The inaugural event of the Epic Poker League wrapped up over the weekend. Leading up to the event, there were mixed feelings around the industry as to whether or not the League would be successful. From a media standpoint, the first event went very well. Out of all the eligible players, 137 were in the field and nearly all were among the biggest stars in poker. On top of that, a cool $1 million was awarded to the winner and the televised final table was one of the best in poker history. Even with all of that, the League cannot and will not be successful without the players, so how did they feel about the first EPL event?
The majority of players in the event loved it; at least that’s what we gathered from the players with whom we spoke. There were only a couple of players who complained about various things in the event, namely the structure, but with a structure that had an average stack of 80 to 100 big blinds throughout most of the event, it’s one of the best tournament structures out there. Maybe even the best. Yes, there were a few levels skipped at the beginning of the event, such as a 150/300 level and 250/500 level, but the idea behind this was to sacrifice a little bit of play early and make up for it later on, deep in the tournament.
Justin Smith said that he liked the structure and Chris Klodnicki said that he thought the Day 1 structure was adequate. Allen Bari, who is never at a loss for words when asked his opinion on a subject, said: “The tournament was run extremely well, which is expected when Matt Savage is running it. The tournament went fast early due to a couple missing levels, but most of us agree that's better than skipping levels at the end.” Bari went on to suggest a possible change in structure to accommodate for those early levels that are missed. “Only thing I think that should be changed is maybe adding one or two early levels and making Day 1 levels shorter, like an hour or an hour and 15 minutes to allow for that and then move to one-and-a-half-hour levels for following days.”
Dan O'Brien commented that he plans to play all of the events and hopes he can put together a good showing. "I thought the tournament had a good structure. It didn't take four days to hit the money, but was slow enough later on. Six max was also great," O'Brien said.
One thing is for sure: a structure can be fixed. Savage and EPL Commissioner Annie Duke were very proactive in listening to the players on Day 1 and throughout the entire tournament. Duke spent a lot of time out on the tournament floor checking in with players throughout the day and hearing them out, both good and bad. This is certainly something that a commissioner should be doing, especially if they want to better the league in the long run. There’s no doubt that Duke will be taking all voiced opinions and suggestions into account over the next few weeks to iron things out for the next event, which takes place at the beginning of September.
A big question is, how many players liked the event enough to come out again for the second one and all the others in the first season?
Justin Smith commented, “I plan on playing all the events. I think it's a different but cool series. I like the EPL because it's doing something new and doing it well. I really enjoy playing against other top players because it brings out the best in me.” From that comment, it looks like we’ll be seeing Smith at every EPL event from here on out. Smith did say, “There were a few hiccups with regards to the length that registration took, but I'm sure that was probably more the casino cage's fault than the actual EPL.” Of course, that’s another thing that Duke and the EPL will have to look into and work on for future events.
Klodnicki also enjoyed the event. “I really thought the EPL was run very well, especially for its first tournament ever,” he said. “I thought we got a pretty good turnout and the overall vibe from the players was great. All of the EPL staff was very helpful and friendly as well. It was definitely a tougher field than most of the tournaments I play in, but the added money and no rake helps compensate for that.”
Furthermore, Klodnicki went on to comment about the league’s possible future. “I think the EPL is great for professionals and good for poker in general. I really hope that the league prospers," he said. "That being said, I do have my doubts that the league will succeed. The first tourney definitely lacked a lot of the old school pros that the casual poker fans want to watch on TV. It's really a shame that Daniel [Negreanu] and [Phil] Ivey decided not to play and Doyle [Brunson] couldn't make it. At least Doyle has given his approval of the league. It's definitely going be tough for the league to get adequate sponsorship without those guys showing up.” Klodnicki added that he will be playing all events, minus the heads-up event, and again that he really hopes the league does well.
Another player PokerNews spoke to about the EPL was McLean Karr. He first mentioned that he “loved the EPL” and that it’s a “nice reward for having success in other live events.” He then went on to talk about the play in the event, which given the quality of players, seemed to be a bit above the rim. “The play is intellectually stimulating, fast and, for the most part, genial... it is just so professional!” he said with enthusiasm. Going along with what Karr said, Bari and O'Brien added the following.
“There is just a more peaceful feeling at the table because there is a mutual respect for everyone at your table," Bari said.
And O'Brien commented, "I really enjoy that I know a lot of the people, and you don't have to listen to awful table talk. I enjoy meeting people at the tables, but small buy-in WSOP events especially are filled with low-level poker strategy discussions that I just cant handle."
