The Federated Sports and Gaming Commission [Editorial]

The Federated Sports and Gaming Commission [Editorial]

Friday, 20 May 2011

I will admit that when I first heard about the new poker league set up by Annie Duke and former WSOP commissioner Jeffrey Pollack, I was sceptical. This was because of several reasons – firstly, this kind of thing had been tried before (Mike Sexton’s Professional Poker Tour) and didn’t work out too well. Secondly, we were assured that the league would contain “the best poker players in the world; the players that the viewing public want to watch.”

Now, you know and I know that those two clauses are not only contradictory, they’re completely oxymoronic. There is for sure some overlap in the categories of “World’s Best Poker Players” and “Poker Players People Like Watching on TV” but outside of Phil Ivey and Tom “durrrr” Dwan we’re running thin on the ground. Sure, people love watching the likes of Mike Matusow and Phil Hellmuth, but the former hasn’t been anywhere near the best player in the world (not even the top 100 in No Limit Hold ‘em) since the 1990s. The latter insists he is the best in the world but honestly, he would not be in my top 500 players to back in the WSOP Main Event, eleven bracelets or not.

People want to watch the 2003-era pros playing poker because that’s who they, in the poker sense, grew up with. It’s why Pierce Brosnan is my favourite Bond despite all evidence to the Connery. Sorry, one can’t miss such great punning opportunities. So the viewing, non-seriously-poker-playing public want to see Hellmuth check in the dark and then fold the second nuts to a minbet bluff from Mike Matusow while Tony G mouths off in the corner. Everyone who knows even a little about poker, though, realises that the best players in the world are the likes of Viktor “Isildur1” Blom, Isaac Haxton, Phil Galfond, Daniel “jungleman12” Cates. They aren’t “TV pros” though (give them a few years) and that’s the problem. You need balance between the players that the public want to watch and the players that the players want to watch; it’s a heavily weighted range towards the TV pros though, which makes sense from a business standpoint.

That’s what I thought. Note the past tense. Now that the criteria for membership has been released, alongside a 219-strong list of players, I’m much more impressed with what Duke and Pollack have done. Based on tournament earnings lifetime (tournaments must be open events with a buy-in greater than $1,500 and more than 21 entrants), the league awards membership cards in the same way as golf’s PGA. These cards run from 5-year memberships (those with $4m in earnings with no single cash over $2m, three major – WPT, WSOP, EPT – titles and nine cashes for $600,000 since 2008) to the lower category of 2-year memberships ($1.25m won with no single cash over $750k and at least nine cashes worth $600k since 2008) with some in-between. Click here for a full list of rules and qualifying criteria.

In total, 27 players made the 5-year membership cut. Considering that 5 years ago, PartyPoker and Paradise Poker were the largest online poker sites and the Main Event was topping 8,000 entrants, five years in poker terms is an absolute lifetime. This mostly consists of the old school “TV pros” – not that some of them such as Scotty Nguyen, Chris Ferguson and even, sigh, Phil Hellmuth, don’t deserve it – though Vanessa Selbst snuck in to the 5-year membership. The list is actually a great combination of the old-school pros and the newer generation with Eugene Katchalov and Bertrand Grospellier alongside Antonio Esfandiari and Johnny Chan. As an aside, Daniel Negreanu got a 5-year membership, natch. Considering his dislike for Annie Duke I’ll be interested to see where that goes.

So, overall, I like it. The qualifying criteria ensures no Jerry Yang/Jamie Gold style luckbox entrances and the various cards are as much of a measure of skill and ranking in tournament poker as we’ll ever get. Dusty Schmidt recently blogged that he believes poker in the US needs an overseeing and regulatory commission run by players – this could be a step in the right direction.

The events, scheduled throughout the year with $20,000 buy-ins, look set to be great television and great poker. That’s a rare thing. In my opinion this could really, really take off even post-Black Friday. Hell, especially post-Black Friday: the decision to not take major site sponsorship could be one of the best calls Annie Duke has ever made.

Tags: Federated Sports and Gaming Commission, Editorial, Matt Perry, Phil Ivey, Annie Duke, Tom Dwan, Durrrr, Phil Hellmuth, Scotty Nguyen, Isildur1, Vikto Blom,