After much waiting and a rather sporadic flow of information, things are suddenly moving very quickly with the Global Poker League (GPL), and the action should be virtually nonstop from here on in. The first season’s schedule was announced late last week, and it’s a busy one.
From now through till late September, each week will have online matches played Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Tuesdays are the biggest days, with four 6-max games being played, two for each conference; these will feature one player from each team in the conference. Wednesdays and Thursdays are for head-to-head matchups, three each day, with one player from each team participating per week.
This regular schedule will be interrupted for six weeks during the summer, during the World Series of Poker. During this period, daily heads-up matches will be played live in Las Vegas, albeit in studio rather than in front of an audience. Following the sixth heat, the regular schedule will resume, with the regular season wrapping up on September 22. The playoff schedule has yet to be finalized, but the final has been booked for November 22, and will take place at Wembley Stadium in London, hopefully in front of a large audience; the London Royals are widely considered to be the favorites in their conference, perhaps even league-wide, so the prospect of a home team crowd for the final bodes well for the league’s chances of making a good impression in its first season.
Week one action
With the schedule announced, the season is now kicking off without delay; the first matches will be played tomorrow, starting at noon EST. The lineups for the first match in each conference are as follows:
Eurasia Game 1: Igor Kurganov (London), Dan Cates (Berlin), Dzmitry Urbanovich (Moscow), Davidi Kitai (Paris), Walter Treccarichi (Rome), Weiyi Zhang (Hong Kong)
Eurasia Game 2: Chris Moorman (London), Daniel Cates (Berlin), Dzmitry Urbanovich (Moscow), Davidi Kitai (Paris), Walter Treccarichi (Rome), Raiden Kan (Hong Kong)
Americas Games 1 & 2: Mike McDonald (Montreal), Tony Gregg (San Francisco), Anthony Zinno (Las Vegas), Byron Kaverman (Sao Paulo), Fedor Holz (Los Angeles), Jason Wheeler (New York)
As you can see, the first and second matches feature near-identical lineups, with only the London and Hong Kong players changing from the first to the second matches in the Eurasia conference. Seating orders, however, will be different in each match. The reason for having players play back-to-back like this is presumably for ease of scheduling; playing twice on the same day allows players to take only half as many days out of their regular schedules to fulfill their GPL duties.
Wednesday and Thursday’s heads-up matches have also been determined, but rather than list them all, I’ll just give you the match-ups I think will prove to be the most intense.
— Martin Jacobson (@Martin_Jacobson) April 1, 2016
Dan Cates (Berlin) vs. Bertrand Grospellier (Paris) – Wednesday, 2:30 EST: Cates and Grospellier are two of the GPL players most likely to be known to fans by their online rather than real life names: Jungleman12/w00ki3z and ElkY, respectively. As such, it’s a great first-week matchup for the league’s online component. Cates is among the world’s most successful online heads-up players, famous for taking on Tom Dwan’s “durrrr challenge” and starting off so strongly that Dwan has avoided completing the challenge. That being the case, this is also one of the week’s more lopsided match-ups, with Cates being heavily favored. Of course, that also means that he and his team have more to lose, and an upset by ElkY would kick the season off nicely for the Aviators.
Martin Jacobson (Montreal) vs. Anton Wigg (San Francisco) – Thursday, 3:30 EST: Though they’re both playing for North American teams, Jacobson vs. Wigg is sure to draw in plenty of viewers from Sweden, both men’s native country. It’s also something of a live-versus-online matchup, since Jacobson’s primary claim to fame is his win in the 2014 World Series of Poker Main Event, while Wigg is mostly known for his online exploits as “antesvante.” This should be a close one; Jacobson has the better credentials and has beaten Wigg heads up in the past, but with the match being played online, I’d be tempted to give the edge to Wigg.
