The rumblings and rumors you’ve been hearing have finally been confirmed: the iNinja poker tour has been resurrected!
The existence of iNinja is a curious story. Why did this defunct poker tour rise from the dead? Why did it shut down in the first place? What the heck does iNinja mean anyway? To discover the answers to these questions, we’ll need to “begin at the beginning” and understand the brand’s origin story.
A few years ago a poker player from Minnesota started the concept of the iNinja poker league. His name was Issac Tucker. He started leagues at Canterbury Park and Running Aces, the two largest card rooms in Minnesota. They offered players the chance to win entries into bigger events by playing every week in iNinja league events. The leagues filled up and were a huge hit. Dozens of seats, including a WSOP Main Event seat, were given away in the first two years.
The leagues were such a hit that Issac decided to run a bigger tournament. The first iNinja main event took place at Canterbury Park and featured a $600 buy-in. Many league winners received seats, but the direct buy-in option was open to the public as well. The event drew 318 entries, an impressive number; that much more so in January in Minnesota. The first showing was so impressive that Issac started booking more main events, as his focus shifted away from the leagues.
Issac was a marketing wizard. From the odd name to the specialized graphics featuring ninjas in each casino the tour visited, he knew exactly what would draw attention and draw players. Main events continued to crush their guarantees, and fields were huge. Within two years the tour was drawing over 1,000 players in places like Council Bluffs, Iowa. In it’s short time as a viable business, the tour gave away over$2 million in prize monies and crushed every guarantee they offered.
Lack of Business Savvy Plagues an Otherwise Successful Venture
But there were problems. While Issac was a great marketer, he had never run a real business before. Like many entrepreneurs, he built a business but didn’t have enough education about how to run it. The business grew so fast that he expected that growth to continue, so he kept spending money in efforts to build the business. He funded a full team of pros, paid for expensive patches, web design, mountains of beautiful graphics, poker reporters, and a host of other expenses.
Much like trying to make a living as a tournament poker player, running a poker tour is not easy either. Like restaurants, the majority of them go broke in the first two years. Issac eventually had trouble booking enough events to pay the bills. One of the current owners, WSOP bracelet winner (and Cardplayer Lifestyle contributor) Chris Wallace, was on that pro team. The team was owed money that they weren’t sure Issac was going to be able to pay. They knew he was overspending and broke. Some members of the team even released a public statement with growing concerns over the viability of the company.
The tour struggled along, with Issac attempting to book more gigs, but the public complaints from the pro team made it tough to book more tour events and money problems continued to plagued the tour. iNinja closed its doors in 2016. Issac now runs a Minecraft server with over two million downloads. His high energy marketing style and tireless work ethic have served him well in this new venture and hopefully he is running his new business in a more fiscally conservative way.
After strong consideration, iNinja Poker is officially done.
It was an amazing ride! Thank you all!
On to the next one,
See you on the felt
— PokéNinja (@IssacRunGood) July 26, 2017
Rising, Like a Phoenix
Around the time that iNinja was shutting down, three poker players from Minnesota (among them, the aforementioned Chris Wallace) started a tour called Next Level Poker. All had experience working with poker tours and running poker tournaments, and the business model was to offer players more of what they wanted and charge casinos less than other tours by using modern live streaming technology and social media rather than expensive film crews and magazine advertising. Next Level ran it’s first event at Diamond Jo Casino in Northwoods, Iowa soon after.
— Chris Wallace (@foxpokerfox) November 22, 2017
Issac contacted Chris Wallace about taking over the iNinja brand in early 2018. After consultation with his business partners, Wallace believed that iNinja wasn’t completely dead. As Billy Crystal’s character famously said in the Princess Bride:
“He’s only MOSTLY dead.”
They took over the brand from Issac and began discussing the idea of bringing iNinja events to casinos around the country. The reception was overwhelmingly positive. The new owners all had spotless reputations in the poker world, so iNinja’s former problems wouldn’t be an issue, and the brand had a proven track record of bringing in huge fields and promoting events that were a lot more fun than a typical poker tour. iNinja was reborn.
To celebrate the rebirth of the tour, each iNinja event for the first year will include a Resurrection Event which features an add-on chip that players can use immediately after busting out to give them 20 big blinds and “a new life.” A resurrection!
The new, current owners of iNinja Poker are thankful to its founder, Issac Tucker, for creating the tour and giving them the unique opportunity to bring it back to life. Specifically, Isaac has been very helpful, generous, and giving of his time to help ensure a smooth transition of the business in helping the new owners take it over.
We’ll close with this quote from Chris Wallace:
“We look forward to running the business in a transparent way, paying our bills on time every time, and operating with integrity. We also look forward to running a fun tour that offers a great environment for pros and recreational players alike. Please direct any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for reading and we look forward to seeing you at an iNinja event in the near future.”
— iNinja Poker (@iNinjaPoker) April 17, 2018