20 for 20, Part 1: A Complete Look at Key Moments & Events in PokerStars’ 20-Year History 

PokerStars is launching the special Big 20 Rewind series on Sunday to celebrate the site’s 20th anniversary. The series features events honoring some of the biggest moments in the site’s history as well as some huge prizes.

PokerStars remains a titan in the online poker industry and players continue flocking to the site. With the Big 20 kicking off on Sunday, PokerScout takes a look at 20 of PokerStars’ biggest moments. (Look for Part 2 on Friday.)

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1 – PokerStars debuts, changes face of online poker industry

Online poker debuted in the early ‘90s as a free-to-play game. Planet Poker became the first real money site in 1998, but struggled with technical issues.

Isai Scheinberg

PokerStars was the brainchild of former IBM Canada programmer Isai Scheinberg. A poker player himself, he envisioned a platform more appealing to players. He brought the programming skills to make that happen.

The site first launched in beta form on Sept. 11, 2001, before beginning with real money poker on Dec. 13, 2001. The first event was a $11 Limit Hold’em tournament with a $500 guarantee.

That event gave the site a nice start, producing 100 entries for a $1,000 prize pool. A player named “oscar” became the site’s first winner.

What kind of tournaments were available? Even in those early days the platform gave players several options. Beginning in December 2001, the site ran Hold’em, Omaha Hi/Lo, and Stud games with stakes from $0.10/$0.25 to $1/$2,

Players instantly loved the software’s ease of use and functionality. Stars went on to become the largest poker site in the world. Shceinberg sold his share in the company in 2014 for $4.9 billion.

2 – Chris Moneymaker wins the World Series of Poker Main Event

The company’s biggest shot in the arm came in 2003. With televised poker booming after the World Poker Tour’s debut, Chris Moneymaker turned an $86 satellite into a World Series of Poker Main Event title.

The Moneymaker win had it all: a perfect surname, ESPN showing the hole cards, big bluffs, and huge money. The event helped usher in poker to the mainstream and helped kickstart the poker boom.

The story also brought massive attention to PokerStars, with players around the world taking note. The notoriety from Moneymaker’s everyman win sent players around the world to the site hoping for their own success story.

He was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2019 and remained a Team PokerStars member until the end of 2020.

3 – Daniel Negreanu signs as an ambassador

By 2007, Daniel Negreanu was already one of the most recognizable names in poker and that remains so today. “Kid Poker” already had two WPT titles and three WSOP bracelets.

Daniel Negreanu (photo courtesy WPT)

Negreanu was perfect for the era of televised poker: funny, personable, and highly skilled. PokerStars recognized this and signed the poker star in June 2007.

Quickly becoming the face of the site for years, Negreanu was engaging with fans and media at live events. A poker lifer, PokerStars found the right player to represent its product.

The partnership lasted until 2019, when Negreanu announced a new sponsorship deal with GGPoker. Negreanu has moved on, but remains an important part of PokerStars’ history.

The company continued signing some of the biggest and best in the game including Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier. The company has also reached outside for ambassadors, such as recently signing football superstar Neymar Jr.

4 – Paying back Black Friday players

The United States federal government cracked down on online on April 15, 2011. The day is known as Black Friday by poker players.

The move shut American players out of their online poker accounts. The actions also exposed the financial irregularities at Full Tilt Poker.

The feds referred to the site as a “Ponzi scheme” and charged that owners had been dipping into player funds. Players were left in limbo as to whether they’d ever recoup funds they had locked on the site.

To the contrary, PokerStars began player cashouts on April 26 and offered some salvation for Full Tilt players as well. As part of its agreement with the federal government, PokerStars acquired the failed online poker outfit.

The agreement included the company paying back players from that site who had not received their funds.

5 – Sunday Million becomes a staple

PokerStars debuted the first Sunday Million on March 4, 2006. The event is now the longest running weekly tournament with a $1 million guarantee.

