Handicapping the 2016 American Poker Awards

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When it was first unveiled in 2015, we weren’t quite sure what to expect from Alexandre Dreyfus, the Global Poker Index and, in particular, the inaugural American Poker Awards. What the North American poker world received was a gift:  it was a ceremony befitting of its counterpart from “across The Pond” with the European Poker Awards, with the elaborate ceremony honoring the best in North American poker and attended by some of the biggest names in the poker community. The poker world will once again turn out as, on February 25, the 2nd Annual American Poker Awards will take place.

Held at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, CA, the ceremony is only the capstone for what will be a hectic day. The first round draft picks for the Global Poker League will take place, as will a host of other seminars and discussions featuring poker professionals and industry insiders. But the ceremonies and dinner for the American Poker Awards and the recipients of those awards will be what draw many to sunny Southern California for the day.

Those categories feature some of the greatest moments from 2015 as well as highlight some of the top performances and players from the preceding year. Without further ado, let’s take a look at these categories and try to forecast who will take home the award come February 25. (Bold indicates pick.)

Tournament Performance of the Year

Jonathan Duhamel, WSOP One Drop $1 Million High Roller
Mike Gorodinsky, WSOP $50,000 Poker Players’ Championship
Joe McKeehen, WSOP $10,000 Championship Event
Anthony Zinno, WPT $10,000 L. A. Poker Classic

While I would love to take Zinno’s second leg of his back-to-back run of WPT titles in early 2015 with this selection – or even Duhamel’s win at the One Drop – McKeehen’s utter domination of the WSOP Championship Event makes this category a no-brainer. McKeehen grabbed this tournament by the throat on Day 7 and, even after a four-month break, never relinquished that grasp. You can probably count the number of mistakes that McKeehen made at the final table on one hand and have fingers left over…that, fans, is a Tournament Performance of the Year winner.

Moment of the Year

Anthony Zinno, back-to-back WPT championships (WPT Fallsview, WPT L. A. Poker Classic)
22,000-plus players enter “The Colossus”
Phil Hellmuth wins WSOP Bracelet #14 – WSOP $10,000 Razz World Championship
Daniel Negreanu exits 11th in the WSOP Championship Event

While all of these are excellent choices for the Moment of the Year, there is only one choice. It didn’t matter what level of poker fan you were – or whether you even were a fan of the game – people for some reason were transfixed by Negreanu’s deepest run in the WSOP Championship Event in his career. Perhaps because of Negreanu’s effervescent charms, perhaps because of his skill in the game, perhaps because of his self-promotion…EVERYONE seemed to be pulling for Negreanu to make it to the “November Nine.” When he came up two slots short of the goal, it (along with McKeehen’s dominant chip stack) seemingly pulled all of the air out of the Amazon Room. That’s what a Moment is supposed to do…be a snapshot of time that people fixate on.

Breakout Performance of the Year

Joshua Beckley
Asher Conniff
Cate Hall
Kelly Minkin

Beckley is the odds-on favorite here from his runner-up finish in the Championship Event, but Conniff’s story of winning what could be the final-ever WPT World Championship (hey, we’ll see how long that Champions’ Invitational lasts) – about how he really didn’t want to play in it, then got in by a satellite through the New Jersey online poker rooms, so he decided to just go ahead and win the tournament – could push him past Beckley. Minkin’s “Last Woman Standing” run at the WSOP Championship Event is nice, but it won’t top Beckley or Conniff.

Event of the Year – Buy-in under $2000

WSOP “The Colossus,” Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas
WPT500 at ARIA Las Vegas
WSOP “Millionaire Maker,” Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas
WPT DeepStacks – DeepStacks Poker Tour Championship, Grey Eagle Resort & Casino, Calgary, Canada

The WPT DeepStacks event is the ONLY thing outside of the U. S., unless you want to count Kara Scott, that has been nominated for an American Poker Award. While it would be nice for it to win, it isn’t going to happen. “The Colossus” was a bold move by WSOP and Caesars officials and it paid off for them, for the most part (a few controversies over the payouts, but I digress). The “Maker” will be eclipsed in this category again (was beaten last year by the “Monster Stack”) and the WPT500, while a great tournament, just doesn’t have the panache to battle.

