The Biggest Ever Poker Tournaments

Last Modified on 5/9/2019

Live tournaments offer the biggest payouts in poker history

Gambling can be high stakes or low stakes. You have to play to what you can afford and don't mind losing. Even the most hardcore gamblers, the ones who have poker chips tattooed on their legs, know that. Poker offers the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with other players and beat thousands to win payouts many times larger than the buy-in. Live poker tends to have the biggest prizes, while online poker can attract huge fields of players. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest ever poker tournaments.

WSOP Main Event Dominates

When it comes to live poker, the World Series of Poker (WSOP) rules the top spots for prize money. The top 14 biggest payouts came from WSOP Main Events, and the history of the series tells the story of poker’s popularity. The 1983 WSOP Main Event was the first tournament ever to have a prize pool of over $1 million. Fast forward to 2004, and the Main Event gave away over $10 million for the first time.
The biggest ever poker tournament in terms of prize money was the 2006 WSOP. The competition had been heating up and growing steadily since the tournament's inception in 1970 and had just reached its peak with a prize pool of $82 million. The winner was Jamie Gold, who took home $12 million. It was the following year, 2007 when online legislation disrupted this trend of growth, and attendance at the WSOP dropped off over coming years. Thankfully, the 2018 WSOP Main Event is now the second biggest poker tournament of all time, with a prize pool of $74 million. The popularity of poker is again on the rise, and it will be interesting to see if the coming years can ever surpass 2006.

Elsewhere In Live Poker

Outside of the WSOP Main Event, there are several other notable events that make the list for biggest poker tournaments, including:
2016 Monte Carlo One Drop Extravaganza
2012 Macau High Stakes Challenge
2015 Super High Roller Bowl
PokerStars Caribbean Adventure

The 2012 WSOP Big One for One Drop offered the biggest prize pool outside of WSOP Main Events, and also the single biggest payout in tournament history. Professional player Antonio Esfandiari won $18 million from his $1 million buy-in. The WCOOP is one of the major online poker series that has offered the biggest prize pools, but there are plenty of others. The World Championships of Online Poker (WCOOP) Main Event plays a similar role in online poker to the WSOP in live poker, and often claims the top spots for biggest poker tournaments. The 2010 Main Event had a prize pool of over $12 million. Tyson ‘POTTERPOKER’ Marks knocked out five players on the final table to take home over $2.2 million.
Since then, the Party Poker Millions Online event of 2018 broke the record of highest ever payouts, with $20 million guaranteed and $2.5 million to first place.
When it comes to the regular poker tournaments, it’s all about the Sunday Majors, and out of all of the most prestigious online weekly events, the Sunday Million is the biggest and baddest, with a $1 million guarantee in its heyday. The 13th anniversary Sunday Million recently had a $12 million guarantee, with the top five players eventually splitting the remaining prize pool for over half a million dollars each.
PokerStars is known for their audacity, and in 2013 they broke their own record for the highest number of players ever to take part in one tournament. The 100 Billion Hand World Record tournament had a $1 buy-in and $300k guarantee, and 225,000 players took part. The number was capped, perhaps so that they can beat it again in the near future.
Poker has always provided thrills and exciting betting at all buy-in levels, but these live and online tournaments take it to the next level. They offer guarantees well into the tens of millions of dollars, often with relatively low-cost buy-ins but best players still get through to make it to the top.