Poker has enjoyed enormous success over the last year thanks to televised poker-related programming like the World Poker Tour and the National Heads Up tournament that were broadcast on NBC. An incredible amount of media coverage was also given to the World Series Of Poker.
The successful media coverage will continue in January when a new event is set to cash in on poker's dramatic surge in popularity and the colorful professionals who have become media darlings.
The "Poker: Quest of Champions" tournament just might be the biggest thing to hit poker since poker's cinderella story, Chris Moneymaker's 2003 WSOP victory. No other tournament in the history of poker has come close to the stakes of this upcoming 2006 event. Players will shell out the largest tournament entry fee ever, $250,000 (ten times the buy-in of the WPT championship), and will compete in a winner-take-all battle for the $15 million (US) prize, doubling the size of this year's WSOP top prize.
The genesis of this new tournament began over a year and a half ago during a discussion between Jason J. Augustine, CEO of PokerQuest, Inc., and the company's chief operating officer, Angelo D Halkias.
"My background was business moreso than poker. Angelo however, played semi-professionally and was always telling me about the skill involved in the game. I was watching the U.S. Poker Championship with Angelo and couldn't quite see the skill involved because the two finalists, Toto Leonidas and Erik Seidel, were playing a lot of crazy hands. I didn't see any aces or kings," Augustine said.
The lack of power cards and the risking of first place with weaker cards left Augustine wondering. "So I asked why they were taking such risks and Angelo explained to me that it was because they were in a tournament and even if they lost, the pay-outs were so close that they were willing to play very loose. That's when I said we needed to come up with an event that would force players to play their best cards because of the winner-take all nature of the tournament," Augustine said in an interview with PokerNews.com.
Augustine and associates decided that with this concept in mind, they could successfully push poker to sporting legitimacy and the tournament quickly became more than a way to make money for the newly formed PokerQuest.
"We set up the tournament as a shoot-out (10 players at one table with the winner advancing to the final table) because we wanted to give the pros a chance to shine. This is as good for us as it is for them. Of course, it will be great for our company but we feel that the sport of poker needs its icons just like every other sport," Augustine said.
He also believes that sports like golf have their Tiger Woods, basketball had Michael Jordan, and if they weren't playing you would see less than if they were in the hunt for a victory. "With this event we tried to take luck out of the process by selecting the players. When big name corporations and charities get behind events, they know that the big players are going to be there and that's been the difference between poker and all these other sports, so we're trying to bridge the cap," Augustine said.
To prove the credibility of the tournament and to promote it in the professional circle of players, Augstine hired pros Amir Vahedi and Mel Judah as consultants. According to Agustine this was critical.
"Having Amir and Mel involved has been huge because of their contacts and respect from other players. When you have cheerleaders of that caliber, people take you a little more seriously. We were talking to guys about a buy-in that was five times the previous high of $50,000. With an event like this it pays to have all the credibility you can get."
Agustine also cited Sam Farha's decision to play as being a key factor in getting other pros involved. "Everyone thought it was going to be easy to get top players because of the tournament's structure and the pay-out; it really wasn't. These players get pitched a million ideas a day. Sam Farha, God bless him, was the first one to sign up and to say he wanted to be a part of it. Once we got a guy of his stature, people started to take it more seriously."
The tournament has also received a major boost to credibility from involvement with one of the four major television networks. Although Augustine has yet to name the TV suitor, he was willing to say that an announcement was due soon.
The number of pros involved has thrilled everyone because the tournament is going to showcase the rivalries of poker, like those found in the NBA and NFL. "We want Chris Moneymaker versus Sam Farha, Erik Seidel versus Johnny Chan, ultimately we want the Lakers versus the Celtics," Augustine said.
The tournament should deliver on this promise with some of the battle set to take place on felt at the Palms' poker tables. Some featured matches include Scotty Nugyen vs. Phil Ivey, Doyle Brunson vs. Daniel Negraneu, Phil Helmuth vs. Phil 'The Unabomber' Laak, and possibly the most intriguing match up of players being brother and sister combo, Howard Lederer and Annie Duke.
Major action isn't the only excitement this tournament will bring to the table. There will be a donation of $1.25 million (5 percent) to several charities, helping make the event more than just a big pay-out for one winner. Both the pros and PokerQuest's commitment to making a difference in the lives of others is reflected by donated seats and other special events.
An autograph and photo session with many of the pros will take place before the September 4, 10-player pro shoot-out. This fan session will raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. PokerQuest is also sponsoring a celebrity shoot-out that will let each star (10 competitors) donate $25,000 to a charity of his or her choice. The winner gets a seat into the main event.
In the end, Augustine believes this tournament will be a good for poker both in the long and short term. "It is our belief that this will finally solidify poker as a mainstream sport because this will be a place where you can see the stars play. I feel that our tag line truly defines our motivations. 'We are going to force America and the world to answer the question that has turned athletes into legends and industries into pastimes: 'Who is your favorite?'"
Ed Note: Your quest for poker greatness should start at Doyle's Room