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Top 10 takeaways from the Global Poker League draft

26 Feb 2016

By Gary Trask
What's the saying? You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

If that's the case, put me down as someone who thinks the Global Poker League has a real chance to be a hit. Sure, there will be hurdles along the way. A team format in poker is something that has been tried and has failed in the past, but if the inaugural GPL Draft last night at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, is any indication, the GPL "powers that be" are going to pull out all the stops to make the first season compelling to poker fans and media — who, if you haven't noticed, can be a cynical bunch.

With that said, here are our top 10 takeaways from the GPL Draft:

10. Dirty pool by PokerStars?

While we don't have absolute proof that Amaya and intentionally tried to upstage the GPL draft, here are the facts: The e-mail announcing the long-awaited news that PokerStars will officially enter the U.S. regulated market in New Jersey in March hit my inbox — along with thousands of other poker/gaming/casino industry media — at 5:06 p.m. EST.

Meanwhile on the West Coast, Rome Emperors Team Manager Max Pescatori came up to the stage with draft hostess Kara Scott to announce the first pick in the first-ever GPL Draft at 5:08 p.m. EST.

Coincidence? Maybe so, but it's almost impossible to fathom that the folks at Amaya had no idea the GPL Draft was taking place at this EXACT moment. And if the announcement was indeed intentionally made simultaneously in order to take attention away from the GPL, shame on Amaya and PokerStars. Led by CEO Alexandre Dreyfus, the GPL has gone to great (and costly) lengths to try to make the new venture a success. If it does succeed, it will be good for everyone involved with the game, including the world's largest online poker site.

UPDATE (Friday, Feb. 26, 5 p.m. EST): Daniel Negreanu reached out to us on Twitter to say, "GPL and Stars worked together on the release time and date." and Dreyfus was "happy to have it announced during the GPL draft." Efforts to reach Dreyfus and the PokerStars team for clarification have been unsuccessful.

UPDATE (Saturday, Feb. 27, 9 a.m. EST): In an email exchange on Friday night, Dreyfus told Casino City that the original plan was to have Pokerstars announce the New Jersey launch during the American Poker Conference earlier in the day, but "unfortunately due to stock market rules, they had to announce after market closes," Dreyfus said. "Therefore, we offered to announce it during the (GPI American Poker) Awards (later that evening), but it was too late for their schedule." He added, "We didn't want to have this information to be announced during the draft, they had to do their own PR." Dreyfus added that, in the end, he was "totally fine" with PokerStars releasing the news at the same time of the GPL Draft and that it "didn't have any impact on us."

9. Hellmuth and Negreanu shine

Despite PokerStars attempting to steal the limelight, the show at the GPL Draft went on for the next four-plus hours, and making what could have been a laborious viewing exercise much more palatable and enjoyable was the analyst team of Phil Hellmuth and Daniel Negreanu.

The GPL needs credibility. It has to prove to the poker world that it's not just some gimmick that will be a distant memory within the next few years. So, having two of the most successful and recognizable names in the game not only sitting at the desk for the inaugural draft, but also being legitimately engaged and interested in the proceedings, is a home run for the league.

Now I'm sure the cynics out there will say that Hellmuth and Negreanu were there just for a paycheck, but if you watched even a few minutes of the broadcast, it was clear they have both bought into the league concept.

Above all of that, the pair is very, very good at what they do. As they showed during the WSOP Main Event Final Table telecast on ESPN last fall, Hellmuth and Negreanu have great chemistry. You can tell they genuinely like each other, yet they aren't afraid to disagree.

Yes, Hellmuth's ego is still quite prevalent and Negreanu's Teflon reputation among poker media and fans can be a bit much at times, but take it from someone who has sworn off watching the network NFL pregame shows each Sunday morning because of the boorish behavior and lazy analysis: Hellmuth and Negreanu are as good as it gets in this role, and their participation will go a long way in aiding the GPL.

8. Hello, Holly

As for the sideline reporter, the GPL could have very easily used Scott, as she has done a standout job for ESPN on WSOP telecasts the last few years and is well-equipped for the job. But instead, the GPL shifted Scott to the host role, announcing each pick of the draft on the main stage and went "out of the box" for a sideline reporter, bringing in Holly Sonders.

The 28-year-old with model looks is a fresh face for the poker world, but certainly not a newcomer to this role. Her resume includes the Golf Channel and FOX Sports, where she worked the NFL and last year's U.S. Open. Given that this was her first foray into poker, she seemed well-suited and well-prepared for the job.

Later in the evening at the GPI American Poker Awards, she had the "privilege" of sitting with Hellmuth, who gave her a ringing endorsement:

7. The Magician disappears

Speaking of TV analysts and popular players, shortly after the broadcast began it was announced that Antonio Esfandiari had pulled himself off the list of eligible players to be drafted, which was a major blow.

Not only is the Magician one of the top two money earners in the history of the game, but he is extremely well-liked and well-spoken, and would most definitely have been a top pick.

The reason for him bowing out was explained as a "time commitment" issue, but here's hoping he can fit doing some TV analysis into his schedule. Just like Negreanu and Hellmuth, Esfandiari has proven to be ideal for that role during his stints with ESPN.

6. International diversity

As for the actual players who were drafted, the event left us with an array of juicy stats and subplots, including the international diversity of players who were selected.

