The post-boom poker world is certainly a busy place, what with countless low- to high-stakes tournaments running around the globe almost daily, players constantly beefing on social media and millionaire prop bettors there to fill any void with all of their maniacal side action.
Things got even busier this week with the kick off of the much-anticipated Global Poker League. The league brings with it a promise to change the poker landscape, "sportifying" the game and moving it from a player experience to one of a fan. There are a whole lot of hopes and dreams wrapped up in this single endeavor, and while it looks on paper like it could work, the question after the first few days of matches is: Did it?
1. The GPL Kicks Off, Turns Off
I'm rooting for the Global Poker League. I want to "sportify" poker as much as the next guy. Yes, I will drink the Kool-Aid. But if Mediarex boss Alex Dreyfus' dream of making poker the next eSport and filling stadiums with fans cheering on their GPL heroes is ever to come true, it's going to take heck of a lot more than what the GPL showed us in it's first couple of days.
The online presentation of the first matches was amateur hour, with countless graphic and audio issues, giving the GPL a not-ready-for-prime-time feel. As a commentator, Sam Grafton was a mumbling disaster out of the gate, and while partner Griffin Benger appeared knowledgeable enough to satisfy poker's hardcore, his is hardly the kind of analysis that's going to bring new players or fans to the game.
The first six-max matches were barely watchable, with zero interaction between the players. They brought in webcams for the heads-up matches on Day 2, but staring at the mostly blank expressions on the faces of Randy Lew and Sergey Lebedev as they clicked buttons could hardly be considered sport or entertainment. The Twitch chat was set to flame the whole time and the bottom line is if the GPL wants to create fan interest in the game, they are going to need to bring the players to life a lot more than they did to kick off the league.
The lone bright spot was really the chance to see Davidi Kitai play. The mad Belgian's unconventional style and uncanny reading ability shone through in the early matches and it appears the Paris Aviators have at least something to build on.
Outside of Kitai, the good news is this was just the start, and the league will have a lot of chances to improve over it's inaugural season. The broadcast product should get more polished with time and when the move is made from online to live play, the personalities of some of these players should start to shine. Let's hope they do, because so far, the GPL has done anything but.
2. Say It Ain't So, Joe
2015 World Series of Poker Main Event champ Joe McKeehen took to Twitter last month to rant about the early 11 a.m. start times planned for the 2016 WSOP.
While the the reigning champ is certainly entitled to his opinion, it was more than a little disappointing to see him blame the media for the changes, claiming "players have been getting shit on because of media ever since [he] started started playing live poker."
At the ripe old age of 24, that amounts to the better part of three years, and apparently not long enough to form any kind of truly educated opinion about who rules the roost when it comes to live tournament poker. The truth is, the media has little to no say about tournament scheduling, structures, or play. Daniel Negreanu, who some have suggested may have way too much influence over such things, fired back at McKeehen on Twitter, saying as much.
Perhaps the champ would have been better served by looking into who made the changes and why, before he took his beef to social media. If he was simply just looking to take a shot at the poker media, maybe he should have gone after the numerous outlets that spelled his name wrong in the lead up to his win. But to lay the blame for these scheduling changes at the media's feet is just simply wrong.
Heck, if the media had any real influence on how tournaments were run, PokerNews Editor-in-Chief and 2015 American Poker Awards Media Person of the Year Donnie Peters would have been calling the clock on habitual tanker Marvin Rettenmaier and the like long ago.
3. PokerNews, Urbanovich Should Dominate
The list of finalists for the 15th edition of the Global Poker Index European Poker Awards have been released and PokerNews is well represented in the media categories.
Favorites to take home the hardware from the May 3 ceremony during the European Poker Tour Grand Final include PokerNews.nl's Frank Op de Woerd and contributor Remko Rinkema, who are both nominated for Media Person of the Year.
