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Some of the world’s poker players thrive on high buy-in cash games and tournaments. They have built massive bankrolls and are able to play in anything labeled a High Roller event, often with buy-ins ranging from $10K to $100K. Of course, they often play lower buy-in tournaments as well, which keeps their money in the poker ecosystem.

Those who play High Rollers regularly are usually some of the better known players in the game, along with the occasional wealthy businessperson or unknown grinder who sometimes take a seat as well. Fans enjoy following along with live reports and social media updates for those events, as the names are familiar and fans can live vicariously through those are playing to win unfathomable amounts of money.

These types of tournaments have becomes staples in live and online poker, as nearly every series has at least one or two high buy-in options. It accommodates players of all bankrolls and boosts the overall numbers of participants and prize money at any given series.

Sometimes, however, the High Roller phenomenon goes too far.

History of ARIA Tournaments

When ARIA Resort & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip opened its poker room in late 2009, the draw was the cash games. The room itself was – and still is – one of the best looking poker rooms in Sin City, and players had a big role in dictating what games and stakes were offered. It quickly became a player favorite and an alternative to the always-popular Bellagio.

In May of the following year, a special room in the poker area was dubbed “Ivey’s Room,” a special room for high rollers to host high buy-in cash games. The alternative to “Bobby’s Room” at Bellagio was named for Phil Ivey, who was still a regular on the Las Vegas poker scene at the time. And with regulars like Jean-Robert Bellande taking up residence at the ARIA from time to time, the space was perfect for the games he and others wanted to play.

Daily tournaments quickly became popular at ARIA, and the recurring tournaments brought locals and tourists to the tables in great numbers.

In 2014, ARIA took it to another level. The poker room hosted the WPT500 tournament, which was a massive hit with players who wanted a break from the World Series of Poker at the Rio and sought a lower buy-in tournament with a substantial guarantee. That year, the room also offered its first big buy-in event just after the WPT500 called the Aria $100K Super High Roller. It drew 30 entries, some of the biggest names in poker, and awarded more than $1 million to the winner, who was Ole Schemion. That prompted ARIA to put a few more $100K buy-ins on the schedule that year – two in September, a $50K in October and another in November, along with a $25K and a $50K in December.

The tournaments were fairly randomly scheduled but attracted the big names with the big money to the tables at ARIA. That led to a fuller schedule in 2015. Along with a series and the WPT500, there was a Super High Roller Bowl and Super High Roller Celebrity Shootout, both of which were filmed by Poker Central for mass viewing. Those were huge hits with poker fans.

High Roller Randomness

That aforementioned 2015 schedule of big tournaments also included more High Roller events that were interspersed throughout the year with 21 of them in total. They were numbered at that point to differentiate them, and they became somewhat of a regular occurrence for high stakes players. Their placement on the calendar was rather random, however. Some were scheduled to accommodate players who were in town for other events, but the last few months of 2015 saw a more indiscriminate timetable:

  • Two-day events on August 21-22 and 23-24
  • One-day events on September 11 and 12
  • One-day events on October 1 and 2
  • One-day events on November 6 and 7
  • One-day events on December 7, 8, and 20

In 2016, the schedule became even more random with even more tournaments. For example, just in October of this year, there were the following:

  • Aria High Roller #42 on October 6
  • Aria High Roller #43 on October 7
  • Aria High Roller #44 on October 8
  • Aria High Roller #45 on October 27
  • Aria High Roller #46 on October 28-29

Then there were two in that series in November, along with the Aria Super Roller #13, and then three scheduled for December.

While the irregular schedule and lack of any information on the ARIA website are confusing, the bigger issue with these events is that they all count in rankings like the Global Poker Index. When determining the world’s best players, their scores in these elite, frequent, and random tournaments are included in their points. The top-ranked player as of December 11 is Fedor Holz, who has a number of ARIA High Roller and Super High Roller scores on his record, as is the case for third-ranked David Peters, fifth-ranked Dan Smith, and others following like Erik Seidel, Bryn Kenney, and Tom Marchese.

Is it fair to count these very high buy-in tournaments – ones that players can seem to schedule when they choose – in the overall rankings of all players?

And does the frequency of these events diminish their importance and status in the poker world?

Let us know what you think.

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Jennifer Newell

Jennifer has been a freelance writer in the poker industry for a decade. She left a full-time job with the World Poker Tour to tell the stories of poker. She now lives in St. Louis, writes about poker while pursuing other varied interests, and speaks her mind on Twitter… a lot.