Last Tuesday, news broke that Federated Sports and Gaming and the Palms Casino Resort, Las Vegas, had launched a joint venture to create a new professional poker league. The new league will feature a series of invite-only tournaments for 200 of poker’s best players. The venture united some heavy hitters from the poker world including former World Series of Poker Commissioner and current chairman and co-founder of FS+G, Jeffrey Pollack, and the new commissioner of the league, Annie Duke. While opinions regarding the new league fluxuate widely, I happen to think it will be highly entertaining and good for the game.
I had the opportunity to interview Duke earlier this week about the FS+G league and found out some details concerning the league’s inception, goals, and the similarities/differences between the new league and the now defunct Professional Poker Tour. I will admit that when I first heard about the new league, I had my reservations. In fact, I had two major concerns: (1) That the league was established simply to make a quick buck, and (2) the league would be a knockoff of the PPT. After the interview, however, my concerns were quickly laid to rest. Let me offer a closer look at each of my concerns.
(1) Was the league established to make a quick buck?
This was my initial concern since the league was entering a market already crowded with numerous tours like the NAPT, LAPT, WPT, WSOP-Circuit, and the EPT. After all, the aforementioned circuits are successful, so why wouldn’t another company want to cash in? This thought was quickly chased from my mind as soon as I learned that both Pollack and Duke were involved. These two individuals have done so much for poker that for them to develop a product that isn’t first-rate is simply unconscionable.
If you recall, Duke chose to stick with UB during some of its most troubling times to do right by the players. She could have easily abandoned ship and pursued other opportunities, ones that would have likely proven quite profitable, but she didn’t. In my opinion, she showed that there is more to poker than just money. Duke is a veteran of the poker industry and a player’s advocate. I feel confident that she wouldn’t attach herself to a new undertaking unless she was positive it would be the best, especially after what happened at UB.
As if Duke’s involvement weren’t enough, the project will also benefit from the wisdom of Pollack. After his departure from the WSOP, I thought Pollack’s poker days were done. I’m ecstatic that he felt there was more for him in poker. After all, his accomplishments with the WSOP brand were nothing short of amazing. He helped bring a game that was historically played in the backrooms of shady establishments into the spotlight while making it respectable in the public's eye. He made the WSOP a spectacle, and I can only imagine that he’ll do the same for this new league.
Between Duke and Pollack, I believe the new league will be a first-class event that is pleasing to both poker fans and players. Sure, they’ll probably make some money along the way (though I'm not sure how they will without sponsorship), but I say more power to them as long as they have a good product that is highly entertaining.
(2) Isn’t the league just going to be a knockoff of the PPT?
On the face of it, the answer is yes. The concept of bringing together the top players in the poker world certainly isn’t a new idea. If you recall, back in 2004-2005 the PPT launched on the Travel Channel and was fairly popular. Unfortunately, the PPT was canceled after its first season because of a shareholders dispute. All told, the PPT held five events, the same number planned for the new professional poker league and saw titles won by Erick Lindgren, John Juanda, Tom McEvoy, Lee Markholt, and Ted Forrest. I was actually a big fan of the PPT and sad to see it go, so it is no wonder I was excited to see the concept reborn.
So what will separate this new league from the PPT? As Duke explained, “Obviously there are some differences in the details, but I think a lot of it has to do with timing and the business plan . . . Number one is the timing. The PPT was very early in the poker game where players were still in the brand-building business and when the public was still becoming aware of who the great players really were . . . I think it’s a better time to try and create that kind of league. The other thing is, this leadership team that has been put together is so amazing in terms of the breadth of their knowledge . . . I think it’s just a leadership team that is really well suited for this endeavor.”
I certainly wouldn’t disagree with Duke’s second point about the leadership. I’ve touched on that topic above. With that said, I'll turn my attention to the issue of timing. Is this really a better time to try and create a professional poker league? I happen to think that not only is it a better time, it is the perfect time. The PPT was great, but it was a product of the poker boom. As such, there were many wrinkles that needed to be ironed out. One such wrinkle was the vast number of mediocore players or sponsorship-exempted qualifiers that filled the field. Sure, there were top players who managed to rise to the top, but they had to clear some "B-list" players. Don’t believe me? Take a look at some of the final tablists from various PPT events: Dennis Waterman, Casey Kastle, Ron Rose, Asher Derei, Allen Krell, and Chris Tsiprailidis.
Now that eight years have passed since the poker boom of 2003, poker’s top players have had the chance to differentiate themselves from the masses. We now have numerous superstars including Daniel Negreanu, Doyle Brunson, Tom “durrrr” Dwan, Patrik Antonius, Antonio Esfandiari, Michael Mizrachi, and Phil Ivey. These players, along with many others, have proven time and time again why they’re the best. Not only that, new players such as Daniel “jungleman12” Cates, Viktor “Isildur1” Blom, Tom Marchese, Dwyte Pilgrim and Liv Boeree continue to make names for themselves in the poker world. If this new league can bring all of these high-caliber players together, regardless of sponsorship affiliation, then that sounds like a pretty good idea to me.
This new league is a high-risk, high-reward proposition and a lot could go wrong if Duke and Pollack don't play their cards exactly right. That being said, both are experienced veterans of the poker industry, and I am excited to see some of my favorite poker players competing against one another. Speaking of which, what poker pros would you like to see invited to participate in this new league? Use the "comments" section to tell me your nominations and why you think they should be included.