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Dan Igo

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Top-10 memories of the Epic Poker League

5 Mar 2012

By Dan Igo
The Epic Poker League (EPL) launched in early 2011 to much fanfare and anticipation. The buzz was so great that some members in the poker media proclaimed that it would succeed, even before the league had a name.

A little over a year after Federated Sports + Gaming announced the idea of the new professional poker league, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Jeffrey Pollack, the executive chairman of FS+G, and Annie Duke, the EPL's commissioner, both believe that the league can recover from this filing. Obviously the jury is still out on that one.

Now one might think that a poker league that only staged three events wouldn't have many memorable moments. But this wasn't your standard poker league. It was an EPIC poker league. So here are my top-10 memories of the Epic Poker League.

10. Negreanu is Nostradamus

In August, Daniel Negreanu wrote a blog post on Card Player on why he wasn't playing in the Epic Poker League. Negreanu said he chose not to participate in the league for one simple reason: He didn't think it would survive. He said the league wouldn't be able to generate revenue and attract sponsors. He said that it was giving away too much money. He even predicted that it will be an #epicfail. He couldn't have been more correct.

9. FS+G chooses Epic Poker League name

For more than six months, the Epic Poker League didn't have a name. In fact, it was just known as Federated Sports + Gaming's new professional poker league. In June it was announced that the league finally had an official name.

"This is no ordinary tournament league," said Jeffrey Grosman, chief operating officer of FS+G. "Our fields will be some of the toughest in poker history and we expect the competition to be nothing less than epic. In selecting a name that could live up to the players' incredible skill and talent, epic was a natural fit.”

That last sentence, as Negreanu would note, now looks like an #epicfail.

8. Brunson gets lifetime membership

The Epic Poker League claimed to model itself as the poker equivalent to golf's PGA Tour. Only the best players in the world would be able to compete. If you weren't one of these players, you'd have to qualify in a pro-am to prove your worth. The league's decision to award Doyle Brunson a lifetime membership due to his accomplishments in the game seemed to fly in the face of that mission. It would be like the PGA Tour giving a lifetime membership to Jack Nicklaus. Not because of any recent accomplishments, but because of his "impact on the game."

7. Rousso, Jaka bust on bad beat

It's not a good sign that perhaps the most famous hand in the brief history of the EPL – which touted itself as a league where the most skilled would prevail – is one where a player got his chips in with a 12 percent chance of winning before getting bailed out by two miracle cards. Joe Tehan, his table's chip leader at the bubble of the third main event, moved all-in with 2-4 and was called by Faraz Jaka's A-A and Vanessa Rousso's Q-Q.

6. Man stripped of EPL seat

The lack of success of the Epic Poker League wasn't due to a lack of headlines in its 13+ months in existence. One of the most contentious decisions the EPL made was denying Michael DiVita's seat to the second Main Event . DiVita earned a $20,000 seat into the Main Event after qualifying in a pro-am event. However, it was revealed shortly after that DiVita was a registered sex offender. The Epic Poker League decided to strip DiVita of his Main Event seat and of the $20,000 he won and only refunded his $1,500 buy-in. Personally, this was the first move that the EPL made that had me questioning its decision-making process. I believe, and still believe, that at the very least, DiVita should have been refunded the $20,000 he won in the pro-am. He earned that money. Furthermore, I don’t think he should have been banned from the Main Event at all. He paid his debt to society and wasn’t breaking any laws, or violating his parole, by competing in the event. The Nevada Gaming Commission later ruled in DiVita's favor in the dispute, and DiVita, who had previously accepted the $1,500 refund, was paid the remaining $18,500.

5. EPL buys Heartland Poker Tour

On the surface, the Heartland Poker Tour is the anti-Epic Poker League. The HPT was launched in 2005 in the Midwest and through hard work and word of mouth, became a steady presence on television. Federated Sports + Gaming took notice and in June purchased the Heartland Poker Tour. Pollack said that HPT is still a main initiative of FS+G, but of course it’s too soon to know what type of long-term effects will arise after the Chapter 11 filing.

4. Global Poker Index launched

The lasting legacy of the Epic Poker League could be the Global Poker Index, which is a world ranking system of the game’s top players. The GPI is updated weekly and tracks the performance of the world’s top 300 live tournament players.

“This system is revolutionary for poker and will provide a clear-cut, statistically definitive means for comparing the live tournament accomplishments of top players,” said Duke back in July. “Many of the world's best players are not well known outside of the avid fan base. The Global Poker Index will not only create excitement around the rankings of the more established players, but will also put a focus on a new generation of young players.”

Like the HPT, Pollack expects the GPI to remain a part of FS+G’s long-term plans. And I hope the GPI is here to stay too, regardless of the EPL’s future. The GPI has been really well-received and has ensured that the game’s top players are playing in the best live tournaments in the world.

3. FS+G files for bankruptcy

Is this the death blow for the Epic Poker League? It certainly isn’t a sign that the league had any sort of financial stability (something Negreanu isn’t surprised by). Pollack posted a statement on the Federated Sports + Gaming website:

“There is no easy way to say this, but, at the end of the day yesterday, Federated Sports + Gaming filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Our company needs a new start. This reorganization filing is an important first step in that direction and our goal is to keep the Epic Poker League and all of our key initiatives – including the Global Poker Index,, the Epic Poker game on Facebook, and the Heartland Poker Tour – moving forward with a continued spirit of innovation. We will most likely accomplish this by entering into an agreement with another firm that shares our passion and vision – a process we had been working toward prior to the filing.”

2. The Epic Poker League launches

The number two memory on this list is the official launch of the Epic Poker League, where the sky was the limit and the potential of the EPL was as large as the jackpots that were promised. Pollack joined the Casino City Gang back in August, and his business model and vision for the Epic Poker League sounded great to me. In fact, if you fast forward to the 21:40 mark, you’ll note that I admitted that “I’m a believer” in the EPL.

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1. Chino Rheem's costly win

The EPL’s first Main Event winner was Chino Rheem, who is perhaps best known by people outside the poker community as a member of the original November Nine in 2008. To those in the poker community, however, Rheem has an infamous reputation as a person who owes people a lot of money. In fact, so many people were owed money that there was reportedly a long list of creditors waiting for Rheem at the payout cage after his Main Event win. The Epic Poker League put Rheem on probation shortly after the incident. I can’t think of any memory that sums up the Epic Poker League better than this one.
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