Ever wondered how the SCOOP schedule is built? Find out here…
The Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP) is just around the corner, kicking off on May 7 and running until May 31, 2023.
There will be 25 days of thrilling action with 121 events, 363 tournaments, 16 different poker variants, and $75 million guaranteed in prizes.
It’s going to be absolutely massive and the schedule – which is at the bottom of this article – is impeccable; perfectly paced and jam-packed with unmissable events.
But such a superb schedule isn’t easy to put together.
How do you decide which tournaments should go where? How do you cater for players with different wants and needs, in different time zones around the world? And how do you settle on a guarantee for a tournament?
We got a peek behind the SCOOP curtain this week when Steve Clarricoats, Head of Poker Operations at PokerStars, appeared as a guest on the Poker in the Ears podcast, hosted by James Hartigan and Joe Stapleton.
Clarricoats has worked for PokerStars since 2005 (he was actually one of the first 100 employees, no. 66 in fact) and now manages a team that looks after all multi-table tournaments (MTTs) and the big online series, such as the Championships of Online Poker.
In the interview (which you can listen to at the bottom of this article), Clarricoats gives us a play-by-play of how the SCOOP schedule is put together, from its initial planning stages through to any last-minute amendments.
Let’s go through it.
As you’d expect for such a prodigious and prestigious series, there’s a lot to consider when planning the SCOOP.
The first thing that Clarricoats and his team ask themselves is: what is the intent of SCOOP?
“We think about the character of the series, the concept,” he says. “For SCOOP, we want it to be fun and accessible, so that will inform the decisions we make later on.”
From there, the team conduct some base research, looking at what the online poker liquidity will be like at the time of the series.
“We know what seasonality looks like for the poker industry so we can guess what liquidity will be like,” says Clarricoats. “We channel our inner Nate Silvers a bit and use a lot of imperfect information and turn that into a projection.”
Once the intent is set, the focus shifts to nailing the identity of SCOOP.
“It’s a championship series, which means something,” says Clarricoats. “Out of the two Championships, this is the one that’s more like a celebration, a carnival of poker.”
So what are the best ways to make a series fun, accessible, and feel like a true poker party?
It’s to have buy-ins for every bankroll, a spread of different tournament formats to keep things exciting and entertaining, and to ensure every poker variant is featured.
“For a Championship series, we want to get as many games in there as we can,” he continues. “We’ve got 18-20 games per series. The challenge there is to make sure that they don’t cannibalise each other by having two very similar games on the same day.”
The tournament schedule is put together in an Excel spreadsheet, beginning with what Clarricoats refers to as the “tentpole tournaments”.
“We’ll know that the Main Event is going to be here and roughly that will be,” he says. “We’ll know what our Sunday events are going to look like, and we’ll know we want a big Progressive Knockout event on Thursdays.”
The team will then look at the list of tournaments they plan to feature and figure out the best spot for each. “We’ll play Tetris and drag and drop to build the schedule out,” says Clarricoats.
There are usually around five different iterations of the SCOOP schedule, each better than the last thanks to improvements made following both internal and external feedback from staff, broadcasters, ambassadors, and players.
Once the tournament schedule is finalised, it’s time to put a guarantee on each individual event.
This stage puts a lot of pressure on Clarricoats and his team. As Hartigan points out in the interview, too big a guarantee and you risk overlay, too low a guarantee and it could be seen as cynical and not aggressive enough.
In a perfect world, each tournament will surpass its guarantee, but not by so much that the initial guarantee seems tentative.
“That’s the ideal outcome,” confirms Clarricoats. “We’ve overlaid in various tournaments and we’ve massively exceeded guarantees in various tournaments. It’s all a case of projection and prediction.
“The same tournament in March and July will have very different outcomes. If it’s a turbo or slow tournament, there will be very different outcomes. If it’s a PKO or not, the outcome will be different.”
Tournament guarantees are obviously very important and something players use as a deciding factor in whether or not they enter an event. Clarricoats’ team try to be as ambitious as they can be within the parameters and projections that they have.
Should a tournament look like it’s going to overlay, there are moves that can be made, such as adding more satellites and increasing the guarantees on satellites. This can be done in a matter of minutes using tournament scripts; pieces of code (tournament templates, if you like) that are uploaded and modified when needed.
The team now has a firm grasp on which tournaments will take place on what day, and their guarantees. But how do they determine what time each event should begin? After all, people play on PokerStars all around the world in a variety of different time zones.
“It’s tricky for sure,” says Clarricoats. “We have European daytime tournaments and later tournaments like Fenomeno specials, good for Brazilian and Canadian players.
“We also made the starting times slightly earlier last year in SCOOP to make the experience better, so Day 1s end earlier which makes it more favourable for recreational players.”
FINDING THE BALANCE
At the end of the day, the PokerStars team hopes to deliver a fun, accessible tournament series that pleases everyone.
Alas, you can’t always please everyone. What’s best for a recreational player won’t always be best for a professional.
“Hopefully, we have a good balance,” says Clarricoats. “For the players looking to play for the leader board, we look at what would be the annoying points for them. It might be tournaments that are out of the main group of tournaments (i.e. those which start earlier or finish later).
“Then we look at it from the point of a recreational player who wants to fit SCOOP around their office hours. What does the schedule look like for them? What are their annoying points? We’ll try to find a compromise and fix those.”
The very first SCOOP in 2009 was just 10 days long. This year, there are 25 days of play.
To take the edge off, Fridays are allocated as a rest day, meaning all Day 2s from Thursday’s play take place on the following Saturday.
“The rest day was mostly for us, I’ve got to be honest,” Clarricoats says, laughing.
“But we have generous leader board prizes for these series and if you’re hoping for a good finish you want to play as many tournaments as you can. So it’s not responsible or practical to ask players to play non-stop for four weeks.
“It also allows us to do some fun things with wacky side events and big satellites, so there’s still plenty to play if you turn up on those days.”
You can listen to the full interview with Steve Clarricoats on the Poker in the Ears podcast below.