From Golden Tickets to Platinum Passes: Willy Wonka’s Got Nothing on PokerStars

By Robbie Strazynski
October 25, 2018

If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it. Anything you want to, do it. Wanna change the world? There’s nothing to it.

–Willy Wonka

I can’t seem to get the late Gene Wilder’s mellifluous voice out of my head. His unforgettable cinematic rendition of “Pure Imagination” (from which the above quote is taken) has been ringing in my ears all day long and it’s those lyrics that inspired me to pen this article.

I remember when I first heard about the PokerStars Players No Limit Hold’em Championship (PSPC) in December of last year. I waxed poetic for over 1,500 words about how jaw-dropping their announcement was. No promotion had ever been launched before on such a grandiose scale: A $25,000 buy-in event that would easily obliterate participation records with 320 players being awarded seats via Platinum Pass packages + an additional $1 million up top for the winner. An event where whomever would opt to buy-in to the tournament on their own dime would be benefiting from an astonishing $9 million of added value pumped in by PokerStars.

It seemed impossible. Unthinkable. Dare I say “Pure Imagination.” And yet, the company announced to the world that their entire focus of operations for the duration of 2018 would be geared towards the Platinum Pass promotion. It’s like PokerStars decided to let loose their inner Willy Wonka to see what would happen. As 2018 dawned, the company published a graphic illustrating how the Platinum Passes could be won and the poker world waited with bated breath to see how it would all play out.


The Conventional

As one would expect, many of the Platinum Passes have been awarded to players who’ve achieved at the felt, be it online or virtual. In the online realm PokerStars has dangled the coveted passes as extra prizes to be won at all manner of events it has spread, including everything from a Sunday Million to its SCOOP and WCOOP series. And it’s not just the high rollers who’ve had the opportunity to snag seats, as even the lowest-stakes tournament series like Common Cents have been boosted with the promise of a Platinum Pass being awarded to the winner.

In the live realm, scenes of large crowds, cameras, and company officials gathering around poker tables have become commonplace, as Platinum Passes have been awarded at all the various PokerStars LIVE events around the world. From Prague to the PCA, from Barcelona to Brazil, and from Manila to Monte Carlo, it’s been raining Platinum Passes on winners hailing from dozens of countries.

Platinum Pass crowd Barcelona

A crowd gathers to see a Platinum Pass be awarded at the 2018 EPT Barcelona


It’s easy to forget, but it wasn’t that long ago that the PokerStars brand was completely absent from the United States. That’s hardly been the case in 2018. While their online operations in the country have been limited to New Jersey, the company most certainly hasn’t left players from that market out in the cold, with a handful of Platinum Passes being awarded via NJCOOP events.

Moreover, there’s been a resurgence of PokerStars-branded live events stateside, with the Moneymaker PSPC Tour featuring close to a dozen stops. The man who helped ignite the Poker Boom, 2003 WSOP Main Event winner Chris Moneymaker, has logged countless hours traversing the lower 48 – from Connecticut to California, and multiple poker rooms and casinos in between – with Platinum Passes aplenty to award. Thousands of poker lovers have come out of the woodwork ready to plunk down $86 for their own shot at having a Moneymaker-like moment.

All in all, approximately 5% of the Platinum Passes awarded thus far have gone to American players, which is certainly nothing to sneeze at. Surely, as new markets like Pennsylvania begin to open up, we’ll see even more PokerStars activity in the good old U.S. of A. While those stats are still humble ones, let’s not discount the hordes of people who’ve showed up to play in these festivals in the first place; they flock to the branded events like bees to honey.

The Determined

As the Roman philosopher Seneca is credited with saying, “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Indeed, it takes a bit of luck to win at poker and Platinum Pass winners are certainly a fortunate bunch, but a couple of poker players have stood out in particular as having given themselves as many opportunities as possible to get lucky.

First, there’s Nathan Manuel, whose personal quest to win a Platinum Pass had frustratingly met one defeat after another. He chased the prize all year long like an elusive Holy Grail, only to fall agonizingly short with every attempt… until he finally broke through earlier this week. How determined. How persistent. How inspiring!

And then there’s Arlie Shaban, who emerged from out of nowhere earlier this year to become a known Twitch poker streamer through sheer grit and brute force.

