Poker Now Dominated By Big Buy-In Tournaments, According To Player of the Year Leaderboard


A lot has changed on the live tournament circuit over the last decade, and those shifts have been manifested on the annual Card Player Player of the Year leaderboard. Whereas in 2007 the main factor that propelled players to POY success was scores in the big field $10,000 main events on circuits like the World Poker Tour, in 2016, high roller and super high roller events have played more of a part in determining who comes out on top.

The average buy-in for a tournament in which the current POY top ten players scored points is a whopping $26,865. The top ten players in 2007 had an average buy-in of just $4,727. The fact that the average buy-in for players at the top has been multiplied by more than 5.5 times should signify that despite the dent that Black Friday put in the poker world, the price of poker has never been higher.

Of course looking at only two groupings of ten players is hardly scientifically sound or conclusive, but this anecdotal examination does support the apparent trend of high rollers becoming more necessary to compete at the very top of the circuit.

Check out the top 10 players from both 2016 and 2007 below:

2016 Top 10 Avg. Buy In 2016 POYWinnings 2007 Top 10 Avg. Buy In 2007 POYWinnings
Fedor Holz $70,424 $15,988,834 David Pham $4,454 $1,764,143
David Peters $47,266 $4,998,685 J.C. Tran $6,086 $2,840,268
Connor Drinan $42,127 $3,196,592 Jonathan Little $5,578 $2,425,273
Justin Bonomo $21,288 $2,420,823 Scott Clements $4,050 $2,182,586
Chance Kornuth $13,066 $2,092,345 Bill Edler $8,450 $2,753,797
Ari Engel $2,418 $1,615,365 David Fox $2,425 $688,228
Ivan Luca $22,880 $1,768,778 Tom Schneider $3,664 $722,769
Cary Katz $25,858 $2,328,953 Jared Hamby $4,243 $1,118,785
Sam Soverel $20,187 $1,266,394 James VanAlstyne $2,621 $638,120
Tony Dunst $3,135 $1,125,803 Dave Ulliott $5,700 $1,222,508

Looking at these two sets of top ten players, in 2016 only Ari Engel ($2,418) and Tony Dunst ($3,135) have average buy-ins of less than five figures for events that they final tabled. Fedor Holz is sitting with an average of $70,424. In 2007, however, every single top ten player had an average of $8,450 of less.

The larger buy-ins haven’t even necessarily translated into more winnings. Although Holz has certainly won a lot of money (nearly $16 million), other players such as Justin Bonomo have won $2.4 million. Jonathan Little won an almost identical amount in 2007, yet only spent $5,578 per cash to do it compared to Bonomo’s $21,288.

In the mid 2000’s the World Poker Tour was at it’s peak popularity and turnouts for $10,000 main events were massive. Top pros that were able to take down those huge fields reaped huge rewards. The modern tournament climate, however, has seen large field tournament buy-ins decrease, with fewer $10,000 main events and more $5,000 and $3,500 marquee tournaments on the WPT and EPT.

On the other hand, while there were only a handful of events with buy-ins exceeding the $10,000 price point in 2009, there are now several per month on the modern live tournament circuit.

While some may debate the relative merits of winning a huge field main event versus a comparatively tiny but tougher field in a high roller event, it seems that in terms of prestige and fan interest, big buy-in high rollers are the new main events. (Source: