At 7 p.m. on Friday, March 20, in a quaint ballroom in the bowels of the Hilton Hotel, the first-ever Global Poker Masters (GPM) got underway. Not with a traditional "shuffle up and deal" — that'd come a day later — but with a festive draw party catering to a mix of players, tournament officials, and the media.
The two-day GPM, the brainchild of the Global Poker Index's Alexandre Dreyfus, will see 40 of the world's most elite players, each representing one of eight countries, battle in a series of heats to determine the best of the best.
It will begin with the Playoffs — 25 total eight-max matches played in five rounds of five concurrent matches — which will be followed by the Quarterfinals, Semifinals, and Finals. For more info on how it will all work, click here.
Here's a look at the eight teams in this year's GPM. Click on each for more information:
- 2015 Global Poker Masters Team Profiles: Russia and U.K.
- 2015 Global Poker Masters Team Profiles: France and Italy
- 2015 Global Poker Masters Team Profiles: Canada and Germany
- 2015 Global Poker Masters Team Profiles: Ukraine and U.S.
It's a complex format, and explaining it was one of the reasons for the get together. The other, of course, was to determine the full table draws, round by round of the Playoffs. However, before that happened, there was plenty of food to be consumed, drinks to wash it down, and of course mingling to be done.
Dreyfus, the man who less than a month ago gratified the poker industry with the American Poker Awards in Los Angeles, was the man of the hour, and understandably it was a busy week for the man from Malta, who was not only hosting the GPM, but also the European Poker Awards on Wednesday.
"I'm excited, but I'm a bit stressed because I haven't prepared anything for my speech [laughs]," Dreyfus told PokerNews. "No, no, I'm excited. As you can see 80-90% of the players we invited are here even though they never replied to my emails, so I actually feel relieved. It's a three-year plan and six months of work. I'm very happy. In reality I'm more nervous about tonight than tomorrow. After tomorrow it's going to be amazing — I don't know if it's going to be amazing — but it's going to be beautiful. If we're very lucky it's going to be amazing."
Dreyfus was soon swooped away by others interested party guests, which opened the door to talk to his right-hand man, Eric Danis. The long-time face and voice of the Global Poker Index was a driving force behind the draw party, which was a prelude to his GPM commentary duties, which he'd undertake alongside the lovely Kara Scott.
"I think it's been ok," Danis said when asked about the night. "Some deadlines that we had to meet were very stressful. At this point I'm still good. I think tomorrow is when the jitters will start. Really cool to see a lot of people here. We're adding tables as we speak. That's cool. We didn't expect every player to be here, but it looks like they will be. We appreciate that. They see the hard work we've done, and we're going to appreciate them coming out tomorrow."
Indeed, the turnout seemed to surpass even the most optimistic expectations. Not only were GPM participants like Sam Trickett, Vanessa Selbst, and Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier in attendance, but a who's who of industry veterans were there to partake. For instance, there was the president of the European Poker Tour, Edgar Stuchly; poker hostesses Tatjana Pasalic and Laura Cornelius; legendary poker commentator Jesse May; and EPT Live's Joe "Stapes" Stapleton.
"The alcohol came out a little too late," Stapleton joked when asked about the atmosphere of the party. "I would have started a little sooner with the drinks, but hey, Alex is a rich guy, but he probably doesn't have bottomless pockets so I can understand. When you have drinkers like me here it can get costly.
"The atmosphere of the party? Everyone seems to be in good spirits. It seems like a fun thing, there's a nice competition aspect, but not in a bad way. Sort of like the Pro Bowl. It's fun and everyone is excited to see what happens. The big stars show up. No one is going to hit too hard, but they probably will at the table because everyone wants to win. It's all fun and games until they say 'shuffle up and deal.'"
A life of the party, Stapes was busy entertaining guests regardless of their nationality, but he did take some time to dish on which countries he wanted to see do well in the GPM?
