’m starting to get like the dalmatian at the fire station who jumps on the fire truck before the alarm bell goes off. I find myself just waking up pre-dawn, trudging in to check the tournament, and discovering that we’re down to 14-15 players.

PokerStars Blog: Ah, so coffee and Costa Ricans. Got it. You know, I remember a time when the Sunday Million was…well, less that a million.

Lee Jones: Nobody really thought about it like “Hey – maybe we’ll be able to offer a $1 million guarantee.” Well, Dan Goldman probably did. I just more or less woke up one day and said, “Wow, we can guarantee a million bucks.”

PokerStars Blog: And now something has to be very wrong for the prize pool to not be bigger than $1 million…

Lee Jones: I thought we were being pretty aggressive by guaranteeing the million bucks last March. But the players’ response has been beyond the call. Somebody on my staff suggested that we might hit 7000 players and I laughed at him. His only mistake was in not making a bet with me.

PokerStars Blog: I always smile when I hear players who plan their entire weekends around the Sunday Million. I know there is at least one person who played every Sunday Million for the past year. Why do you think it’s become appointment poker for so many people.

Lee Jones: Two reasons: (1) we’re guaranteeing $1 million – you know that you’re playing for serious money, and (2) you know that there’s a fair chance that
the prize pool will be dramatically bigger than $1 million. If you only get one chance to play poker every week, why not play in he best, most famous weekly tournament in the world, with the chance of winning life-changing money?

That the players show up no matter what. Holidays, sporting events, good weather, bad weather. For instance, last week, PokerStars had a (fortunately extremely rare) crash and had to delay the event an hour. We added $100,000 to the prize pool to say “We’re sorry.” Immediately the buzz started on the forums… “Oh – PokerStars is afraid they won’t make the guarantee… blah blah”. Heh. I wish I could have made a prop bet with every one of those people. We had 6672 players – blew the guarantee out by 30% and then put $100,000 on top of it. First prize was over $200K.

PokerStars players are the best, most devoted and loyal players in the world. And the Sunday Million guys are the best of the bunch.

PokerStars Blog: We all have a ringside seat to this event, but you sit closer than anyone else. You oversee the deal-making. You keep control of the table.

Lee Jones: I’ve been intrigued how some tables would start discussing deals within a few seconds of the final table being set. Other tables, they played right down to a winner without the word “deal” being mentioned.

Of course, there were an amazing array of comebacks, burnouts, and wire-to-wire dominations. Sometimes I’d feel like I could feel that awful four-out beat coming on the river and then *wham*, it’d happen. But of course most of the time it didn’t, and I’d just forget it. It’s when the gutshot hits on the river that you remember.

I’ve been amazed at the good humor that the players have shown. They’re playing for tens (often hundreds) of thousands of dollars, but they congratulate each other, make jokes, and generally have a good time. And man, some of them are tough. I remember one time when second place was about $100,000, and first place was about $190,000. We were down to two players and nobody had said a thing about a deal. At one point, the two players had almost exactly the same number of chips – they were within 1% of each other. I was sure they’d do a deal. Instead, one of ’em said, “$45K HU S&G?”. “OK” was the only response. Suddenly my screen lit up with IMs from PokerStars staffers cheering for the two players. We all totally understand people wanting to deal when the money is that big, but we are in near-awe of those who can look six-figure numbers in the eye and say, “Deal the cards.”

I also need to thank all the railbirds who provide the buzz before we shut off the rail chat at the final table. I know it’s sometimes just mindless babble, but I love the excitement and energy that it brings to the event. It’s great to see dozens (hundreds?) of people gathered around watching great poker.

PokerStars Blog: Finally, there are a lot of fans out there who love your punny bust-out send-offs. What are some of your favorites?

Lee Jones: We had a player called “html”. When he busted out, I wrote:

 < p>Well done HTML. You've won < b>< u>$32K< /b>< /u>.< /p> 

Some people on 2+2 were posting that the PokerStars chat facility was malfunctioning until somebody else posted, “Um, check out that guy’s userid.”

Another time, some guy had an image of the Muppets character “Beaker”. When he busted out: “bork bork bork $24K bork well done bork bork”

Finally, there was a guy who had an image of a mime. When he busted out, I said NOTHING. One of my colleagues IM’d me: “Guy just busted out.”

I said, “I know.”


Thanks to Lee Jones for getting up so early every week and to the whole PokerStars team for continuing to make the Sunday Million such a great event.

The Sunday Million Anniversary tournament starts at 4:30 ET. Good luck to everyone who plays. See you there.


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