All of that hard work and a great personality caught PokerStars’ attention, so they decided to design a specific set of challenges entitled the 12 Labours of Arlie, which certainly has gotten the poker Twitterverse buzzing.

He’s only completed half of his Labours (yes, that extra “u” pains me as an American) thus far, so there’s no guarantee that he’ll complete all of the “Herculean tasks,” but I have a strong feeling we’ll be witness to Arlie claiming a Platinum Pass for himself by year’s end.

The Unconventional

When you’ve got 320 Platinum Passes to distribute – that’s almost one per day over the course of a year, mind you – you can afford to get creative, and that’s frankly where I’ve been most impressed by the company’s sheer ingenuity. PokerStars entrusted their cadre of ambassadors to construct giveaways and contests of their own to crown additional Platinum Pass winners. What’s so endearing about all of these contests is that each one was molded according to the unique personalities and interests of each ambassador, not necessarily having anything at all to even do with poker.

From vlogging and Twitch streaming to charitable giving to demonstrating acute intellectual skill to storytelling to chess prowess and more, we’ve witnessed thousands upon thousands of contest entrants engage and enter the ambassadors’ various contests in the hopes of securing a Platinum Pass for themselves. Through this, the PokerStars Team Pros have not only enhanced their presence in the poker world as far more than just “patch-wearers,” but they’ve also effectively tapped into audiences outside of poker and exposed new people to the beautiful game we all know and love.

So much demonstrable good and positivity has been generated through the combined efforts of the contest entrants that it’s hard to capture in mere words, but anyone who has been paying attention over the last couple months has no doubt seen countless examples of it. And, of course, the sheer joy we’ve all seen pour forth in the winner announcements and reactions is just plainly and genuinely wonderful to behold.

The Players’ Stories Are Incredible

A standing ovation is due the hardworking staff over at the PokerStars Blog. Sure, it’s part of their job to document the stories of all the Platinum Pass winners, but they’ve quite simply outdone themselves. Practically every time a new one emerges, as someone in poker media I get the urge to want to say something about it. Yet, they seem to have found a way to cover each story from seemingly every angle – written, audio, and video – to the point where there’s nothing I could add of my own. All I can do is share, and share those amazing poker stories I do. If you follow me via my social media outlets you’ve surely noticed.

How can one not be wowed hearing the story of the Canadian knitting-lover who freerolled her way to a Platinum Pass? Or the Rubik’s Cube master who will be bringing his wife and new baby to the Bahamas? Or the Bulgarian 30-something Platinum Pass winner who first got inspired to play poker watching Phil Hellmuth and Johnny Chan battle on TV? The list goes on, and on, and on. Sometimes you have to pinch yourself to remember that all of these people will end up playing in a $25,000 buy-in event. A main goal of the Platinum Pass promotion might’ve been to fill 320 seats at the PSPC, but in the process, PokerStars has unearthed a sensational cast of eclectic characters from around the world whose stories have been brought to light. Walking into the tournament area at the Atlantis Resort and Casino in January to a room full of Platinum Pass winners will quite simply be a phenomenal experience.

There’s Still Time to Win Your Platinum Pass

At the time of this writing there remain just under 100 Platinum Passes yet to be distributed. Just under 100 more people who’ll get to experience life-changing moments. Just under 100 more people who will be given the ultra-rare opportunity to participate in an unforgettable event. Just under 100 people whose stories we’ll all get to learn. It’s possible that the upcoming PSPC event in January might not be won by a Platinum Pass holder. But that’s immaterial. They all get the chance to be a part of the show; part of the spectacle.

So, if you want to visit Paradise (Island, in the Bahamas), simply play your heart out and try to grab yourself a Platinum Pass. That’s all there is to it.

Willy Wonka would be proud.

Willy Wonka Platinum Pass



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Written By.

Robbie Strazynski

Robbie founded in 2009. A veteran member of the poker media corps, in addition to writing and video presenting, Robbie has hosted multiple poker podcasts over the years, including Top Pair, the Red Chip Poker Podcast, The Orbit, and the CardsChat Podcast. In 2019, Robbie translated the autobiography of Poker Hall of Famer Eli […]


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