First Day of the GPL was a Delightful Mess

Alex Weldon : April 6th, 2016


Whether one is a huge fan of the concept of the Global Poker League (GPL) or one of its skeptics, I don’t think there’s anyone out there who would describe the course it has taken so far as predictable. Indeed, Mediarex CEO Alexandre Dreyfus, the idea man behind the GPL, has said that it’s his mission to turn poker into a sport, but he has never said it was going to be an organized sport, or if he has, then he was surely using the term loosely. It’s not quite Calvinball (though who knows what will happen once HoldemX is integrated), but it’s downright comical the extent to which everyone – from fans, to media, to the players, to Dreyfus himself – is never entirely sure what’s going on.

For those who were never on board with the concept to begin with, or who bought too much into the idea that this was going to be a product on par with other international sports leagues from the start, the chaos of the league’s first day of actual play could be taken as a massive strike against it. Personally, though, I think it’s all part of the charm.

During its growth years, poker naturally grew more polished. The play of the game has become a fairly exact science for its top players, and the world’s best sites, tournament series and card rooms operate like well-oiled machines, most of the time anyway. That has its advantages, of course, and reliability and consistency are important to the players, given the amounts of money that are frequently at stake. And yet, part of the beauty of the early boom years was the ever-changing landscape as players, media and businesspeople all scrambled to figure out where there was money to be made and fun to be had. It’s that second part – the fun – that’s been disappearing over the years even as the wrinkles have gotten ironed out of the first part. I hope, then, that the poker world hasn’t come to take itself so seriously that everyone fails to see the lighter side as the GPL continues to fly by the seat of its pants through its first season.

Technical difficulties

The most remarked-upon and probably most inevitable aspect of the first day of the league was that it was plagued by technical difficulties. PokerCentral, a business whose success or failure will hinge, in my opinion, on that of the GPL, found itself unable to broadcast any of the first day’s matches. Thus, any hope that the GPL and PokerCentral had of portraying themselves as close analogues of the NFL and ESPN was out the window from the start.

The matches went forward as planned anyway, and were streamed on the GPL’s Twitch channel, among other services. This did not go entirely smoothly either; as was the case with some of the GPL’s media events in the lead-up to its launch, the broadcast suffered from occasional interruptions or moments when the technical crew seemed to be having difficulty getting the correct content on-screen.

There were likewise some problems with the audio, mostly to do with the quality of the headsets being used by the commentators. These, we’re assured, will be replaced for today’s matches. I didn’t find the poor audio quality bothersome myself, but I also knew what to expect, but many in the Twitch chat have grown accustomed to veteran streamers like Jaime Staples, and perhaps expected something even more professional, rather than a small operation going through its own learning process.

Even the software being used for the matches is rough around the edges. Mercifully, no gameplay issues came up, but the hand equities were not being displayed correctly. This was most noticeable on the river, when the better hand should of course have 100% equity, yet percentages from earlier in the hand were still being shown. The problem wasn’t exclusive to the final street, however; it was often the case that the equities shown seemed to be those from an earlier street. Since it will require a new build of the software to fix, this one is less likely to get solved overnight, but it’s the sort of bug that probably only involves a few lines of code, and should be easy enough to fix now that it’s been brought to the programmers’ attention.

Scoring confusion

The glitches weren’t limited to the technical side of things either, as the league format and scoring system was only announced at the last minute, and not everyone was on the same page. The GPL website, for instance, stated that an equal number of points would be distributed each week through the 6-max and heads-up matches, but the specific scoring systems laid out for each didn’t add up that way: with four six-max matches played and 18 total points awarded in each, the six three-game heads-up series each week would need to award 12 points total, yet 3 points per match (9 total) was the amount given. We’ll have to see today which version is correct.

The scores given at the end of the day were also incorrect, although quickly corrected. Fedor Holz of the LA Sunset was surprised to find his team listed as having only 2 points following his poor results, when he correctly believed he should have received 3 points. It turned out that it was the Sao Paulo Mets who’d been given an extra point by mistake, and the error was reversed, but it was a fitting end to a day riddled with similar little mix-ups.

Jungleman’s blunder

Each conference saw one team fail to put up any points at all: Dan “Jungleman” Cates bricked out for the Berlin Bears and Tony Gregg likewise gave the San Francisco Rush a license to kill on the scoreboard. Of those early exits, it was Cates’s second match that was the most controversial, as he made a clearly incorrect all-in call holding Jack-Eight suited; he admitted on Twitter that he’d been playing a cash game on the side and had been distracted by it. While it’s not surprising that a high stakes online player might be tempted not to give a GPL match his full attention, given that none of his own money is on the line, it does show that the GPL is likely going to face some problems that you wouldn’t find in other sports. I’m pretty sure we’ve never heard Ronaldo excuse himself for missing a penalty kick by explaining that he was busy swiping on Tinder while taking it.

Twitter drama

The chaos couldn’t even be contained to the league itself, eventually spilling over into the world of social media. It’s at this point that I have to admit to my own culpability in things. At one point, the two commentators Griffin Benger and Sam Grafton opined that a call was correct for one of the players, and made a reference to Daniel Negreanu’s recent Twitter polls about poker strategy, which he’d concluded by asserting that the correct answer was a flat call in every case. They proceeded to make a few friendly jokes about it, and as someone with iconoclast tendencies of my own, I thought it was a funny enough moment to tweet about.

Negreanu himself thought it was funny enough to respond in kind, challenging Benger and Grafton to a crossbook bet and warning that they’d end up on food stamps if they accepted. Benger, perhaps already feeling picked on due to the endless trolling of the commentary team in Twitch chat, felt that I’d mischaracterized their joking and seemed to think that Negreanu had been genuinely offended. The resulting kerfuffle was quickly smoothed over, on air no less, but provoked enough mirth that the supposed crossbooking has become a minor running joke that was brought up again today.

Meawhile, Montreal Nationals manager Marc-AndrĂ© Ladouceur made a Twitter faux pas of his own. Following his player Mike McDonald’s lucky two-outer to save the match, Ladouceur posted a photo to Twitter seeming to show him watching the match on an iPad while driving his car on the highway. He claims the photo was staged, and quickly took it down again, but not before several people (myself included) had chided him for it, not having seen it as a joke.

All part of the fun

Some people, both on Twitter and in the Twitch chat, felt that the overall impression given by the GPL on its first day could be summarized as “unprofessional.” Plenty of fake concern was offered, alongside a whole lot of outright trolling, with frequent assertions to the effect that no one will be able to take the GPL seriously if it can’t get its ducks in a line. On the other hand, the vibe I got from the players themselves, the managers, and my fellow media people was that everyone was having a lot of fun. The viewership numbers on Twitch also painted a different picture than the vocal minority in the chat box; several thousand viewers were present at any given time throughout the broadcast, and although today’s figures are lower (as was to be expected), they’re still solidly in the four figures.

For that reason, I’d use a different word for the GPL’s first day. I’d call it “eventful.” It was a mess, to be sure, but mostly a delightful, hilarious, sometimes exciting, often confusing, but only occasionally frustrating mess. That’s exactly what I wanted it to be, and although I do imagine that the sailing will get smoother as the season progresses, I do hope that some element of unpredictability will remain a feature of the GPL throughout its lifetime, however long that may be.

Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

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