Tom Waters – Doing it Right

3 years ago ● Paul Seaton

After a superb Season 1 of the partypoker LIVE MILLIONS tour, we’ve had no time at all to rest. Season 2 kicked off in Montreal less than a week after the final hand of the Grand Final in Barcelona. We sat down with partypoker managing director Tom Waters to find out how partypoker wants everything to get even better for poker players, from live event experiences to ensuring a fair and level playing field online for all players. That couldn’t be typified better than by the recent changes to rake in the Progressive Knockout MTTs on partypoker.


‘Sometimes you have to take a step back and ask yourself “Is what you are doing correct?” We live in a world where, in business, there is often a trendsetter and all others naturally follow their lead. The poker industry is a great example of this. When PKOs were first introduced there was no rake charged on the bounty element of the buy-in. However, rake models of the larger poker companies, including partypoker, evolved and one change resulted in rake being applied to the total buy-in for PKO tournaments.’ 


             Tom Waters at the tables with friend and partypoker player Joao Simao 


‘PKO rake is something that we’ve spoken about for a while and rake, in general, is something that Patrick Leonard and I are constantly discussing; what we should be charging and what’s right for the players. Recently, there have been more and more discussions as PKOs have become increasingly popular with players. They’ve become the predominant MTT-type in a number of poker rooms now. We had a look at it and assessed whether or not it was right to be charging rake on bounties or whether we should just charge rake on the prize pool element of PKOs.’


That assessment came following discussions with a very prominent player in the industry and a member of the partypoker roster.


‘Patrick Leonard was the driving force behind it. He went publicly to the community on Twitter and other forums, asking players for their opinion. Initially, the picture was surprisingly muddied. A lot of players were actually defending the existing rake structure. Some of the comments were along the lines of "If a poker site is offering a guarantee, then that guarantee includes the bounty element of the buy-in, so it’s fair that the rake is charged on that element." Others suggested that a reduced rake is more applicable for the bounty element and some players believed there should be no rake on the bounty element as it’s a separate prize pool. They said: "It’s the players offering their own bounties on their heads, so the poker room shouldn’t benefit from additional rake".’


‘We reviewed the results of the twitter poll that Patrick ran, we looked at other data and we discussed what we believed was right. We felt that just because the industry was following one model didn’t mean that it was right for the poker players. We came to the conclusion that the right thing to do was to offer these tournaments with rake charged on the prizepool element of the buy-in, but not on the bounty itself.’ The strategy for playing PKOs is very different to a traditional MTT. As the tournament progresses through late registration, the benefit to you, the player, starts to dissipate as you have a lower number of big blinds and you are trying to win bounties. Effectively, all you’re playing for is the prize pool element, not the bounty element. So, is it fair that when you join a PKO towards the end of late reg and have a relatively small chance of claiming big bounties, that you pay rake on the bounty buy-in? I don’t think so.’


         "Everything is done to try and give the players the best possible experience."


‘If you’re paying rake on both elements, you’re almost playing double the rake only to fight for the prize pool element. It doesn’t seem fair. Everyone could start the tournament at the same time, but we know that players don’t like to do that, they may not have the time, or it might not suit their playing schedule. Removing the bounty rake seems fair for those players who do decide to register late. Whether or not PKO tournaments are the future of MTTs we don’t know but they’re currently where the popularity is, and we need to make sure that we’re doing the right thing for the players and that our rake model is fair.‘


Pretty obviously, this isn’t a move that comes without a cost to partypoker. But there is more to life than a bottom line without caring where it came from. There’s a value to the loyalty shown to players, and that’s worth the risk to Waters and partypoker. The decision to run PKO tournaments without rake on the bounty elements for six months was agreed.


‘There’s a risk to us, we’re a poker business. We have to be successful ourselves in order to provide these services for players. We decided to take a risk and do the right thing. We need players to support us, so if players don’t come and play these PKO tournaments, it may not be sustainable in the long term. I believe the majority of the poker community would agree with our decision and if they support us, this will become a permanent fixture and we will never charge rake on the bounty element of these PKOs.’


From online progression to live growth, partypoker has had a very big year. Bigger than expected, all told. When it comes to the Grand Final in Barcelona, Waters has fond memories of a festival that exceeded the dreams of everyone who organised it.


‘It was beyond our expectations. We knew Barcelona was going to be popular because having been to events leading up to Barcelona, every single player that we spoke to was going. We knew that everyone who could get there was going to get there. We knew that players were going to love Barcelona – it’s a lovely destination. We just didn’t know exactly how many would turn up. A €10,000,000 guaranteed Main Event hadn’t been done before, so it was a step into the unknown for us. It was a phenomenal success. To beat the guarantee so comfortably and be so successful in all the side events also was an amazing result. It just shows the popularity of the MILLIONS tour right now.’


