Do you need star power in poker?

February 24, 2011  

Star power. Does it have the attraction in poker as it does in other walks of life? For instance, do you head to Lowe’s to buy your plywood because Gene Hackman does the voiceovers in their commercials? Do women dye their hair with L’Oreal’s Feria products because Beyonce bounces her hair on the screen? Maybe.

But one thing we do know: In poker, wherever a star player is, so too will be the fans. Hats off to Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut for reuniting the November Nine in a historic $15K 30-player freeroll on Feb. 8. Players could qualify for this capped event through satellites, giving them a chance to rub elbows with world champ Jonathan Duhamel and the rest of the big names, such as Michael “Grinder” Mizrachi. Foxwoods deserves praise for not only giving East Coast players this opportunity (judging by the turnout at the Rio in November, only a select few actually witnessed it live the first time these nine came together), but for using the freeroll to help raise money for Bernard Lee’s new charity. And that’s when poker is at its best, when it’s raising money for special causes.

Normally we’d call the Foxwoods freeroll a made-for-TV event, except there was no TV. There was TV coverage, however, at Orange Park Kennel Club near Jacksonville, Fla., for the second annual Chad Brown No Limit Texas Hold’Em Championship. Brown returned this year to a $5K buy-in event and $50K buy-in televised cash game that drew some of the brightest stars of the poker galaxy. Players such as Victor Ramdin, John Racener (who also was at Foxwoods), Jason Mercier, Shaun Deeb, Corey Burbick, Tyler Smith, Andrew Robl and more flocked to northern Florida for a chance at big cash and TV exposure. Kudos goes to the Jacksonville staff for luring these great names with a quality event. Ante Up has teamed with Fallah Productions to provide the TV coverage and will have dates, times and networks for you in an upcoming issue.

Let’s get back to the importance of star power. What about your tournaments? We know having stars in the field would attract you as a spectator, as evidenced by the hundreds of onlookers who found their way to Foxwoods and Orange Park. But do you want the best in the world competing against you in events in your local cardroom? Of course! What better story to tell than one where you knocked out Mercier or the Grinder? Plus, how will you know how good you are unless you test yourself against the best?

That leads to our final point: What makes these players stars? Exposure. Would you know who Chad Brown was if you didn’t see him on TV or on the cover of a poker magazine? Nope, not unless you caught him on Caesars Challenge in the early ’90s. Yet you show up for events where he’s featured because you know who he is and you respect his game based on what you’ve seen on TV or read online or in periodicals.

What about made-for-TV poker shows? How does it feel knowing production companies and the large poker sites that sponsor them hand-pick the players? No qualification required. Shows such as Poker After Dark and The Big Game select players who will bring in the best ratings or who they want to see get famous. Do these players still deserve your admiration? Perhaps. They are, after all, pros and it is just a single-table entertainment/advertising vehicle.

But now there’s a new league created by Annie Duke, Jeffrey Pollack (the former World Series commish) and the Palms that is launching in Las Vegas. It only allows the 200 best players in the world (based on a formula they’ve created) to compete against one another on television, ala the PGA Tour. What does this tell you? That these players are tired of getting pipped by Average Joes for TV time? That televised poker tournaments never have been about quality of play but rather the entertainment factor? Didn’t they learn from the defunct PPT? That’s why ESPN has to have featured tables at the WSOP. Manipulating a seating assignment in an open event to put the best players all at one table would be grossly gratuitous and would tick off everyone, even the selected players, not to mention it’s against TDA rules.

So, what’s more important, a steady diet of current star power, or natural selection that creates the stars of tomorrow? You be the judge.

We’ll see you at the tables.

— Christopher Cosenza and Scott Long