American players, as expected, dominated the field. Five of the 12 first-round picks were from the U.S., and American players made up 33% of the entire field, representing 16 of the 48 players selected. Canada was a distant second with seven players, while Russia was third with four and Germany and Italy were tied for fourth with three.

Overall, 203 players from 33 nations were eligible to be drafted, and in the end,16 different nations were represented, giving the league the global appeal it is most certainly looking for, as seen by its range of teams.

5. Best "wildcard" players available

Within the next week, each team manager will select two more "wildcard" additions to their team. Going by the GPI, the top 11 available players were drafted, as well as 12 of the top 13 and 16 of the top 20.

The top-ranked players still available are Benjamin Pollak (No. 25 on the GPI), Sam Greenwood (No. 33), Igor Yaroshevsky (No. 34), Niall Farrell (No. 41) and Sam Clements (No. 44).

Going by the Global Poker Index, the New York Rounders should be feared this year in the Global Poker League.

Going by the Global Poker Index, the New York Rounders should be feared this year in the Global Poker League.

Other "big names" or players with notable career earnings who went undrafted on Thursday include Shannon Shorr, Matthew Glantz, Sam Stein, Dani Stern, Matthew Affleck, Kelly Minkin, Natasha Barbour, Justin Schwartz and Christopher Klodnicki.

4. New York is the heavy favorite "on paper"

Yes, we realize that, just like other team events or sports, there will be many variables that decide who is crowned the first GPL champion. But if you go just by average GPI, the New York Rounders are the runaway favorite at this writing.

It appears Manager Bryn Kenney took the index to heart while building his team. Not only are the Rounders the only team to have every player from the same country, but the all-American roster of Jason Mercier, Tom Marchese, Kevin MacPhee and Jason Wheeler has the best GPI average, by far, at 17.75. The next closest are the Berlin Bears at a distant 88.5, while the Paris Aviators are third at 113.75.

The Rounders are also not short on confidence or earnings. In addition to having the best GPI average, the team has the most combined career earnings with a hefty $36,484,126. And before the draft, Kenney announced that he will choose the option of playing for his team and that he is the "best player of all the managers," giving his team an even "bigger edge."

The team with the worst GPI average is the Hong Kong Stars at 475.25, which may be a result of drafting with national pride (more on that later).

3. The "steals" of the night

Once again, going solely on the GPI, New York also snared one of the best "value" picks when it got the No. 5 ranked player and third-best available, Kevin MacPhee, in the third round with the 27th overall pick. The biggest steal of the night, however, came in the second round when the Sao Paulo Mets grabbed the No. 1 player on the GPI and 2015 Player of the Year, Byron Kaverman, with the 19th overall pick.

Another highly ranked player that fell down the board and got selected later than expected, according to the GPI, was Dominik Nitsche, who despite a 13th-place ranking on the GPI was taken in the third round by the Berlin Bears, 34th overall.

2. Drafting for national pride

While some teams apparently were drafting the "best player available," others were taking their geographical location to heart, particularly the Rome Emperors, Montreal Nationals, Hong Kong Stars and the aforementioned Rounders.

Rome had the first pick overall and took Italian Mustapha Kanit, and followed that with Dario Sammartino in the second round. After selecting a Canadian (Timothy Adams) in the third round, Pescatori went back to Italy with his final pick, taking Walter Treccarichi, meaning his roster includes three out of four home countrymen. With the second overall pick, Montreal Manager Marc-Andre Ladouceur opted for Mike McDonald, the top Canadian on the GPI, and then added Pascal Lefrancois and Xuan Liu in the third and fourth round, respectively.

As for Hong Kong, Manager Celina Lin ignored the rankings and went with a contingent of China's Weiyi Zhang and Dong Guo, Hong Kong's Raiden Kan and Singapore's Bryan Huang. Zhang was the team's first pick at No. 12 overall, despite a ranking of 823 on the GPI.

Liv Boeree shares a laugh with Igor Kurganov after she selected him as the first pick for the London Royals at the Global Poker League draft on Thursday night.

Liv Boeree shares a laugh with Igor Kurganov after she selected him as the first pick for the London Royals at the Global Poker League draft on Thursday night.

1. The team to beat: London

Both the schedule and format have yet to be finalized. All 12 teams will be adding players, and since this is the first go-round for the GPL, there are numerous unknown variables.

With that said, if we had to pick a favorite right now, it would be the London Royals. Manger Liv Boeree surprised nobody by selecting her boyfriend, Igor Kurganov, with her first pick, and may take some criticism for it. But, as she said at the draft, if he wasn't a world-class player, she wouldn't have picked Kurganov, a Russian who lives in London and has more than $10 million in live earnings. I also think their relationship will be great for team chemistry.

Boeree rounded out her roster with Vanessa Selbst, Chris Moorman and Justin Bonomo, who as the 42nd overall pick may have been the real steal of the draft. Selbst and Bonomo's accomplishments speak volumes, and since many GPL events will be played online, you have to love Moorman's $12.9 million in career online winnings.

It's early and there are no betting odds that I'm aware of (yet), but if the opportunity arises, I'll be heading to the window to bet the Royals. Now, excuse me while I call my "pal," Jimmy Vaccaro.

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