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Global Poker Masters: Why Poker Players Need it to Succeed, and Why it Might Not

The Global Poker Masters (GPM) is a new, TV-friendly poker event that will be pitting some of the world’s best poker players against each other when it runs in March of this year. It is being organised and run by Alexandre Dreyfus and the Global Poker Index (GPI). The cards will be in the air on Malta just before the arrival of the first PokerStars EPT to grace the Mediterranean island. This timing isn’t a co-incidence as the EPT tournament staff are involved in organising the Masters, bringing some of the best tournament personnel to the tables in order to carry through the event.

It has been a long time since we’ve seen newly created, high-quality poker content on our televisions that hasn’t been generated just to expose online poker logos or other existing “big names” in the industry (the WSOP for example) to the audience. It’s the first time since the heady days of the initial poker boom that we have third parties inaugurating poker events that are, at their cores, designed to be televised, and in my mind, this is long overdue.

I am of the opinion that the next poker boom is going to be, at least in part, driven by the media, and if that is going to happen, events like the Global Poker Masters are going to need to be produced to the highest possible quality. On the other side of the coin, if events such as the GPM fail to satisfy viewers, it could have a very noticeable negative impact on the poker industry. The question that I think will be asked following a failure isn’t going to be: “What went wrong?” It is much more likely to be along the lines of: “If an event with the backing of the Global Poker Index can fail, how is it possible to succeed?” One high-profile failure could burn bridges for others trying to enter this arena regardless of the use of different ethos and methods. That’s why I have become more and more concerned by some of the decisions taken on the road to bringing the GPM to the public.

gpm_structure editThe Format:

The Global Poker Masters is to be contested by 8 country-based teams, with high-ranking players from the USA, UK, Canada, Germany, Russia, France, Ukraine and Italy offered seats in the event based upon their positions in the Global Poker Index rankings.

The format for the GPM event itself is currently split into three distinct phases. The initial stage covers the play from the first of the two days of action and consists of a large number of 8-person Sit & Go tournaments. Five tables will be running at the same time, and the games will all be “win the button” No Limit Hold’em. A 30-second shot clock will be in force.

After the action on Day 1 has finished, the teams will be ranked 1-8 based upon their performance during the day. The team in 8th place will be eliminated from the Global Poker Masters, and the team in 1st place will automatically confirm their berth in the finals.

The second phase starts on Day 2 with heads-up matches between the other six teams still trying to book a trip to the finals. It’s not clear from the GPM website how the points will be worked out, but it seems the goal is to have one, or more, 6-person “final tables.” These tables will be populated with the 1st place team from Day 1, the winning teams from the heads-up matches, and two of the losing teams from the heads-up portion of the event. The 6-max final tables will also be held in win-the-button format. This means only 2 of the 8 starting teams will not have a place in the final phase of the event.

The prizes for the “World Champion Nation” and “Masters’ MVP” have not been announced, and according to the GPM website:

“There will be a prize for the winning team at the Global Poker Masters, as well the player selected as MVP of the event. This prize will be fully funded by GPI and future event sponsors. As is the case with most sports, the specifics behind these prizes are not disclosed publicly. The reasoning: We want players and fans to follow the action at the table, the dynamics of the game and the thrill/ spectacle of the event – not simply check results lists to see who won what sums. The focus is on the game-in-play, not only the financial results.”

I have concerns about this format, mainly because I can see it causing difficulty in maintaining viewer engagement. The trouble begins with the 3 different table sizes for the games: 8-max, heads-up and 6-max. This is likely to make some viewers uncomfortable as it’s not plausible that the majority of viewers are going to be watching every single second of the coverage. They’re much more likely to dip in and out over the course of the event. Imagine a viewer, new to the game, getting comfortable with the 8-max action from Day 1, who then has to acquaint himself with the heads-up portion of Day 2, only to have to re-adjust again for the 6-max finals. A single format across all of the action in the Global Poker Masters is, in my view, much more likely to keep viewers engaged and also give the event an identity. Adding in the win-the-button part of the structure is a negligible issue for me. While it would be an unusual game to find at your local casino, it should improve the early aggression at the tables, giving the viewers more action to follow.