The player feedback from Barcelona was very positive and one aspect of the partypoker LIVE experience that went down well was the immediacy with which the staff dealt with any improvements players wanted to make.


‘We’re trying to do things right but there were some things that didn’t go quite so well in Barcelona. The dinner breaks were not long enough for players to leave the casino to eat, and players complained that food services inside the venue were not good enough, so we addressed that and tried to make changes during the tournament. We’ll make further changes to address that in future events. It’s a learning curve. Season 2 will be even better. It’ll be refined, and we’ll take the learnings and feedback from the first season and roll those into Season 2. partypoker Live promises to be even bigger and better. It has all the foundations to be exceptional and we’ve got some really big events in the lineup.’


One of those venues is the spectacular new setting for this year’s Caribbean Poker Party. It promises to be an unforgettable experience – for players of any level.


‘The Caribbean Poker Party has moved to the Baha Mar resort in The Bahamas. It’s fantastic, like a Vegas resort outside of Vegas, the facilities are incredible. We’ll look after everyone in Baha Mar. Hopefully, our online satellites allow plenty of recreational players to get out there and join the party. The satellite schedule gives everyone the chance to win their package and hopefully win some life-changing money. Everyone will receive some credits towards expenses at the resort, so it brings the cost down. We try to cater for everybody. Hopefully, when players go out there on the tour, they’ll see that whatever their level, there’s a place for them at these events.’  


           Waters is never happier than when he's at the felt with partypoker players 


The ambition of recreational players has probably never been higher. Crowning not one, not two, but three millionaires at MILLIONS North America in the Main Event alone shows that you don’t need to win a MILLIONS event in order to take home a life-changing cash.


‘Everybody that’s playing online wants to win a big live event. We try to provide players with the ability to do that. If you can buy-in direct, you can just go to the event, turn up and play. But the majority of players aren’t able to do that. The satellite qualifiers mean that everyone has the chance to get to a partypoker LIVE MILLIONS event, whether it’s from a free ticket or a low buy-in.’


With the MILLIONS World tournament offering a $10,000,000 guarantee for a $25,500-freezout tournament, you might expect it to be a field packed with businessmen and women and high rollers. But with the satellites on offer, half the field may enter through qualifiers.  


‘I think it’s very important for everybody to have a chance to play in these events. The prize pools will be huge and the top cashes in these tournaments are life-changing. If players do manage to satellite into these High Roller tournaments, it can change their lives. It’s what poker’s all about. We’ve seen our player numbers grow on partypoker very quickly over the last 12 months. Players are coming online to play the live event satellites, and this shows the popularity of the partypoker LIVE events.’    

One major fan favourite from the MILLIONS Grand Final action was The Big Game, which returned to offer some incredible must-see TV. It’s a game that Waters can’t wait to see return in Season 2.


’The Big Game is great entertainment for the players, it’s very niche in terms of who’s able to participate, but it’s also inspirational if you look at the progression of someone like Sam Trickett, for example. A little over ten years ago, he was playing £10 and £20 tournaments in the UK and he is now playing $500,000 pots on live streams in front of big audiences. These games are unique and highly entertaining and will hopefully attract more players into the poker world.’


Waters is keen to pay tribute to the staff working the live tournaments, from dealers to tournament directors, reporters to the commentators. 


‘The partypoker LIVE team is brilliant. They work so hard and always have the players in mind. Everything is done to try and give the players the best possible experience. An enormous amount of effort goes in, not just from the team, but also the partners and casinos involved. It’s a phenomenal effort to get these events running, and it’s extremely difficult. Everyone behind the scenes deserves a big pat on the back. To get anywhere near the numbers we achieved in Season 1 of the MILLIONS tour and have a happy group of players is very, very hard to do. We want a perfect experience for the players, and we want that to transfer online when they play on partypoker. When we first started talking about the partypoker LIVE tour, I’d have been a fool to think we’d be anywhere near this scale already.’


The future, not just for the players, but for partypoker itself, is clearly as bright as it is orange.


‘Our Grand Final in Barcelona set records for the biggest prize pool for a festival outside the World Series of Poker so goodness knows how good or big this could become. Players have a lot of choice – there are a lot of tours out there. We just need to do what we believe is right and if we do, and the players agree with us, they will play. We’re not going to always get things right. Players need to tell us if that’s the case, and we’ll make changes if we believe it’s the right thing to do. It’s as simple as that.


‘We started this tour with a five-year plan and we’re one year in. In four years’ time, who knows how big this could be.’


Time will tell, but just like partypoker itself, Tom Waters isn’t waiting to find out what will happen. He’s working for it and doing it right.


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