Friday, January 23, 2015

Talking Team Poker and the Global Poker Masters

Was reading here at week’s end about this new Global Poker Masters event scheduled for March 21-22 in Malta in a couple of articles appearing over on the All In site -- one by Storms Reback criticizing called “Empty Cup?” and a response Alex Dreyfus, CEO of Global Poker Index (who is sponsoring and organizing the event), titled “Masters Plan.”

Like you (probably), I’d become aware of the Global Poker Masters via a few tweets and other random references here and there, but hadn’t really paid too much attention to it. As a quick look at the very detailed and sharp-looking Global Poker Masters website confirms, the event will involve eight national teams each made up of five players competing against each other for the title of “World Champion Nation.” Here’s the trailer they’ve created for it:

The nations involved are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and the United States (making it more a North America-Europe competition than a “world” one). I think that ideally each team’s players would have been the highest-ranked ones according to the GPI, but in reality they’ll mostly consist of the highest-ranked players who would commit to playing. I’m not sure, actually, how the teams are being formed, but there will be four players (with high GPI rankings) plus a “wild card” player on each.

I believe the format resembles that of the Americas Cup of Poker that recently played out at the PCA with sit-n-gos the first day then heads-up matches the second (I wrote a couple of posts about the Americas Cup here and here). There are still a couple of months to go to learn how it all works, and the GPI has already done pretty well to start getting word out about the event. It will be live streamed as well on the Global Poker Masters website and other places, too, so there will be more attention drawn to it in March for sure.

The event is being referred to as “Poker’s World Cup,” and Reback’s editorial begins with him asking the question “Does poker really need its own version of soccer’s World Cup?” He goes on to wonder why attempts keep being made to take poker, a “quintessentially individual pursuit,” and shoehorn it into a team game. Reback takes issue with the anointing of the event’s winners as “the world champion.” He also mentions the efforts of the GPI and Dreyfus to “sportify” poker -- that is, to promote the game’s affinity to other sports (including its skill component) in order to widen its mainstream appeal. “But I don’t see how this two-day team poker event is going to achieve that end,” opines Reback.

In his response, Dreyfus correctly notes that just because previous attempts at team poker haven’t been successful, that shouldn’t necessarily make it wrong to keep trying. (In fact, Dreyfus brings up a longer list of failed attempts than did Reback.) He notes events like golf’s Ryder Cup and the Davis Cup in tennis as analogous examples to this effort to make a team game out of an individual one. Dreyfus also clarifies that the “world champion” tag for the winning team is hardly meant to usurp the one given to the WSOP Main Event winner.

To me Dreyfus’s most interesting point about the Global Poker Masters comes in a digression where he explains that “To promote poker in the mainstream, we need to create content and excuses that appeal to the journalists,” going on to identify sports as the “vertical that best fits poker.” In other words (if I’m following), present poker in ways that more closely resemble sports -- including creating new versions of the game (like the team format) -- and you’re more likely to generate more interesting coverage and perhaps capture the interest of a new audience.

While I’m not sure I entirely agree with the idea that sports provides the best available avenue via which to increase poker’s appeal, when Dreyfus goes on to complain about the numbing repetition of much current poker reporting, I can’t really dispute his point. “But honestly, aren’t sports journalists tired of always seeing the same headlines?” asks Dreyfus. “‘This new random name won $1.2 million in another poker tournament.’ These are the same headlines we’ve been reading for 10 years. There is (almost) no innovation in the way we serve poker to the media.”

He’s not blaming the reporters for reporting on poker tournaments the same way over and over and over again (although he could have), but rather is finding fault in the game itself for failing to generate anything innovative -- at least since those earliest stories of players becoming millionaires in tourneys lost their novelty.

Reback ends his article expressing considerable apathy about the Global Poker Masters, idly speculating about which team might be a favorite, then adding “That is, if I even bother to watch, which, given my current lack of enthusiasm, seems highly unlikely.” Meanwhile Dreyfus concludes with references to the enthusiasm of the players who have committed and that of the GPI and its partners in the project.

The event is obviously more of an exhibition than anything, and while it will likely showcase some skillful poker being played it won’t be nearly the demonstration of talent we saw at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure earlier in the month. (See my interview with Jesse May at the PCA for more on that topic.) But I’m definitely more intrigued to see how it plays out than is Reback, as well as to see what kinds of stories the event produces and whether or not they are more interesting than the usual poker narratives.

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