Thoughts on the Global Poker League As It Readies For Second Half of Season 1

With the second half of the inaugural Global Poker League season about to get underway I want to take a look back at the first half of the season, and examine some of the problems (from my point of view)  the league seems to have encountered, and what can be done to fix them.

It’s probably a bit too late to do anything about the second half of Season 1, but perhaps these suggestions will be considered for Season 2.

Problem #1: Complexity

When you watch an NFL, NBA, or MLB game, even if you don’t understand the intricacies of game play and the strategies the teams are using. Most NFL fans can’t identify the defensive or offensive formations and personnel packages that are on the field, nor do most NBA fans notice the off-ball screens that free up shooters.

The games are complex, just like poker. And while a lot of people worry that high-level poker is too complex for the average viewer, it’s really not, they’ll pay attention to and know what they need to know to follow along even if the nuance is lost on them.

The difference is, in the major sports the mechanics of who’s ahead and by how much, and how the winner and the loser are determined are pretty basic.

The reason for this is the game is always played the same way. Same game, same amount of time, same amount of players on the field/court, and same rules. At the end of the season a predetermined number of teams make the playoffs based on their win/loss record, and eventually a champion is crowned.

Simple stuff.

With the GPL it’s not quite as simple.

The GPL awards points for victories, and much like the NHL, this complicates the standings a bit, and every time you have to explain something you’re likely losing viewers. But the bigger sin was using several different game formats.

The GPL played online six-handed matches, where players from each team earned 0-5 points based on their finish position. They also played online heads-up matches. And then there was the summer series, where GPL’ers played live/online hybrid heads-up matches in The Cube.

That’s three different formats if you’re counting at home.

Having multiple formats immediately increases the complexity for the viewer.

Heads-up and six-max are scored differently, and heads-up matches are simply decided by wins and losses, but a team could win zero six-max matches and still collect more points than every other team.

Sometimes viewers are watching a specific representative from one team against another (heads-up), and other times it all six teams competing at the same time (six-max matches).

Which leads right into my second problem.

Problem #2: Why have teams?

Along the same lines, when you tune in to watch the Patriots play the Jets you know which players are playing, and you know the whole team will be there. But the GPL is more of a one-on-one competition, where one of the team members is there, and you really don’t know which one it will be unless you follow the GPL closely, and even then it’s often an eleventh hour decision, with maybe a day or two notice.

A schedule of which team is playing on what day doesn’t do you much good, since you don’t know which representatives from each team will be playing.

Solutions to problem #1 and problem #2

Since the solutions to these two issues sort of go hand in hand I’ve lumped them together.

The way I would solve these issues is as follows.

First, all matches are played heads-up, one team vs. another team. Each team member must play a heads-up match for a total of five heads up games equaling a match.

Second, ditch the online matches. All matches are played live with all five team members present and in action – maybe allow each team one alternate player who only gets to play if a main team member can’t make it. If a team shows up with less than five players they forfeit the heads-up matches they don’t have players for.

Scoring wise, the team winning the most heads-up matches gets the win, and the other team gets the loss. That’s it, that’s your scoring system.

Yes, coordinating the lives of 10 poker players is tough, but it’s supposed to be tough. Allowing the team members to make their own schedule is not how a sports franchise works, it’s how poker is played at tournaments.

Problem #3: What are they playing for?

One of the interesting aspects of the GPL was the removal of buy-ins and traditional gambling from the game. This was a conscious decision by the GPL, as they wanted to create a wedge between poker in casinos and poker as a sport/esport.

But if we’re not playing for money (the traditional way to keep score in poker) what are we playing for?

Solution to problem #3

I really don’t have a solution to this problem. Is it as Jason Mo suggested, playing for high stakes (skip to 32:00)?

Or is it as usual rivals Todd Witteles and Abe Limon suggested, having regulars from different casinos battle each other for some money, but more for bragging rights?

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