That first tournament topped the guarantee with a prize pool of $1.2 million. Canada’s “aaaaaaaa” became the Sunday Million’s first winner for $173,843.

The event continues bringing in big fields each Sunday and has become a staple in the industry. Stars continues to up the guarantees for anniversary years.

This year’s 15th anniversary edition featured 69,876 entries for almost a $14 million prize pool, topping the $12.5 million guarantee. Vanessa Kade came out on top for $1.5 million.

6 – Platinum Pass rocks the poker world

Throughout 2018, the Platinum Pass became the hottest ticket in poker. The site planned to run the $25,000 PokerStars Players Championship (PSPC) in January 2019 in the Bahamas as part of the annual PokerStars Caribbean Adventure.

Platinum Pass

A pass awarded a player a complete buy-in and travel package valued at $30,000. The site gave out passes in numerous ways, including smaller buy-in tournaments as part of the Moneymaker Tour. The site also awarded passes via social media, contests, and more.

In the end, PokerStars awarded 320 passes for the big week at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas. That comes out to $9.6 million in tournament entries and travel packages. The promotion garnered the site plenty of attention and players enjoyed taking a shot at a Platinum Pass.

7 – PokerStars Players Championship

After the Platinum Passes were awarded in 2018, there was still a tournament to play. The $25,000 PokerStars Players Championship (PSPC) event in the Bahamas had a unique vibe and plenty of positive energy.

The field for the tournament also featured some unique dynamics. There was a large contingent of pros but also a major pool of poker novices who also won Platinum Passes. Many players also bought into the tournament, swelling the prize pool even more.

Ramon Colillas celebrates winning the PSPC in the Bahamas. (photo courtesy PokerStars)

The event saw some great stories of players winning a pass and then finding a nice score in the tournament. Jacki Burkhart was one of those. She won a contest involving Maria Konnikova, in which she wrote her own poker story.

“I still can’t believe it,” she told USPoker before heading to the Bahamas.

“I was actually going to do a couple of those other PokerStars’ challenges to have a better shot at winning a Platinum Pass. But as it turned out, I put so much time into the story that it took all my free time. It took about three weeks, so I ended up putting all my eggs in one basket – and won.”

This poker story had a happy ending. Burkhart finished 38th for $86,400. The event attracted a total of 1,039 entries and a prize pool of $26.5 million.

In the end, Spain’s Ramon Colillas came out on top for $5.1 million after gaining an entry with a Platinum Pass.

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8 – WCOOP tournament series launched

The World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) series annually features some of the biggest events in poker. The festival launched in 2002 and offered an online alternative to major live events like the WSOP and WPT.

WCOOP continued to grow in size throughout the years and is held each September. Stars now also offers several versions including the Spring COOP (SCOOP).

Versions of the series can be found on the Southern Europe platform for players in France, Spain, and Portugal. COOP series are also held in the US markets as well. COOP events continue to attract huge fields and are some of the biggest events in online poker.

9 – EPT grows poker in Europe

The European Poker Tour is one of the top poker tours in the world with major prizes from glamorous casinos across the continent. The tour debuted in September of 2004 with the EPT Barcelona Open. That first event featured a €1,000 Main Event that drew 229 players.


The series was created by television director and poker player John Duthie. However, in 2011 PokerStars purchased the entire tour and the EPT has seen wins from some of the biggest names in poker.

Several EPT tournaments ran online in 2020 and the tour recently relaunched with events announced in Russia, Brazil, and the Czech Republic.

10 – Spin & Go sets a trend

Quick, short-handed tournaments with random prizes have become popular options for online poker players. These events have become easy for mobile players and those on the go. Most online sites now offer some form of this poker concept.

PokerStars first launched Spin & Go events in 2014. There had been other versions, but the tournaments became a hit for Stars.

The events allow players to win as much as 10,000 times a player’s buy-in, offering a nice jackpot-style payday.


Check back Friday for No. 11-20.

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