The Epic Poker League lives up to its name [Editorial]

The Epic Poker League lives up to its name [Editorial]

Friday, 12 August 2011

Tonight marks the first final table of the Epic Poker League with just six players remaining in Event #1; a $20,000 6-max NL affair that saw 137 of the best players in the world competing for a first prize of $1,000,000.

Despite misgivings about the name, which many think is a tad juvenile, the event has been truly Epic thus far.

A turnout of 137 players is more than I – or I think anyone – expected. There are a total of more than 250 players eligible to compete in Season 1 of the Epic Poker League and to get over half of them to play in a $20,000 buy-in tournament where there will be few to no soft spots post-Black Friday is quite remarkable. The notable absences were the “old school” pros such as Scotty Nguyen, Mike Matusow and the Team Full Tilt guys still hiding away somewhere.

Of course, a large incentive is the “rake-free” nature of the tournament ($400 of each buy-in goes to the dealers, so effectively 2% rake which is still great value) and the $400,000 in added money injected into the prize pool that sent it to more than $3m and set up a seven-figure first prize for one of our six remaining players.

The 137 players got some play for their dollars as well; the Matt Savage tournament structure saw a 90BB average stack even in the closing stages of the event and the average stack at the six-handed final table is still 71BBs.

Simply looking at the players who made the money and the final table, discounting the other 119 who busted with their wallets twenty grand lighter, shows you how high-calibre this event truly is. Justin Bonomo, Hoyt Corkins, Matt Glantz, Sam Trickett, Isaac Baron, Sam Trickett and Adam Levy all made the money but busted outside of the final six that is made up of Hasan Habib, Jason Mercier, Chino Rheem, Erik Seidel, Gavin Smith and Huck Seed.

There’s the potential to see some incredible poker when this plays out on TV – a combination of the skill of the field plus the Savage Structure Supreme (TM) means that we’ll be watching intently when this thing is actually broadcast. Of course, this leads us to one of the negatives recently raised by Daniel Negreanu and others.

We, as poker fans, love seeing Jason Mercier and Justin Bonomo cold 5-betting light before cutting to the secondary feature table where Vanessa Selbst’s check-raise on the turn is 3-bet as a bluff by Isaac Haxton and she tanks over a hero call with third pair. However, the general, ESPN-and-WSOP-watching public still associate the words “poker pro” with the likes of Phil Hellmuth, Chris Ferguson, Scotty Nguyen and Howard Lederer – none of whom competed in the Epic Poker League’s first event. The no-show names, who arguably are behind the times poker-wise (certainly in shorthanded NL events), are the ones that viewers want to see.

As Negreanu put it: “there are only so many ‘I dropped out of college because I was making more money 24-tabling midstakes’ stories you can show”.

The Epic Poker League is in a dichotomy – it is at once a fantastic and bad idea. It’s fantastic because adding some kind of structure and championship system to poker is what the game needs. Golf and tennis have their majors, football has the Champions’ League, poker has... the WSOP? If so, which of the 57 events? The WPT? EPT? It’s a cluster-eff of events with no integration outside of independent rankings such as the Bluff Power Rankings. The Global Poker Index is incredible and the first step towards a cohesive tracking points system for global poker tournaments.

However, the large appeal of poker is the fact that anyone can win. Just ask your average American middle-class male in the years after the Moneymaker boom. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never held chips in your life; for one hand or even one entire tournament you can have the Matt Damon moment in Rounders: “I sat with the best, and I won.” Just don’t let that inspire you to put your roll on the table against John Malkovich.

In general, I’m all for the EPL. Annie Duke and Jeffrey Pollack have done a sterling job and the feedback from players who competed has been universally positive. Well, Allen Kessler complained about the structure but what’s new there?

However, I share some concerns with Daniel Negreanu (and not ones borne out of hating Annie Duke, she seems lovely). Namely; where are the recognisable faces? Where is the money coming from? Can you sell the public on the “new school” poker players that have come from online poker?

It seems to me that the future of the Epic Poker League as a profitable force in televised poker tournaments depends entirely on the future of regulated online poker in the US. In my book, that’s just one more reason to pray for quick regulated online poker across the Atlantic because I think that the EPL could well be the nuts. If it survives.

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Tags: Epic Poker League, Annie Duke, Daniel Negreanu