Oct. 26, 2011, Posted by Submission
The inaugural season of the Epic Poker League is in full swing, and I think I speak for poker fans everywhere when I say, YAAAAWN.
We can't help it. We love the game. It's just that we're suffering from tournament poker burnout.
Think about it. There's the North American Poker Tour, European Poker Tour, Latin America Poker Tour, Asian Poker Tour, WSOP Circuit events, Heartland Poker Tour. There's even the Pacific Northwest Lesbian Poker Tour.
OK. Not really, but you believed it for a second.
There are a plethora of tournaments out there, none of which mean much. Take, for example, the invitational pro-only events. These short-lived experiments have never really caught on with the poker viewer. There was the Poker Superstars Invitational, which somehow made a tournament with a $400,000 buy-in boring. Then there was the Professional Poker Tour. Remember that? Sure you do. It was basically a $250,000 freeroll for poker pros, pseudo-celebrities and other hangers-on. Its efforts to be relevant failed miserably. Watching Randy Jensen freeroll for a chance to win 1/4 million does not entertain me. It puts me on life tilt. Mark Seif providing color commentary was only like the 5th worst thing wrong with it. The fact is, these types of invitational, "pro-only" events don't work.
Epic's slogan is "Players First" - a thinly veiled slap at Harrah's and the widespread belief amongst many in the poker community that the corporate suits at Harrahs care more about profit than players. The problem is that the slogan is "Players First” and not "Poker Fans First." The focus is on the 137 people who ponied up to play in the first leg. Perhaps they should pay some attention to the millions who want to watch poker, and who can (and will) dictate the future success of the televised version.
So far, Epic Poker League officials promise that the tournaments will be broadcast on CBS at a later date. The first Epic Poker Tournament aired on "Velocity", which I believe (and I'm not certain on this) is a television channel.
Nonetheless, all final table participants will receive a "Commissioner's Coin" - an engraved sterling silver coin, or basically the world's most expensive card protector. The winner of each leg will be awarded a "Champion's Ring," - a trinket even cheesier than it sounds, but one that is sure to be impressive to anyone named "Doug Lee."
David "Chino" Rheem became the first one to wear the "Champion's Ring." That is, assuming a mob of backers didn't pry it off his finger 30 seconds after the final river card fell. Rheem was actually disciplined by the new league after rumors surfaced that he had been heavily backed in the tournament and still owed money to past backers, many of whom reportedly were gathered at the cashier's window to secure their piece of his prize money. Then there are Howard Lederer and Jesus Ferguson. Both Full Tilt honchos had their Epic Poker League membership suspended due to the Full Tilt scandal. So public relations wise, the league is off to a wonderful start.
And yet, I want it to work. I want an exciting, action-packed tournament to watch. After all, it beats spending quality time with family members. It's just that the formula doesn't work.
Ironically, smaller-stakes, pro-deprived events like the Heartland Poker Tour catch my interest. I love watching these little tournaments. Give me two "nobodies" gunning for an $85,000 first place prize over two "pros" quietly playing yet another tourney for $1 million. For a guy who works as a mechanic, $85,000 is serious coin. Eric Seidel's 8th place Epic Poker League payout may pay his utility bills that month.
This is the fundamental problem I see with the Epic Poker League. It will be a drama-free, slow-paced, contemporary tournament held in a sterilized, boring room at the Palms, far removed from the charm, character, and ghosts roaming outside Benny's Bullpen at Binions. It will be filled with tables of the same attention-hungry pros we know, taking turns passing their money back and forth to each other. And the only drama will be watching to see which one of Chino Rheem's backers gets paid first.
And yet, I hope it succeeds.
Epic’s management team is first rate. Likeable and popular tournament veterans Matt Savage and Jeffrey Pollack have been involved from the start. The Epic Poker League organizational team is full of intelligent, poker-savvy leaders who are really respected and loved by the poker community. Annie Duke is also involved.
But the WSOP was here first. It has the glory, the numbers, and the significance. Its little brother, the World Poker Tour, holds a solid second place in the poker prestige department. After that, the falloff is steep. It's like the parents who have 12 kids; after the first two, you don't have time to watch the rest.
The magic of the WSOP is its drama, excitement, and history. It's real. You can't create poker tournament tension. Tension has to flow naturally, like when I'm at my in-laws. You can see the drama in the November Nine, but you can also see it in past WSOP tournaments re-run on ESPN Classic. I'll watch the final table of a $1,500 NL tournament from 2005, even when I know:
(a) Who wins it
(b) The exact order of finishes, and
(c) How each player busts out.
It's the WSOP, and somehow a seven year old tournament I've seen 11 times prior catches my attention longer than wondering if Freddy Deeb's big slick will win this race and help him move a couple spots higher up on the Epic League leader board.
Maybe Epic will become big and score massive ratings. Maybe the "Commissioner's coins" will overtake the place of WSOP bracelet in the prestige department. Perhaps Phil Hellmuth will one day brag about having "25 Epic Poker Champion's Rings."
But for now? Good luck Epic Poker League, I hope you do well. But I'm guessing the only folks who are truly interested in the outcome of your tournaments are Chino Rheem's backers.
-- Steve Beauregard
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