Rinkema is also in the running for Poker Media Content of the Year thanks to a Remko Report podcast he did with Eli Elezra, and finds himself up against an article celebrating the life of Dave "Devilfish" Ulliott by Jesse May and Mickey May that also appeared on PokerNews.
There's no disputing Polish poker phenom Dzmitry Urbanovich dominated the European poker scene last year, and continued to do so early in 2016, winning the EPT Dublin Main Event. While German wunderkind Fedor Holz earned enough GPI points to edge him out in the already decided Player of the Year category, Urbanovich is up for two additional awards, including Breakout Player of the Year and Moment of the Year.
If these awards are to maintain any sort of credibility, Urbanovich will win them both. Nobody has broken in, or out, like this kid, and while winning the crazy pineapple event at EPT Malta doesn't sound like a big deal, the fact it was his unprecedented fourth win of the festival is a monumental moment, and achievement, by any standards.
4. Houston, We Have A Problem
To virtually no one's surprise, Bill Perkins has lost yet another massive prop bet, and this time no one had to relieve themselves in a bucket to beat him — at least I don't think they did. OK, maybe they did.
But really, all that Instagram juggernaut Dan Bilzerian had to do was stop taking glorified selfies alongside chesty beauties holding toys from his family war chest for a day or two and make the 300-mile bike ride from Las Vegas to Los Angeles in under 48 hours. Word is he spent close to $150,000 on equipment and hired the cycling world's most notorious cheater to teach him to draft behind a van in order to get it done, and as a result, he was able to collect $600,000 from Perkins and possibly countless more in side bets from his crew of fellow trust fund babies.
Perkins clearly likes putting people to the test and appears more than willing to put his money where his mouth is. Who knows what will be next, and what lengths Perkins' next foe will go to to collect a chunk of his seemingly endless bankroll. The only thing we can be sure of is that Perkins won't be likely getting the best of it. In fact, while he appears to be a super nice guy, his label as high-stakes fish at the poker table is only preceded by his reputation as a prop-betting whale willing to lite fire to hundreds of thousands of dollars on a lark.
Based out of Houston, Texas, Perkins can certainly do what he wants with his money, and while I'm sure he's an active philanthropist already, here's hoping his next prop-betting foray involves some kind of charitable initiative. These prop bets are fun and exciting, but I can't help thinking if Perkins' aim is to give it all away, there has to be a more deserving recipient than baby boy Bilzerian.
5. Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangster
It has been a little over two weeks since PokerNews ran my interview with Malaysian high-stakes gambler Paul Phua, and it has quickly become on of the most read articles on the site this year.
With that many views comes many varying opinions and some of the public comments on the article have suggested Phua was less than truthful and PokerNews was paid to run what amounts to a puff piece in his defense.
The undeniable facts are that the charges against Phua for running a boiler-room style bookie operation at Caesars Palace during the 2014 WSOP were dropped, the FBI's allegation he is a high-ranking member of the infamous 14k Triad Chinese organized crime syndicate were found baseless, and Phua himself has done pretty much nothing but play poker, eat, and sleep for the better part of the past eight years.
Before becoming a part of the poker media at the 2007 WSOP, I worked as a crime reporter and I met my fair share of gangsters in that line of work. My personal opinion about Phua, after sitting down with him in Manila, Philippines, for the interview, is that he's a gambler, a junketeer, a family man, a chain-smoker, and anything but a Triad.
It's also the same opinion shared by numerous high-stakes pros with untarnished reputations, including John Juanda and Andrew Robl, who both took to Twitter after the article ran, praising it as the truth.
Phua did not pay PokerNews to conduct the interview. He did it because the many rumors and allegations regarding his affiliations with the Triads have spread across dozens of media outlets and have now had an effect on his business and the reputation of his family name. In my opinion, PokerNews ran it because it's newsworthy and shines a little light on a very interesting member of the poker community.
Phua really did it to put all these rumors to rest, and hopefully now, he finally can.
*Please note that the thoughts and opinions expressed in this article reflect those of the author.