Tom Marchese (New York) vs. Anthony Zinno (Las Vegas) – Thursday 5:10 EST: This is an important match for the Las Vegas Moneymakers; the clear consensus among those of us in the media is that New York has the strongest lineup in the Americas conference, and Las Vegas has one of the weakest. Anthony Zinno was Chris Moneymaker’s first-round draft pick, however, and one of the team’s best hopes. They really need him to win his matches for that reason, but he’s up against some very stiff competition in Tom Marchese. Moreover, most of Zinno’s success has come in big field live tournaments, whereas Marchese is more accustomed to squaring off with top-notch opponents in High Roller events. I would not be thrilled with this first-round draw if I were a Las Vegas fan.
League futures at BetStars
Although the GPL is not directly affiliated with PokerStars in any way, a lot of its players are also Team PokerStars professionals, so we’re likely to see a fair bit of cross-marketing. Indeed, BetStars (PokerStars’s sports betting service) is the first bookmaker to offer odds on GPL events and on the season as a whole. The juice they’re charging for single events is about 10%, which is on the high side. Their lines on season futures run at about 13%, but this is actually more reasonable, as it’s standard for bookmakers to charge a premium on futures markets, due to the difficulty of predicting them. This is especially true for the GPL, where the teams and the league format itself are all untested.
Between the high variance inherent in matches played at the pace of GPL events and the juice being charged, I doubt very much that it’s possible to turn a profit betting on individual matches. For the season as a whole, however, I think some teams may in fact be profitable bets at the odds being laid… the trick, of course, being to figure out which those are.
Here are the current odds as of this writing and my impressions thereof.
London Royals (+700 / 8.0): As I mentioned above, the London Royals are almost certainly the strongest team in the Eurasia Conference. Whether they’re the best in the league is a much tougher question, but the variance of the regular season taken as a whole should be considerably lower than that of the playoffs, due to the number of games being played, so being the clear division favorites is pretty big. I think you could do worse than London at +700.
Berlin Bears (+800 / 9.0): Berlin is also a fairly strong team, though probably not strong enough to justify this line. The odds being laid implied that the experts at BetStars think they’re the second-place team in Eurasia, yet the media consensus has them in a pretty distant third to the Aviators. Assuming they do advance to the finals, they will probably be underdogs to the winner of the Americas, in my opinion. I would pass on them.
Rome Emperors (+1000 / 11.0): The only player for the Emperors that I would describe as a wizard is #1 draft pick Mustapha Kanit. He’s only going to get to play one match in six, however, and I don’t think one player can carry a team. I’d be inclined to look at a team’s weakest, rather than strongest links in appraising its overall odds, and I don’t think the Emperors are all that solid. I would pass.
Moscow Wolverines (+1100 / 12.0): I think the Wolverines have some decent potential to be the dark horses of Eurasia. There are a lot of strong players coming out of Russia and eastern Europe these days. I suspect that many people will underrate their chances to begin with due to the unfamiliarity of some of the names, but team manager Anatoly Filatov seemed pretty confident in his choices on draft day. I’m not sure I’d quite be willing to take them at only +1100, but it’s closer than most of the other teams.
Paris Aviators (+1100 / 12.0): To be honest, I’m not sure why BetStars has placed the Aviators as far down as they have. Grospellier, Davidi Kitai and George Danzer are all very strong players. The media power rankings had them in second place in Eurasia before the wildcards were announced. Admittedly, Team Manager Fabrice Soulier is probably not as strong a player as some of the other managers, so perhaps he should have taken one of the undrafted GPI 1000 players instead of himself, but his other wildcard, Alexandre Luneau, has a strong online background and is likely being underestimated. At +1100 they’re probably my strongest pick.
Hong Kong Stars (+1400 / 15.0): Given the juice being charged, the Stars are the only team that could turn you a profit simply by managing to have an even shot at winning. But can they? I don’t think they can. Although you could make the same argument for them as for the Wolverines, they don’t have anyone to rival the likes of Dmitry Urbanovich, and even comparing the managers, I think you’d take Anatoly Filatov over Celina Lin. I think the Stars have good marketing value because of the potentially huge fan base they hold in China and throughout eastern Asia, but in terms of their odds of winning, I would need considerably better than +1400 to bet on them.
