What started in 2004 as a 221-player World Poker Tour event aboard a cruise ship, has boomed into the biggest poker tournament held outside the United States.
And as Day 1a of the PokerStars Caribbean adventure kicked off in the Bahamas Tuesday, every indication is that growth is not about to slow down.
In 2005, the tournament got off the boat and moved to its current home at the Atlantis Resort and Casino on Paradise Island in the Bahamas.
But it wasn’t until 2007 that the real growth began.
The 937 registrants that year helped the PCA break the record for the largest poker tournament ever held outside the U.S. for the first time.
And after becoming a stop on the PokerStars European Poker Tour schedule in 2008, the event has broken the record every year since, including last year when Canadian Poorya Nazari beat a massive 1,347-player field to bank a $3 million first-place prize.
EPT Founder John Duthie says it’s the PokerStars part of the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure that has truly made the difference.
And with 735 online qualifiers making the trip in 2009 and another 750 expected this year, it’s hard to disagree with him.
PCA Has Critical Mass
“I think it being connected to the largest poker site in the world gives it a critical mass that can’t be competed with,” he said. “When you have so many millions of people playing online you have a huge pool of people from which to send to live events and that’s exactly what we see here.”
Because of the event’s connection to the European Poker Tour and the Bahamas close proximity to the United States, the PCA has grown into a popular destination for poker players from both sides of the Atlantic.
In fact, Team PokerStars Pro Jason Mercier says it appears the entire poker world now descends upon the Bahamas annually for the event.
“It’s like nothing else because you run into people that you’ve met everywhere,” he explained. “Pretty much everybody in poker comes to the PCA. You run into people that you’ve met in Vegas, on the European Poker Tour or the World Poker Tour. Everybody is here.”
This year the PCA is an entire poker festival, boasting as many as 50 events, but with Atlantis’ huge marine habitat, marina, water attractions, beach, spa and casino, Duthie says it’s more than just poker that’s attracting people to the PCA.
“For one reason or another, more people seem to bring their girlfriends or wives and families,” he said. “So it has much more of a feeling like an outing or a holiday and the poker just happens to be part of it.”
Close to 700 players sat down for Day 1a Tuesday and with as many as 900 expected for Day 1b Wednesday, the event appears poised to smash records again.
Now, the incredible growth the PCA has enjoyed has helped grow the EPT into the biggest poker tour on the planet.
A fact Duthie never imagined he’d see.
“First of all, I didn’t think we would ever come to the Caribbean, because I never considered the Caribbean part of Europe, but it became an addition to the EPT because of PokerStars’ involvement. I always thought it would get big in Europe because poker was really taking off. But I never thought it would get as big as it has become.
“It’s an interesting feeling looking at it now because it bears no resemblance to what it was when we started.”
And as far as Mercier can tell, the growth will continue.
“I expect it to keep on growing because PokerStars keeps running so many satellites and it just grows every year,” he said. “PokerStars keeps growing, so more people qualify and poker is not declining; it’s sort of leveling off. So as long as PokerStars continues to grow, the PCA should continue to grow as well.”
To follow the growth and all the action at the 2010 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, tune into PokerListings’ Live Updates today and throughout the next week.