Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Professionals Leave the Table

Today Full Tilt Poker announced they aren’t renewing sponsorship contracts with Viktor “Isildur1” Blom and Gus Hansen, thereby jettisoning the last two sponsored pros from the site. Also gone (apparently) is the name originally given to the site’s “power trio” of sponsored pros -- Blom, Hansen, and Tom Dwan -- shortly after the launch of FTP 2.0 in November 2012: “The Professionals.”

Dwan left the band in December 2013. I wrote here then how the occasion inspired “thoughts of how the whole idea of poker celebs -- that different class of poker ‘professionals’ -- once such a very effective construct of online sites and abetted ably by the TV shows the sites sponsored, seems like something from an earlier era.”

Today’s news moves the needle even less. Hansen has long remained a figure of interest to many thanks to his win in the very first televised World Poker Tour event way back in 2002, his high-level involvement with FTP as a member of Team Full Tilt, and his continued participation in the “nosebleed” stakes games on the site where he’s reportedly lost over $20 million, including more than $17 million on the site during the last two years (according to High Stakes DB).

Blom, too, has fascinated many ever since the mysterious “Isildur1” showed up to challenge all of those Team Full Tilters and the rest of the world in late 2009. I’ve written here many times about Blom, including how intriguing it was to report on him at the WSOP. High Stakes DB shows Blom sitting around break-even during his almost two years playing on FTP 2.0, having been up nearly $6 million during the first six or seven months before falling back down to where he was on the site back in November 2012 (down a few milly).

The last post I wrote here about Hansen was in January 2013 when just a couple of months after FTP 2.0 went live he fired off some tone-deaf tweets in defense of Howard Lederer that were dismissive of just about the entire online poker community. The title of that post, “Ungrateful Gus; or, Hansen on High,” suggests how his thoughts were received here. The last one I wrote about Blom was right about the same time, the title of which was a response to enthusiastic tweets from the FTP account reporting his presence at the high-stakes tables on the site: “Blasé About Blom.” Again, the title is an indicator of the attitude expressed in the post.

Today the dissolution of “The Professionals” altogether brings a different thought to mind about the significance of sponsored pros to online sites. I actually think they can serve a great purpose, even today, not just in helping attract players and building sites’ presence, but in helping to advocate for poker, generally speaking. The Team PokerStars Pros are an obviously well managed example of this, with players all over the world doing a lot to help explain and promote poker to wider audiences in their respective countries.

I’m realizing today, though, that FTP’s “Professionals” idea -- a dim echo of Team Full Tilt from the start -- had very little to do with establishing and strengthening connections among members of an online poker community. Rather, its whole ethos was to emphasize the impassable distance between Hansen, Blom, and Dwan and the unwashed masses.

The spectacle of watching “The Professionals” play for high stakes was mildly diverting for some, but hardly inspiring for most, particularly given the seeming apathy -- or even antipathy (in Hansen’s case) -- they appeared to have for the poker community as a whole.

In fact, the news of the end of the “The Professionals” makes me think of what a table full of amateurs might say to each other after a pro player finally gets up to leave after having made things difficult for them for the previous several hours.

“Glad he’s gone.”

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