Editorial: Where the Epic Poker League has gone wrong

Posted by Steve Ruddock on Dec 27, 2011 Posted in Epic Poker League News, Op-Ed | No Comments »

Let me start this article with the admission that I’m a fan of the Epic Poker League. I like the idea of rewarding the best players, and I absolutely love anything “new” that comes along in the stale world of poker. Despite my hopes that the Epic Poker League will thrive, I have also been a harsh critic of some of their decisions, as well as what is proving to be the tour’s Achilles Heel, the exclusivity.

I understand we are only three tournaments into the EPL at this point, and success doesn’t happen overnight, but the press releases and announcements have been bombarding followers of poker for close to a year now, and the pressure has been on since the outset for the EPL to produce!

So where is the Epic Poker League at this point? The first event went perfectly, a decent turnout and a $1 million first-prize. But, overall the tour seems to be stagnant, producing three tournaments with attendances of 130, 97, and 100 –including the second “Pro/Am” event which the EPL had to add money to.

In my opinion there are a few commonalities when it comes to prestigious poker tournaments (you’ll notice history is not on this list): Growth; the $1 million metric; the biggest names come to play. If I were grading the EPL in these three categories they would receive a D, a B-, and an F.


It will be hard for the Epic Poker League to ever grow, since there will always be a void of the top players (I’ll explain this a little later on) until they change their exclusivity formula. First of all they have limited themselves to the Top 300-400 players in the game, but the only ones who can afford the buy-in are the millionaire’s club guys, and the players with heavy backing.

The best-known players (who thanks to their busy schedules are no longer at the top of their game) have little interest in playing in a grueling poker tournament where they are likely to have negative equity.

Furthermore, the up-and-coming players (who would relish the chance to play these tournaments) are shutout due to the EPL’s tour-card policy. There are literally people who have won millions of dollars at the poker tables who are not eligible to play in these tournaments! Liv Boeree, Daniel Cates, Phil Galfond, Galen Hall; sorry guys, unlike Tony G you are NOT Qualified!

There is only one way for the EPL to grow and that is to open up the tournaments to the public. The $20,000 buy-in is enough to keep the donkfest fields away (this isn’t a $1k NLHE event at the WSOP after all). And if somebody wants to cough-up the $20,000 buy-in to get slowly grinded down thanks to the slow structure the EPL uses so be it. Look at the field sizes of the $25k WPT Championship, or the $25k and $50k tournaments at the WSOP. The total entrants are manageable (typically under 200) and there aren’t too many weak spots in those fields, and they didn’t need to bar players from entering to accomplish it!

Of course, this leads to the issue of what reward do the players receive?

Instead of adding $400,000 to the prize-pool, and the “privilege” of getting to play in the tournament, why not reward the top 25 (or whatever number seems reasonable and financially feasible) players on the Global Poker Index with a reduction in the buy-in, and lesser ranked players (maybe the top 50 or 100) with free accommodations or something similar? In my mind this is a far better way to spread around the $400,000 added to every tournament’s prize-pool. This would also make the Global Poker Index a far bigger achievement in the player’s eyes as they are getting something out of it –which would in turn boost tournament poker everywhere, and not just for the EPL as players try to climb up the GPI rankings.

The $1 Million Metric

This has been something of a rallying cry for me for years now. We are no longer in 2004 when people were amazed at seeing someone win $500,000, $800,000, or even $1.5 million in a poker tournament. After hundreds upon hundreds of poker tournaments you are not going to grab the public’s attention with anything less than a $1 million first-prize. This is especially true after the 2005-2007 tournament years where players were winning $2+ million in WPT tournaments.

The first thing the EPL should do, starting tomorrow, is to give every tournament a $1 million first-place guarantee. This not only helps after the fact, as online news outlets are far more likely to make space for “So-and-so wins $1 million poker tournament” than “So-and-so” wins $864,566 in poker tournament”, but also in attracting players to the event. This is something PokerStars has learned over the past few years, guarantee a big first-place prize (even if it’s extremely top-heavy) and let the players cut their own deals if need be. The Partouche Poker Tour also uses this top-heavy structure and look at the headlines they have garnered over the past two years.

The Biggest Names

Poker is a long-term game, every good poker player knows this, but for whatever reason this seems to escape the EPL brass. It’s great to try to make a story out of your eventual winner (the WSOP has been masterful in this regard) but the real money –known as press for an upstart poker league—is made when something historic happens. In the best circumstances a historic tournament win is a long-shot, but without the biggest names in poker in attendance this has zero chance of happening.

The WSOP can’t capture Phil Hellmuth’s 12th bracelet win if he isn’t there, and the EPL will never be able to tout Daniel Negreanu, Gus Hansen, Doyle Brunson, Phil Ivey, Tom Dwan, et al. as EPL Champions if they are not regulars in their events.

So, even though the Tom Marchese’s, Sorel Mizzi’s, and Eric Baldwin’s of the world are terrific poker players and well known within the poker community, if the EPL wants to capture mainstream attention (think Black Friday and WSOP Main Event) they will need a SUPERSTAR from the poker world to win a prize of over $1 million. Every major news outlet from the Huffington Post to Bloomberg would cover a story where Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, Phil Ivey, Tom Dwan, or some similar top poker name wins a $1.5 million tournament against the top 175 poker players in the world. BUT, in order for this story to happen the above three things –Growth, the $1 Million Metric, and the Big Names– have to be in place.

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