The inaugural Global Poker League Draft took place last week Thursday, when the league's 12 franchise managers selected their squads at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. Max Pescatori of the Rome Emperors was first on the clock and took Mustapha Kanit as the No. 1 overall pick before, one by one, the roster slots were filled.
Over the course of nearly five and a half hours, there was plenty of excitement, surprise selections, and even a few snubs, which leads us to PokerNews' breakdown of it all, so let's get to it.
|Rome Emperors||Montreal Nationals||New York Rounders|
|Mustapha Kanit||Mike McDonald||Jason Mercier|
|Dario Sammartino||Martin Jacobson||Tom Marchese|
|Timothy Adams||Pascal LeFrancois||Kevin MacPhee|
|Walter Treccarichi||Xuan Liu||Jason Wheeler|
|San Francisco Rush||Las Vegas Moneymakers||Sao Paulo Metropolitans|
|Phil Galfond||Anthony Zinno||Darren Elias|
|Tony Gregg||Jonathan Duhamel||Byron Kaverman|
|Kitty Kuo||Jake Cody||Thiago Nishijima|
|Anton Wigg||Jonathan Little||Joao Pires Simao|
|London Royals||Moscow Wolverines||LA Sunset|
|Igor Kurganov||Dzmitry Urbanovich||Fedor Holz|
|Vanessa Selbst||Vladimir Troyanovskiy||Olivier Busquet|
|Chris Moorman||Andrey Pateychuk||Eugene Katchalov|
|Justin Bonomo||Sergey Lebedev||Chance Kornuth|
|Berlin Bears||Paris Aviators||Hong Kong Stars|
|Brian Rast||Bertrand Grospellier||Weiyi Zhang|
|Sorel Mizzi||Davidi Kitai||Raiden Kan|
|Dominik Nitsche||George Danzer||Dong Guo|
|Jeff Gross||Mike Leah||Bryan Huang|
1. No Antonio
A couple of things stuck out as big surprises right from the start. The first was an announcement that came right before the start of the draft that Antonio "The Magician" Esfandiari had made himself disappear from the draft-eligiblility list.
With the draft philosophy and strategy I would have applied, Esfandiari would've been my top selection. Going into the draft, I tossed out the idea of ranking players at all based on skill. My reasoning for that was because if you were on the list of draft-eligible players, you should have enough poker ability to be able to compete in the events of the GPL. Part of this was that, from everything I understand, the events aren't going to be prolonged affairs with perfect tournament structures. These events are built for excitement and entertainment — you're not going to "sportify" poker with your run-of-the-mill poker event. With that thinking, I would've drafted with heavy bias towards marketability and personality of the character as it pertains to grabbing an audience.
When it was announced that Esfandiari was out, I was extremely surprised. Outside of him being a perfect pick for any of the franchises, the GPL fits Esfandiari's character in the game. He's marketable, extremely outgoing, not afraid to put himself out there as a bit wild when the cameras are rolling, and a player that will resonate highly with an audience.
I thought for sure Esfandiari would fall a couple spots right into the hands of Faraz Jaka and the San Francisco Rush's No. 4 overall pick. With Esfandiari's ties to the Bay Area, he'd have been a great fit.
2. The Selection of Darren Elias
I'm not sure if I'm more surprised that Darren Elias went as high as he did, going No. 6 overall, or the fact that he was drafted by Andre Akkari for the Sao Paulo Metropolitans, but the combination of those two things shocked the heck out of me. This pick seemed like a slam dunk obvious choice for Felipe "Mojave" Ramos. I thought Akkari would keep things Brazil-oriented and aim for marketability in that region, which is exactly what Ramos would provide.
For me, Elias just doesn't fit the mold of what I would be trying to do as a franchise manager. For as excellent a player as Elias is, I haven't seen enough of an outgoing personality when he's in events to think he would capture an audience, especially a Brazilian one.
This pick was a huge surprise both with how early Elias went and the team he was drafted by.
3. Selbst Falls
I mentioned that I pinned Esfandiari as my top draft selection for the GPL format, but Vanessa Selbst was a close second. I envisioned her going in a few different places in the first round, but in no way did I ever think she'd fall as far as she did.
If Bryn Kenney didn't take her for the New York Rounders given her ties to the Big Apple, then it was certainly going to be Chris Moneymaker drafting his fellow Team PokerStars Pro, right? If she happened to make it past those two squads, then I could've seen Akkari bypassing Ramos, who he could get a little later, and grabbing Selbst right there for the same reason as Moneymaker with the PokerStars connection. If for whatever reason Selbst dropped further, I'd have bet a large basket of biscuits that Maria Ho would've snatched her up. As it turned out, though, Selbst fell all the way to the second round.
When it was time for Liv Boeree to make her second-round selection and Selbst's name was still on the board, how could she pass her up? I spoke with Boeree after that pick, and both she and Igor Kurganov, her significant other and first-round selection, said they deemed Selbst entirely off the board because there'd simply be no way she would fall to them in the second round. Well, she did, and Boeree's London Royals squad landed a gem of a steal.
Who Got Snubbed?
1. The GPL
This one goes hand in hand with my No. 1 surprise, in that when it was made known that Esfandiari was no longer eligible for the draft, I couldn't help but think how much the entire Global Poker League had just been snubbed as an organization. This league was made for players like Esfandiari, and, maybe even more importantly, the league needs players like Esfandiari.
2. Fatima Moreira de Melo
The popularity of Fatima Moreira de Melo extends beyond poker, and I believe that's something the managers in the GPL needed to focus heavily on. With Moreira de Melo's notoriety as a top Dutch field hockey who won a gold medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, her friendly personality, and willingness to always go the extra mile for marketing and publicity efforts, she seemed like a no-brainer pick, especially by one of her fellow members of Team PokerStars.