"I don't know if I should say this or not, but apparently you can bet on who is going to win, so I bet all the long shots a couple days ago," Stapleton admitted. "I want Russia to win. I've got £40 on Russia. If Russia wins, I got the line when they were 40-1, so if they win I'll get like a grand. I'd like to Russia to win, but if not them than Ukraine, because they were like 35-1. And then after that France, [switches to a hushed voice] but honestly France probably isn't going to win regardless of the bet. If you ask me, Russia is no long shot, not by any stretch."
As Stapes talked, waitstaff ramped up the festivities by making the rounds with wine and hors d'oeuvres (the Ukrainians seemed especially fond of the former). They brought in more tables and chairs to accommodate the groundswell of guests, and all the while players socialized. The Salter brothers, Jack and Louis, chummed it up with fellow countrymen Simon Deadman and Oliver Price; the nationless Steve O'Dwyer settled in between Team USA's Dan Smith and Bryn Kenney; and Team PokerStars Pro Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier, who recently launched his own Twitch stream, was busy chatting with Scott Ball, the man who connected Twitch to the poker world.
"I think the whole mission to sportify poker and make it more mainstream is really exciting," Ball told PokerNews after concluding his conversation with the Frenchman. "If you look at the country-versus-country thing, it's really been successful in every traditional sport you can think of. The fact that there is someone pushing it to happen in poker is exciting, and I'm super excited it's going to be on our site for sure. Our demographic is definitely worldwide, and definitely quite scattered. It's by no means everyone from the US, so it should appeal to a huge variety of audiences."
Ball, who accepted an American Poker Award on behalf of Twitch for Innovation of the Year, also offered his pick for the GPM.
"I'm from the USA, but I think the German team looks quite strong," said Ball. "However, I definitely hope the USA team does well. I'm just really excited to see everyone compete for something they usually don't compete for, and to see how it turns out. I think there are a lot of interesting dynamics. They're not just playing for a million dollars, they're playing for the pride of their country."
After the socializing period wound down, players took their seats and Dreyfus took the stage. He proceeded to thank the GPM sponsors, explained the rules, and eventually got to the draw, which he did with the assistance of Danis and poker vixen Liv Boeree. Afterwards, Dreyfus fielded a Q&A session where players like Selbst and George Danzer expressed concerns over certain elements of the event.
Selbst worried that, given the seat draw, some countries would always have position on others, something that was an issue at the World Poker Cup at the PCA a couple years back. Likewise, Danzer pointed out the structure made it so at the end of each heat, which were slated to last 2.5 hours each, the correct play for the shorter stacks would be to move all in no matter their cards. The German then explained that the winner of that hand could very well end up as the chip leader.
This was feedback both Dreyfus and referee/tournament director Thomas Lamatsch took to heart. Dreyfus admitted Selbst's concern may not be rectified in time for the first GPM, but would be certainly be taken into account. Meanwhile, Danzer's was immediately resolved when Lamatsch said they would end each heat around the 2.5-hour mark (give or take a few minutes) without prior notice to the players.
The inaugural GPM draw party ended up being two things. First, it was a social event that brought together players and industry veterans from across the world. Everyone was in good spirits — even the late-arriving Ole Schemion — and all either supported Dreyfus' "sportify poker" mission, or were willing to give it a fair shake. It was also a learning opportunity. Things weren't perfect, not all details had been considered, and there were definitely things that needed ironing out. The good news was that Dreyfus and company was willing to listen. They're committed to their mission, and will do whatever's necessary to achieve it.
Whether or not the GPM proves to be a success remains to be seen, but by weekend's end the industry will have a clearer picture on the whole affair. In the meantime, there's sure to be some great poker action to be had in this brand new event. Of course you can follow all the action in our dedicated live blog.
Here's a look at the draw results:
For more on the GPM draw party, check out Sarah Herring's video interview with Dreyfus:
Remember, when talking about the GPM on social media, be sure to use the dedicated hashtag #globalpokermasters.