Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The ISPT, a Poker Cipher

I just did a search of the blog to see if I had ever written a single word here about that long planned for International Stadiums Poker Tour event. I’m sure you’ve at least heard of it, although if you have it hasn’t been here on this blog as I couldn’t turn up a single reference.

As a result, I can’t really say when exactly I first heard anything about the ISPT and its idea to stage some sort of massive poker tournament at Wembley Stadium in June 2013. Searching around I’m seeing others starting to refer to the Tapie group -- i.e., the same ones behind that failed bid to purchase the zombiefied Full Tilt Poker -- back in late 2011, so it had to have been around that time I began hearing about it, too.

Those references describe a $30 million guaranteed poker tournament slated to happen in the fall of last year at the huge London stadium over the course of several days. Would start with players, perhaps 30,000 of them (?), sitting in the stands playing shootouts on laptops, apparently, reducing the field down to what would eventually be a final table right there on the pitch.

There were lots of reasons why I paid little heed to the ISPT. Seemed super weird and foolhardy in those months following Black Friday for anyone to be cheerleading for some sort of ultra-mega-bigger-than-anyone-has-ever-witnessed type poker event. Whatever it was, it was not happening in my country, which probably further diminished my interest. And it seemed at first like a total fiction, a bit like some of the fanciful scenarios occasionally portrayed in advertisements by PokerStars and others showing poker being played in a stadium à la the Super Bowl or something.

Over the next year-and-a-half, we’d continue to hear things about the ISPT and the big tournament, including announcements about the guarantee going down (to zero, now), the event being rescheduled to 2013, and occasional bursts here and there regarding the sponsorship of players. Pro-ISPT tweets would occasionally appear coming from this or that pro player, indicating he or she had been signed on to help promote the event.

But again, no one really cared. The sponsorship thing in particular seemed mostly ornamental, with the transparently faux commitment of the tagged players helping further this sense that what we were really dealing with here was some sort of elaborate, expensive, interactive performance art piece involving the poker community.

To draw a comparison, some have adopted a kind of mild cynicism regarding Ivey Poker’s frequent indications of “more to come” as well as its having brought something like 50 players into its fold by now (with the recent acquisition of Leggo Poker).

That said, when Greg Merson won the WSOP Main Event last fall as one of the first to sign with Ivey Poker, people gave some attention to the patch he wore, much as they did when Dan Shak final tabled both the Aussie Millions Main Event and the $100 Grand Challenge last month and when Matt Giannetti won the WPT Lucky Hearts Open in Florida yesterday -- two more Ivey Poker pros registering some big scores. No one knows yet what being an Ivey Poker pro really signifies, but it still carries some sort of significance as observers remain interested in seeing what comes of the website.

Meanwhile, when Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi won that WSOP Circuit-affiliated event down in South Africa last week, absolutely no one said “Hey, that’s really good for the ISPT.” Sure, he’s one of the pros who’s apparently been given a few bucks to allow the site to use his likeness and to sport a patch. But since practically no one understands or cares about what the ISPT is, it’s not coming up in the conversation at all.

I did overhear some players at the EPT Deauville Main Event jokingly refer to the ISPT, kind of characterizing the whole thing as a big ruse to be avoided at all costs. It sounds like some sort of online qualifying has actually begun for the event, but almost no one is participating. Barry Carter yesterday posted an interesting update of the ISPT in the form of advice to other, would-be tourney promoters in an article for Poker Media Pro titled “Poker Marketing Lessons from the International Stadiums Poker Tour” -- worth a read, if you’re at all curious about where this sucker stands at present.

The article helps confirm what I think most of us have been suspecting pretty much from the first time we heard of the International Stadiums Poker Tour. That is, that “ISPT” continues to seem more a cipher than an actual signifier of anything in particular. In other words, it probably represents nothing at all, sort of like someone shoving all in when the five community cards already form an unbeatable Broadway straight. Feels like its chances of success are about the same as someone failing to make the call there, too.

See Carter’s article for more. He helps us perhaps consider drawing some sort of larger symbolism from whatever ISPT is doing, something indicative of the poker world as a whole and the seemingly constant presence of such “weird lines” in the way people try to find different, unusual ways to battle for what is really mostly a small pot.

A cipher can signify nothing, an absence. Or it could unlock a secret message. Perhaps ultimately the ISPT will come to mean something about the poker world, although my guess is the meaning will either provide a momentary distraction or be ignored altogether.

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