Global Poker League

[SS] “Have you guys been watching the GPL?” Stan the Stat asked.

[FF] “What’s the GPL?” Figaro the Fish inquired.

[LL] “As a software developer, it means the General (or GNU) Public License to me, but that’s obviously not what Stan means”, Leroy the Lion contributed.

[RR] “My son used to play Grand Prix Legends on his PC a lot”, Roderick the Rock added.

[SS] “It’s the Global Poker League, which came from Alexandre Dreyfus’s Global Poker Index, which was the only thing that survived the Epic Poker League.”

[LL] “I’ve seen some highlights, but I don’t have time to watch full matches in real time. If only I could fast-forward the streams like a TiVo.”

[RR] “If you wait for the videos to be posted to YouTube,1 you can watch at 1.25x, 1.5x, or 2x speed”, Roderick the Rock suggested. “Just tap on the Settings gear icon and pick your favorite speed. When you pan, you can see screen thumbnails, so you can jump around pretty easily. Not exactly TiVo, but it’s not horrible.”

[SS] “Each match is much shorter than a baseball, basketball, football or hockey game. Blinds go up every eight minutes in the 6-max events and every four minutes in the heads-up events. Each player has a time bank (13 minutes for 6-max and 18 for heads-up), with just two seconds per action if they run out. When players bust in the 6-max events, their time gets split and added to the other players’ banks, but the total time available is under 80 minutes.”

[FF] “So it’s a league of individual players?”

[SS] “No, the league has twelve teams, split into two divisions. Months before the success of the WSOP team event in July, the GPL kicked off with a player draft on February 25.

A dozen teams selected four poker pros each from a pool of 203 players 2during a nearly five and a half hour snake draft. Like a Boston native selecting a preponderance of New England Patriots in a fantasy football draft, the inaugural GPL draft found several teams picking home grown talent. Because of the marketing requirement, however, these choices made much more sense than drafting the Patriots third-string running back. And those teams proved just as competitive.

Mustapha Kanit had the honor of being the first player selected, by the Rome Emperors. Most of the other early picks weren’t surprises — the next picks were Mike McDonald, Jason Mercier, Phil Galfond, and Anthony Zinno — but Hong Kong Stars captain Celina Lin went local for Weiyi ‘Wayne’ Zhang and Raiden Kan for her 12th and 13th wrap picks. The other big early surprise3 was who wasn’t picked: former GPI #1 Vanessa Selbst fell all the way to eighteenth, where Liv Boeree happily scooped her for the London Royals’ second pick.4

Two other women were drafted — Kitty Kuo (third round pick for the San Francisco Rush) and Xuan Liu (fourth rounder for the Montreal Nationals) — but the three female team captains all added themselves with one of their two wild card picks, making a reasonable six women out of 72 players. Only two captains, Andre Akkari (Sao Paulo Mets) and Philipp Gruissem (Berlin Bears), declined to play.5

Liv Boeree selected her significant other, Igor Kurganov, in the first round and Bryn Kenny took his brother Tyler as a wild card (each team had to pick two after the draft).

Maria Ho belatedly chose the surprise Aaron Paul as a wild card6. Although the Breaking Bad actor competed in the WSOP Main Event in 2015, he did’nt cash, so he still has won three more Emmy awards than he’s had live poker tournament cashes in the Hendon Mob database.

Five eligible players in the Global Poker Index top 50 weren’t selected: France’s Benjamin Pollak (#25), Canada’s Sam Greenwood (#33), Scotland’s Niall Farrell (#41), Scott Clements (#44), and Ankush Mandavia (#45).”

[FF] “So each team ended up with six players… How did the matches work?”

[SS] “The first ‘half’ of league play ran eight weeks from April 5 to May 26 (live streamed on PokerStars TV), with each team providing a player for two 6-max matches and one heads-up match per week. The 6-max matches award 7 points for first, 5 for second, 3 for third, 2 for fourth, and 1 or fifth. The heads-up matches award 3 points per win out of three games played.

The six-week “Summer Series”, which ran from June 6 to July 9, was just heads-up matches.

The second ‘half’ of league play ran for six weeks from September 20 to October 27. The first four weeks continued what happened in the first ‘half’, but the last two weeks each had just nine heads-up matches, so each team supplied a player twice in one week and once in the other.”

[FF] “Why so complicated?”

[LL] “I agree; that was a very strange schedule.”

[SS] “Well, it was what it was. But it certainly worked well insofar as both the Americas and Eurasia divisions were competitive and playoff spots were on the line all the way to the last week, when the London Royals leaped out of last place to beat out the Paris Aviators on tiebreak to make the playoffs.”

The Montreal Nationals won the GPL Americas division by 11 points over the L.A. Sunset, 16 over the Sao Paulo Mets, and 38 over the San Francisco Rush.
The Moscow Wolverines won the GPL Eurasia division by 7 points over the Hong Kong Stars, 11 over the Berlin Bears, and 15 over the London Royals.

The New York Rounders, who had by far the best average GPI ranking for the four players they drafted,7 outpointed the Royals but had the bad luck of being in the stronger division. The Rome Emperors and Las Vegas Moneymakers also failed to qualify for the postseason.

The playoffs will begin in the Las Vegas Cube on Tuesday, November 29 (4 teams playing down to 1, repeating the next day), with the finals on Thursday, December 1.

I don’t know if I’ll have time to watch it live on Twitch, but I definitely want to catch it at some point!”

Footnotes:

  1. The GPL, has the Global Poker League playlist (starts with Top 5 Silly Moments).
  2. The entire player pool had about $550 million in live tournament winnings; the 48 players drafted accounted for over 70% of that (over $400 million).
  3. Actually, the other big surprise happened just before the draft, when Antonio Esfandiari decided not to participate.
  4. Selbst ended up playing only three matches, so she actually didn’t drop far enough.
  5. The other player-captains are Chris Moneymaker (Las Vegas Moneymakers), Bryn Kenney (New York Rounders), Faraz Jaka (San Francisco Rush), Liv Boeree (London Royals), Anatoly Filatov (Moscow Wolverines), Fabrice Soulier (Paris Aviators), Max Pescatori (Rome Emperors), Marc-Andre Ladouceur (Montreal Nationals), Celina Lin (Hong Kong Stars), and Maria Ho (L.A. Sunset).
  6. Commissioner Kara Scott probably doesn’t have that much power and decided not to penalize the league’s first infraction. Paul ended up playing in just two heads-up matches, winning them both 2-1. He and ten other players failed to meet the six-game minimum but apparently that rule had no penalty attached to it, making it pointless.
  7. The New York Rounders’ first four picks were ranked #6, #24, #5, and #36. Every other team had at least two players out of the top 100 (the Berlin Bears were a distant second at #38, #110, #13, and #193, but the Wolverines picked up the highest ranking wild card to have #16, #42, #116, #612, and #34). Both the San Francisco Rush and Hong Kong Stars drafted nobody in the top 200 but made the playoffs. The ranking system of the GPI certainly will never be compared to the AP (college football and basketball) or ATP or WTA (tennis) for its predictive power, although much of that is because of much higher variance in poker.
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