3. Felipe "Mojave" Ramos
I'm still scratching my head as to why he wasn't drafted to the Sao Paulo Metropolitans. In a perfect world, think about how over-the-top cool it would be for Akkari to have drafted Ramos, who has a big following in his own right, and then leveraged that draft pick to land none other than Neymar as a wild card. Could you imagine?
4. Jason Mo, Justin Schwartz, and David Tuthill
We can learn a lot from the world of wrestling here, and before you laugh at me, I think you need to hear me out.
Having all "good guys" is a bad thing. All of these three players, Jason Mo, Justin Schwartz, and David Tuthill, whether you agree or disagree with their opinionated personalities, are extremely polarizing and could be seen as the heels, or villains, of the GPL. I think you draft them, you let them fire off on other teams and players at will, and you celebrate it. That's the spin here. The Global Poker League needs one of its franchises to be "the bad guys" — bold, brash, noisy — to be its nWo.
5. Justin Oliver
Justin Oliver deserved to get drafted, in my opinion, simply due to his show of willingness to market himself for the GPL. Oliver tried to go the extra mile in hopes of getting drafted, but I don't think he would've stopped there. I'm not sure there will be too many players drafted that will go the lengths Oliver might've gone to promote himself, his franchise, and the league had he been drafted. For that, I deem him snubbed.
6. Mohsin Charania
Being a great friend of Jaka, I had Mohsin Charania going to the San Francisco Rush. Charania has enough of a résumé to be someone who should make the cut, and the team can certainly play off the best friend relationship between Charania and Jaka.
Who "Won" the Draft?
When I think of "winning" the draft, I'm not necessarily looking at the team I think has the most poker talent on its roster that can then go on to win the league, because I don't think that's the most important win that franchises, and the Global Poker League in its entirety, should be aiming for with Season 1. The goal should be to win a market and win an audience, not to win the league. If you don't do the former, how is the league going to be successful? If you can't win over a market or an audience, it's not going to work.
Along these lines, the team I would deem "won" the draft the most would be the London Royals, but this results heavily on the fact that Selbst fell into the team's lap in the second round. I also like the combination of Boeree and Kurganov. It's no secret these two are dating and I think, if spun right, this can work for the team in a very positive way. Hopefully what it does is serve as an attraction to other couples interested in poker, even if one half of a couple is more interested in the other. We all know we get involved in things we never seemed to care about because of our significant others, and this could lead to exactly that.
Chris Moorman's draw is that he is online poker's top money earner. For those in the virtual realm that look up to Moorman as a legend, they'll have reason to be drawn to this team. He also works well on Boeree's team because he is British, providing a strong national foothold.
Justin Bonomo is an excellent player, but an interesting character. This team should easily recognize that it doesn't need to appeal to the diehard poker enthusiasts. The well-known names on the team will already do that, so they'll be left looking to resonate with the audience that isn't as in tune with poker, the non-diehards. For that, I'd look to tell Bonomo's entire story. I wouldn't avoid discussing the issues he's had in the past with online poker. Rather, you can use those issues as a tool to show how people make mistakes, learn from them, and grow. That's what matters most. Bonomo appears in every aspect to have done that, and he's now considered one of the top players in the game. That's the spin I'd take.
Who Had the Worst Draft?
This one was between the Hong Kong Stars and the Sao Paulo Metropolitans. I really hope I'm wrong, because Brazil and Asia have such massive potential as markets.
I discussed earlier why I didn't like the pick of Elias, and I'm not a fan of selecting Byron Kaverman, either. With this pick, I want to say that Akkari took Kaverman because of his pre-draft ranking according to the Global Poker Index, where he finished No. 1 as of Dec. 31, 2015. Kaverman is extremely quiet at the table, takes an incredibly lengthy amount of time with every decision, and is American, not Brazilian. This pick works against everything I would be looking to do.
Thiago Nishijima is the lone bright spot of the team for me, and I admit that I had Nishijima going to the Sao Paulo Metropolitans in my mock draft. Joao Pires Simao, though, certainly wasn't on my radar, and you can probably count on one hand how many people his name registered with when called. For as good a player as Simao may be, I'd much rather see this spot filled with a more marketable player, like Ramos.
If I'm going to continue my analysis based on how I would've approached the draft from a philosophical point of view, then I have to include the Hong Kong Stars as a "loser" in the draft. I think it's safe to say that anyone trying to predict the draft ahead of time deemed this franchise the biggest wild card, and it played out pretty much as expected, although it does appear Celina Lin was able to draft exactly who she wanted for her team.
In a pre-draft interview with PokerNews, Lin said: "As a player, I understand the excitement of playing poker, but, as a GPL team leader, I feel that one of the most important things is to grow the game of poker. I want to take the next step and build something bigger. As I grew up, I played many different types of games. I am happy to see that there is a market for professional gamers, which is very similar to being a poker player. I believe the GPL is one of the building blocks to making poker even more of a sport."
I applaud Lin for taking an approach more geared towards the marketability of her team members, but I'm just not so sure how marketable these four players are going to be on the global scale. The players might have strong Asian and eSports ties, but I think she's limiting her team's potential by getting a little too specific with her selections.
Wild Cards To Come
Not every member of the Global Poker League franchises has been determined yet, and next up will be each team's wild card selections. Each team manager must selection two wild cards to be apart of the franchise, and it is highly expected that each of the 12 will select themselves to join their squads, leaving one wild card. The teams will have a couple weeks to make these wild card picks, and when they do, PokerNews will have the information for you, so stay tuned.
For more information on the Global Poker League, click here.
*Image courtesy of the American Poker Awards/revolutionpix Incorporated.