All eyes in the poker world will be on the PokerStars tables next month as we celebrate the 14th anniversary of the most revered online tournament of them all: the PokerStars Sunday Million. It takes place on March 22, 1pm ET. As you may have read, there’s a $12.5 million guarantee, making it the biggest tournament PokerStars has ever hosted, and a guaranteed $1 million first-place prize. But who’s going to win it?
Predicting a winner in a tournament with many thousands of entrants is nigh-on impossible. So let’s say this right from the start: the eventual champion almost certainly isn’t going to get a mention in this article series. That was the only thing we got 100 percent correct when we did this exact same thing last year. But it’s still worth taking a look at some of the most likely contenders. If we were drawing up a betting market, here are a few folks who would at least attract a specified price.
SAVE THE DATE: MARCH 22, 2020
We have had some help from PokerStars’ data analysts, who have been able to provide us some charts of top performers in tournaments similar in structure to the Sunday Million. Their input is crucial in Part 2 of this preview, coming up soon. But we’ve also spent some time looking at the PocketFives rankings, which gives the best idea of who is currently hot in the tournament world, as well as looking more broadly across the poker world for some other big hitters.
PocketFives’ top three
For more than a decade, PocketFives has tracked the great and the good of online tournament poker, and players still consider elevation to the highest echelons of the rankings to be the clearest indication that they’re doing something right. We’ll begin our hunt for the Sunday Million 14th Anniversary tournament winner at the top of the PocketFives chart:1. Niklas “Lena900” Åstedt
No discussion of online tournament poker can take place without a mention of “Lena900”, the online moniker of Sweden’s Niklas Åstedt. Swedes have been dominant at the online tables since the inception of the game (“aggro Scandis” have tormented the tables for more than a decade), and Åstedt is among the very best of them all. He first hit the No. 1 spot in March 2016 and has been in the top three pretty much ever since. He has Super Tuesday and SCOOP titles to his name, and has been to the Sunday Million final table at least four times. Two of those happened in the past 12 months, once in April, when he finished runner up to Russia’s “Lucky_Jew_17” and once at the end of October, when he again had to settle for second place, this time behind Ukraine’s “FeaNoR4eG”. Åstedt’s record at PokerStars is absolutely incredible, and his position as the current (February 11, 2020) world No 1 is no accident. 2. Simon “C. Darwin2” Mattsson
Where Lena900 goes, “C. Darwin2” has likely been before. Though not necessarily the origin of the species, C. Darwin2 is very much the epitome of the formidable Swedish tournament grinder, who spent huge portions of 2016 as the world No. 1 and also scaled the summit in both of the following years. When we looked at his record this time last year, C. Darwin2 had more than $7.3 million in tournament scores on PokerStars. Now it’s $8.8 million and counting. He also has around $1.4 million in live tournament results, where he tends to go by his “other” name: Simon Mattsson. The most remarkable thing about these Swedes is their durability. They’re the best, they always have been and they probably always will be.
Vienna, Austria boasts arguably the densest concentration of leading poker pros in the world, having become the refuge of choice for the top German crushers exiled from their home country to play professional poker. All of Fedor Holz, Ole Schemion, Steffen Sontheimer and Matthias Eibinger live in the Austrian capital, with only the latter actually from Austria originally. The player known on PokerStars only as “Eijseijs” is also listed on PocketFives as a Vienna resident, by the real name of Joel — and little more is known about him. However, he’s another absolute beast. Eijseijs has documented scores of nearly $5 million on PokerStars, including outright wins in WCOOP last September and the Winter Series in January. Add a couple of High Roller Club triumphs and here’s a player to watch.
It’s also worth watching Pedro Vinícius “pvigar” Garagnani, who raced into an early lead in the PocketFives yearly leader board. The Brazilian player had a brilliant Bounty Builder series, and also won on the Winter Series and in the Sunday Supersonic in November. He’s a player who is putting the hours in, and is running hot. Both of these are crucial elements as the big one approaches.
Note: This time last year, the PocketFives No. 1 was Ukraine’s Roman “RomeOpro” Romanovsky, who is now ranked lower than 250th. This is largely because Romanovsky is putting in far less volume now than he was 12 months ago. One hopes he is enjoying the high life after so long on the grind.
If you’ve watched any online tournament poker over the past 10 years, you’ll have seen sensations come and go. But at the same time, you’ll have seen some sensations come and stay, seemingly immune to the enormous variance inherent in the game.