Los Angeles Sunset (+800 / 9.0): It’s hard to say for sure how strong this team is, as it’s the only one that has yet to announce its wildcard picks. Surely manager Maria Ho will draft herself, but the sixth team mate is still a mystery. Fedor Holz is of course the team’s most impressive member, and of the drafted players, he seems to be one of the biggest fans of the GPL concept, so he’s surely highly motivated. The other players – Olivier Busquet, Eugene Katchalov and Chance Kornuth – are all fairly solid as well, and there isn’t really anyone you’d call a weak link. That said, the Americas conference is tough overall, and so although I think the Sunset would fare well against anything Eurasia has to offer in the finals, getting there is a dicier proposition. I don’t think a bet on LA will be profitable at +800.
New York Rounders (+800 / 9.0): If you were going to bet on one of the top teams in the Americas conference, I think the Rounders are a better choice than the Sunset. They had a leg up to begin with in that team manager Bryn Kenney is almost indisputably the strongest of the managers, and on top of that, he managed quite a steal to get Kevin MacPhee in the third draft round. Some may question the decision to go with his brother, Tyler Kenney, as a wildcard, but Tyler will certainly benefit from plenty of free coaching from Bryn. The only question I’d have is whether Bryn, who by his own admission smokes a lot of pot, including while playing online and appeared to me to be stoned both on draft day and in his wildcard announcement video, will take the GPL seriously enough given that no money of his own is at risk. Because of that question, I’d gauge them to be a risk at +800, but probably the best choice in the Americas nonetheless.
San Francisco Rush (+900 / 10.0): The Rush are another team that I’d classify as big winners in terms of marketing potential due to the likability of the team members in general and of manager Faraz Jaka. Because that was clearly important to Jaka, however, I think he made some compromises in terms of the raw playing strength of his selections. They’re not a bad team by any means, but I don’t think their odds of winning the league are much above the average, so I wouldn’t expect them to be a profitable bet at +900.
Las Vegas Moneymakers (+1000 / 11.0): The Moneymakers are likewise in the same boat. Their eponymous coach is himself a huge marketing asset, but we can’t overlook the fact that he’s the only team manager who is not in the GPI 1000. I think snagging Jonathan Duhamel in the second round was a good move, but skill-wise, I’m a little underwhelmed by the rest of the team. Anthony Zinno ran very well last year, but hasn’t yet proved his lasting power. Jon Little, meanwhile, is a top-notch poker coach, but I don’t know how he’ll fare heads-up against players like Fedor Holz, Jason Mercier and Mike McDonald. Given the toughness of the Americas conference, I’d rate the Moneymakers’ odds at below par, so would definitely pass at +1000.
Sao Paulo Metropolitans (+1100 / 12.0): The Mets may have fallen between two chairs, in that some of manager André Akkari’s selections seem to have been made for reasons of patriotic marketing value, but others more for reasons of skill. It’s interesting to note that Akkari is one of the only managers to resist the temptation to select himself as a player. That suggests that he’s committed to putting the team first and is therefore a mark in the Mets’ favor… but still not enough that I’d give them an average chance of winning the league, which is what they’d need to be a break-even bet at +1100.
Montreal Nationals (+1100 / 12.0): Does someone at BetStars just hate French-speakers or something? Like the Aviators in the Eurasian conference, I would consider the Nationals the most underrated Americas team at +1100. Yes, it’s true that Jonathan Duhamel ended up in Las Vegas instead of in Montreal where he belongs, but the Nationals have an online superstar in Mike McDonald and a WSOP Main Event champ in Martin Jacobson. The rest of the team may not have quite the same name recognition, and I was dubious at first, but I’ve come to have a hunch that there are some dark horses here. Take it with a grain of salt, because I live here, but I think Montreal will end up in the top half of the Americas conference, and therefore a decent bet at +1100.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.