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.
Last time, we glanced at some of the established megastars of poker, both online and in the live environment, all of whom should be strong contenders in the anniversary event. But with the help of the PokerStars card-room staff, we’ve also been able to look at some of the top performers in tournaments just like the Sunday Million, and from that group have been able to select another few names worth watching.
When we did this last year, the poker data specialists ran a search for tournaments with a $215 buy-in, the same as the Sunday Million, which had a guarantee of at least $1 million. They did this for the five years running up to the 13th anniversary.
The Sunday Million altered its buy-in over the past 12 months, meaning there are too few tournaments meeting the precise criteria ($215 buy-in, $1 million guaranteed) to give meaningful results. Instead we looked at tournaments with a buy-in between $109 and $530, with the same guarantee. So that’s the criteria you should bear in mind for everything in the following article.
Just like last year, we’ve been able to determine the top 100 money winners from tournaments matching this criteria. From that list, we have then looked at who has the most outright victories, who plays the most, and who has the best ROI.
This time last year, we took a look back through the PokerStars archives and made a list of repeat winners of the Sunday Million. We singled out Russia’s Artem “veeea” Vezhenkov as the only player to have won the prestigious tournament three times. Flash forward to 2020 and Vezhenkov’s record still stands. In fact, and perhaps surprisingly, only one other player joined the double champion club in the past 12 months: Russia’s “Lucky_Jew_17“.
It’s worth giving a special nod to Lucky_Jew_17 because when we did the earlier audit of double champions, he didn’t even have his first. However, after the buy-in was dropped to $109, Lucky_Jew_17 won the Sunday Million twice: In early march, he beat Niklas “Lena900” Astedt heads up, followed by a second victory in late April. Lightning has already struck twice for him in the past 12 months. A third time would break all existing records.
The full list of repeat winners of the Sunday Million are:
Three wins: Artem “veeea” Vezhenkov
Two wins: “twirlpro”, “VinceVegaMFR”, “power2prut”, “TY4Stacks2”, “pvas2”, “vietcong01”, “thx4urm0n3y”, “WhatArunAA”, “Turko_man”, Rob “robtinnion” Tinnion, “kevsteele”, “Internett93o”, Jesper “KipsterDK” Hougaard, “bagoch”, “DaGoddfather”, “diegoaiz” and “Lucky_Jew_17”.
The full list of Sunday Million winners from the past year is as follows:
“Matze 90451” (Austria), “Lucky_Jew_17” (Russia), “sica26” (Romania), “tomnelz1” (Brazil), “pimenta7” (Brazil), “Ifkata” (Bulgaria), “pasula09” (Uruguay), “allan sheik” (Brazil), “kolobcheena” (Russia), Conor “1_conor_b_1” Beresford (UK), “Olli444” (Czech Republic), “losero88” (UK), “S.totuli” (Brazil), “Newcomer113” (Kazakhstan), “FKAXM” (Brazil), “Dumari84” (Finland), “HR_Dub” (Canada), “Eizy” (UK), “Giant_Santos” (Brazil), “dtminator” (Bulgaria), “FeaNoR4eG” (Ukraine), “Ben_Apart” (UK), “viniperri” (Brazil), “kosilkO” (Belarus), “sl0tt” (Brazil), “Evan31” (Canada), “139999” (China), “dalvanjoner” (Brazil), Nicolas “PKaiser” Fierro (Chile), “kjhdgh” (Poland), “Poeira4” (Netherlands), “B4NKR0LL3R” (UK), Christian “eisenhower1” Jeppsson (Sweden), “lo-fi dream” (Brazil), “vinetu” (Croatia).
Keen readers will see that there have been 10 Sunday Million winners from Brazil in the past year, double the amount of the UK, whose players are in second place. It doesn’t narrow it down a whole lot given there are more than 212 million people in Brazil, but our champion could well come from down there in South America.
If we look only at money won in our qualifying tournaments over the past year, the top of the list has some very familiar names. The top five yearly winners are the players who finished first through fifth in last year’s anniversary event. No one earned more than Greece’s “t4rz4n_21” — not even “wangli0402“, who actually won the tournament. t4rz4n_21 took more in the five-way deal.
We’ll omit those players for the purposes of this investigation and instead look at the next 10 on the list. Here’s where we find the top two from the Winter Series Main Event — “takisxa” and “McFadden92” — but also some established online tournament crushers, including Joris “BillLewinsky” Ruijs, “XMorphineX”, from Belgium, and Conor “1_conor_b_1” Beresford. All of those three enjoyed an outright win in tournaments of this size last year, but they also all had at least 50 entries to similar events and built an excellent accumulated total.
There’s no beating this simple truism about all competitive pursuits: You’ve got to be in it to win it. Nobody is going to win the Sunday Million Anniversary Event if they don’t register for the tournament — and the same goes for every event played across PokerStars since the site was first created.
This time last year, we highlighted the phenomenal volume of Johannes “Greenstone25” Korsar, who had played 395 tournaments on PokerStars at the $215 buy-in level during our five-year period of investigation. No one had been in it more than him. Looking specifically at the figures for the past year (and, remember, we’re now looking in the $109-$530 bracket), we find two players standing tall above all others. They are “peterwhooo”, of Brazil, and Canada’s “slarki1”, who recorded 104 entries in these events, and both finished in the top 100 winners across the site.
The aforementioned Joris “BillLewinsky” Ruijs again features prominently on this list, as does Nicolas “PKaiser” Fierro, Ivan “BanicIvan” Banic and Niklas “Lena900” Astedt.
A high Return on Investment (ROI) is the holy grail of anyone involved in any financial or business pursuit, very much including poker. If you sit down to apply yourself at the tables, you likely want to make sure it’s worth your while.
ROI figures can be misleading if data sets are small, and players who make a hit-and-run at the tournament tables always end up appearing at the top of ROI lists. (To explain: we’re calculating ROI by dividing total won by number of entries, so anyone who has one big result but almost never then plays will always end up have a great ROI.) But if we look first at people who played at least 30 tournaments, we get a better idea of the consistent winners. And we’ll then do it again for a minimum 50 and 75 entries.
The players appearing in any of the tables above have a strong claim to be the strongest at this level. They’re going to be tough to beat in the Sunday Million Anniversary Event — and maybe one of them might even win it.
Although he is still looking for his first official Sunday Million title, this is where special mention must be made of the UK’s Michael “mczhang” Zhang. In the past 12 months, Zhang won three tournaments with buy-ins of $215 or above (and a $1m+ guarantee) on PokerStars — and nobody else managed more than two.
Zhang’s ledger shows $1,287,780 in earnings from 79 entries in qualifying tournaments. This achievement is both undermined and made even better when we look at the tournaments Zhang won. Each was actually a High Roller, with buy-ins of $10,300. That means a tougher field, but a smaller one — and certainly far fewer than will play the anniversary Sunday Million.
WCOOP-48-H: $10,300 NLHE High Roller ($1 million GTD)
Winter Series 53-H: $10,300 NLHE High Roller ($1 million GTD)
High Roller Series 14: $10,300 NLHE PKO ($1 million GTD)
NB: All stats correct at time of writing.
Special thanks to Correy Cullins for data support.