It’s a fair bet that all of the following players will be playing the Sunday Million Anniversary tournament next month, and for them it will be just another tournament in a career spanning years. But despite their status as veterans, their skills are as sharp as ever.Sami “Lrslzk” Kelopuro: Finnish boss, with great success at tournaments as well as cash games, both live and online. Lrslzk is never out of the top 15 in the global rankings, and is No. 1 in Finland.
Anatoly “nl_profit” Filatov: Has live and online tournament scores of more than $3.5 million, and has SCOOP and WCOOP titles, five years apart. He won on the Winter Series and in the High Roller Club in the past couple of months to keep his eye in.
Chris “Big Huni” Hunichen: Former online No. 1, with victories in Super Tuesday, Sunday Warm-Up, Sunday 500 and WCOOP. First recorded online cash came in 2006, so has been doing this a loooong time, both from his native United States and adopted home of Costa Rica post-Black Friday.
Connor “blanconegro” Drinan: Has retreated from the live scene a little in recent years (despite $11 million in tournament cashes) but is still crushing online, where he’s putting in more volume than ever. Has a second and fourth place in previous Sunday Millions.Chris “Moorman1” Moorman: It’s kind of a mystery how Chris “Moorman1” Moorman hasn’t won the Sunday Million. He has won more than 400 major online tournaments and amassed online tournament cashes of more than $16 million, the third most of all time (behind only Lena900 and Peter “Belabacsi” Traply). He surely won’t give up on the Sunday Million, even as the hunt continues.
Calvin “cal42688” Anderson: When you’ve won the Sunday Warm-Up and the Sunday Second Chance, surely it’s only a matter of time until you scoop the big one? Well, that’s not necessarily true, but Calvin “cal42688” Anderson has been at the top of the online game for 12 years and is still recording major cashes across all sites. This time?
All format crushers
If you’re good at online poker, chances are you’ll be all right in the live environment, too. The same broadly applies vice-versa, although many of the top-ranking live tournament players tend now to focus on high roller events around the world and play online increasingly infrequently. However while these five players might be best known for their live results, they continue to put the volume in online. And a $10M guarantee is still a $10M guarantee, no matter how big your average buy-in.
Ole “wizowizo” Schemion: Ole Schemion does his best to avoid the spotlight whether you encounter him at the online or the live tables. But for such a publicity-shy player, he has what must be a frustrating habit of continually winning things. Schemion has been in incredible form recently, most notably topping the Winter Series Main Event for a career-high $482,795.16. When he won the Sunday Supersonic early in February, it was just another title for this relentless machine. Most notably, perhaps, he was at the Sunday Million final table in July.
Kristen “krissyb24” Bicknell: We’re hardly going out on a limb to name Canada’s Kristen “krissyb24” Bicknell as one of the best players in the world. We did so this time last year and, since then, she has secured 10 online scores of more than $19,000 on PokerStars, including two wins and two runner-up spots in High Roller Club events. Bicknell has also appeared on the Super High Roller live circuit much more over the past 12 months, where she will have improved an already exceptional game even more.Rui “RuiNF” Ferreira: We know him on the live circuit as a Portuguese High Roller, but Rui “RuiNF” Ferreira plays online from the Netherlands — and he wins plenty. He won two SCOOP titles and one during WCOOP (he was second twice as well) and almost always features in one way or another during our weekend round-ups. He’ll be in this Sunday Million Anniversary, and that should make opponents very nervous.
Joao “Naza114” Vieira: Like his countryman Ferreira, Joao “Naza114” Vieira spent some time over the past year playing from the Netherlands, before ending up in the UK. Wherever he is based, he’s a near permanent fixture on final tables. In last year’s WCOOP, Vieira won three titles and finished runner up in another event, and he won two titles during SCOOP too. The globetrotting Portuguese is simply one of the best online poker players in the world.
Pedro “PaDiLhA SP” Padhilha
Brazilian players will once again turn out en masse in the anniversary Sunday Million, where the likes of the aforementioned Pedro Vinícius “pvigar” Garagnani, plus Kelvin “kelvin_fp:ar” Kerber, Fabiano “Kovalski1” Kovalski and Thiago “KKremate” Crema will likely feature prominently. But a special word about Pedro “PaDiLhA SP” Padhilha, who seems to have an enviable knack of rising to the big occasion. He has won three times during SCOOP, twice during WCOOP, once in the High Roller Club as well as during this January’s Winter Series. Once Andre Akkari’s protege, Padhilha is now the apprentice turned complete master.