One interesting suggestion Karr had for the league was to implement a “shot clock” for each player. “I would like to see a shot clock initiated in our league,” Karr said. “Even if we need it the least, I believe it is an important step forward for poker. I believe the professionals and smaller field sizes would make this much easier to implement. Also, I think this would greatly improve the value for the viewer at home. Last-second decisions and constant action makes great TV! EPL could also set a precedent for being on the front edge of poker and differentiate its league even more. Whether the shot clock should be 20 to 30 seconds a street with one minute on the river or two minutes for an all-in, time-outs per level or day could all be hammered out via league vote.” We know that the Aussie Millions $100,000 Challenge event uses a 30-second shot clock for each player’s action and has for a few years now, but there is no full tour or league that uses one that we know of.
In reference to how the tournament was run, Karr said: “I thought Annie Duke and Jeffrey Pollack were extremely professional and pulled off an amazing tourney — especially when considering it was a first run. It didn't feel like an inaugural tournament!”
One of the big concerns is how the EPL is going to sustain itself with everything they’re giving away at these events. No rake, $100 food vouchers daily for all players, rooms for the players at Palms Resort Casino and $400,000 in added money each tournament with a $1 million championship freeroll at the end of the season is an awful lot to give up. “I am unsure of whether it will take off because it seems tough to sustain treating all of us so well and having all of this added money,” said Bari, “but Annie [Duke] and Jeff [Pollack] are smart people and if they believe in it, I am sure it will be a huge success.”
O'Brien seems to agree with Bari, but he too is hoping the league succeeds, saying, "I think it's great for poker, but the odds of it taking off are fairly small. It needs some good TV spots, great marketing and to find a way to make money so they can keep giving so much away. It'll be tough, but I'm rootin' for it."
On the flip side of those concerns, everything that EPL is giving to its players are just the thing players are looking for from a tournament, especially the best players in the world, which will keep them coming back again and again. All of these things wouldn’t be available to the players if it weren’t for the right people navigating the ship.
Matt Glantz had the following to say. “The first Epic Poker League was a huge success. They have a top-rate team from top to bottom. Annie Duke, Jeffrey Pollack and Matt Savage are the three aces in their respective positions. Bobby Griffith and the ultra-select dealing staff are like the two kings that complete the hand. Aces full doesn't lose too often!”
Going along with complimenting the dealing staff, Bari said, “The dealers, by the way, are 12 times better than at any other tournament because they were handpicked, which is great.” It only makes sense that this elite tournament series for a select group of the best players in the world have the best dealers on hand for each event. And we're talking about the best dealers from start to finish, not just at the final table, which is what the EPL had day after day.
Glantz went on to discuss how the EPL differs from other tournaments in the world. “It differs from all other poker tournaments in some very refreshing ways,” he said. “There is rarely any unnecessary tanking and not much sunglass-wearing. Most refreshing, though, is the strong aura of mutual respect between all of the players.”
When talking about what he’d like to see changed for the future in these events, Glantz wanted what most poker players want: more money. But this isn’t greed talking here. Glantz has some interesting reasons as to why more free added money is something he’d like to see. “I would like to see even more added money to the prize pool in the future. I know $400,000 is a big number,” he said. “But the fields are super tough and the only way to grow the league is to increase the prize pool without increasing the buy-ins.” He added, “I am a proud member of the Epic Poker League and will be eagerly supporting the league in their continued success.”
Overall, the reactions from the players to the first EPL event were extremely positive. The EPL organizers should be very happy with how the event was received, but it’s important that they keep striving to do their best to improve with every event and not become complacent. Duke has already let it be known that she’s working with Savage on adjusting the structure a little bit to better accommodate the wants of the players. That’s great to see and something the players will truly appreciate.
The next event of the EPL takes place in early fall with the Main Event beginning on Tuesday, Sept. 6. The event will be eight-handed as opposed to the first event’s six-handed format. With such positive feedback received thus far from players, media and fans combined with the hard work of the EPL in doing everything necessary to better the league, it should be expected that the turnout meets or surpasses this first event where 137 players came out.
A Pro/Am event will again take place in the days before the Main Event. This time around, the Pro/Am will run Sept. 2 through 5, and if you’d like to play with the pros in the $20,000 Main Event, you can enter the Pro/Am with a chance to win your seat to do just that. EpicPoker.com has details on the Pro/Am event and satellites running for the Pro/Am.
If you're looking for that results of the EPL's first Main Event, check out the final table recap. To relive the event from start to finish, read through the Live Reporting blog. Other than that, be sure to follow PokerNews on Twitter for all your up-to-the-minute news.
Photo courtesy of Epic Poker.