The overall format also has issues. With 6 of the 8 teams making the final phase of the event, the perception of jeopardy is significantly minimised, pretty much making the action from Day 1 and most of Day 2 irrelevant. I understand why the Global Poker Masters wants to keep 6 of the 8 TV markets interested in the action, but in doing so, they invalidate the idea that the early parts of the event are competitive by ensuring that almost every team makes it to the finals.

The fact that the prize pool isn’t announced prior to the event also makes it appear less competitive and could impact the way the final phase plays. Top-flight professionals factor in the prizes when they are making some of their decisions at the tables. Not having the prize pool announced additionally hurts the way the event is marketed. The EPT stream is questioned about whether the event is for real-money after mentioning the payouts every 15 minutes, so what is it going to be like when the GPM doesn’t talk about the prizes at all? You can’t take money out of poker. Money is how poker players keep score and is a fundamental part of the game. It’s almost like removing the points from the league table of the Premiership (The English Premier League is the world’s most watched football, or soccer, league); how would you know who’s doing well?

The Global Poker Masters is  part of Alex Dreyfus's attempts to "Sportify" poker

The Global Poker Masters is part of Alex Dreyfus’s attempts to “Sportify” poker

The Broadcast:

A big deal is being made about poker content on  Twitch.tv right now, and the Global Poker Masters has jumped on the band wagon by announcing that the event will be streamed on the platform. The thing is, I’ve never seen a GPI or GPM stream on the site. How are they expecting to gain the numbers needed to make an event like this work, when they are starting essentially from the ground floor. Other platforms for the live stream have been announced, but I’m working on the assumption that Twitch is planned to be the main streaming platform, given the focus being put on it. If this is the case, the GPM channel currently has no presence. I hope that plans are in place to build hype around the streaming options. Some pre-event streams from players that are confirmed for the GPM might be a way to grow a following before the big event starts, but going into the first day of a big event with the main streaming platform not established is a bad plan in my eyes.

I’m unaware if the announcers have been confirmed for the GPM, but given the interaction with the EPT, I’m guessing that the EPT cohort have been engaged to provide the usual fantastic coverage. Except, I think that’s a mistake. Don’t get me wrong, I love the EPT coverage, and I spend far to many hours sat at my desk watching the action and giggling like a school girl at all the in jokes on the broadcast. My issue comes from the fact the GPM isn’t building it’s own identity. By essentially tacking the GPM on to the front of the Malta EPT coverage, and using the same people to cover it, the GPM isn’t the headline event it should be. Maybe bringing in someone like David Tuchman to cover the GPM would help. I can’t really think of a better line up than the usual EPT one, but if I’m honest, I’m too biased in favour of the EPT coverage to be objective here.

Why is This Important?:

I think the success of the Global Poker Masters is important to everyone who plays poker whether they are a high stakes professional or only play a little online poker recreationally. The GPM has the opportunity to be broadcast around the globe, and with the GPI’s media profile, I’d be very surprised if it wasn’t. If the coverage doesn’t get the viewer numbers the broadcaster requires, it will be a big black mark against the idea of resurrecting high-quality poker TV shows. If the numbers are bad enough, it would make future poker show projects harder to bring to viewers. Broadcasters are not big fans of failing to maximise their incomes, and low viewer numbers are a big no-no for them.

As I’ve pointed out above, I don’t think the format is going to be a massive help in engaging the viewers, and I wish that the organisers had stuck to a simpler format. They shouldn’t be trying to re-invent the wheel, just change the way it’s being powered. Dreyfus and the GPI company he has built make a fantastic engine to drive this industry forward, but the Global Poker Masters seems to be made of square wheels.

I will be supporting the Global Poker Masters as best I can, and I urge everyone reading this to do the same. It’s a selfish thing. I want to grow the game I love, and one of the best ways that can happen is by engaging new players through the massive marketing power of television. While we should support this event, we shouldn’t be blind to its issues. It’s too late to change anything about it now, a mere 35 days before the cards hit the felt. I just hope Alex and the guys at GPI keep an open mind about the future of these kinds of events and remain receptive to constructive feedback from players, media, and most importantly, the viewers.

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