Event of the Year – Buy-in over $2000

$500,000 Super High Roller Bowl, ARIA Las Vegas
WSOP $10,000 Championship Event, Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas
WSOP $1 Million One Drop High Roller, Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas
WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown, Hollywood, FL

The Super High Roller Bowl was a shot in the dark that paid off. Nobody – ARIA, the brand new streaming network Poker Central, POKER PROductions (the producers of the broadcast) – knew whether there would be any players that would actually come out for it or not. In the end, they got an outstanding broadcast out of the proceedings which helped Poker Central demonstrate what they wanted to do with their network with their innovative programming. It’s good to see the tournament will return again in 2016 and we can only hope it is just as entertaining.

Industry Person of the Year

Jack Effel, WSOP Vice President and Tournament Director
William Mason, Seminole Hard Rock Director of Poker
John Pappas, Poker Player Alliance Executive Director
Matt Savage, Tournament Directors Association Founder, WPT Executive Director

This is always a difficult choice because the people who work in the industry “behind the scenes” often do their best work when nothing wrong happens. That could be said for Effel, Mason and Savage, who have done some exemplary work in the tournament poker realm over the years. But to ignore what the PPA and Pappas have been able to do over the past 12 months – with a budget that is about 1/100th of what the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG) has at its disposal from sugar daddy Sheldon Adelson – would be a great disservice. It would also allow for the poker community to sound off as one against Adelson in a manner that might capture his attention (not that he would give a damn, but still).

Charitable Initiative of the Year

Chad Brown Memorial Tournament (Maria Ho and Vanessa Rousso, organizers)
Charity Series of Poker (Matt Stout)
Tiger’s Poker Night (Tiger Woods and the WPT Foundation)
WSOP One Drop High Roller/Little One for One Drop

Once again, outstanding choices for the award, but Matt Stout and the Charity Series of Poker have crisscrossed the country with their efforts in fundraising. Whether it is a bank of tournaments in Las Vegas, Hollywood, FL or Atlantic City, Stout is at the forefront of a multi-tournament schedule that raises funds for several worthy causes. Raising money for worthwhile causes is difficult enough; to do it several times and for several days…Stout has his work cut out for him and he always rises to the occasion.

Media Person of the Year

Joey Ingram
Kevin Mathers
Donnie Peters
Jason Somerville

Although we might be stretching the term “media person” for this award, Somerville has become one of the people that the poker community listens to the most. His Twitch broadcasts have set records and his opinions regarding the latest hot topics in the industry are always sought out. Those are the things you need – the audience and an opinion – to be able to have an impact as a member of the media and Somerville has them in spades.

Poker Presenter of the Year

Sarah Herring
Kara Scott
Joe Stapleton
David Tuchman

With all due kudos to the other three members of this category, Stapleton is long overdue for some attention for his work. Heading the livestreams of the EPTLive! broadcasts, Stapleton has brought a unique combination of poker knowledge, comedic timing and self-deprecating humor to those broadcasts, which is entirely necessary when you’re filling hour after hour of people playing cards. If you haven’t checked out a broadcast with Stapleton at the helm, you’re missing a rare treat.

Poker Innovation/Initiative of the Year

Poker Central Launches
Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open/Poker Night in America livestreams four final tables/same room/same time
WSOP Online bracelet with live final table
WSOP “The Colossus”

The madness that was the Seminole Hard Rock/PNiA livestream deserves some recognition somehow, but it gets overshadowed here by the debut of Poker Central. Although I’ve been harsh on Poker Central, I’d like to see them work beyond the “growing pains” stage to actually see if they can get on a REAL cable provider. I like my Roku just as much as the next person, but it isn’t my first choice for television programming. If Poker Central continues to move upward, perhaps getting on a cable provider, then the award here is worthwhile…if not, well…even the Grammys gave out Best New Artist to A Taste of Honey over Elvis Costello and The Cars once.

Media Content of the Year

Brad Willis – BUST, an Insider’s Look at Greenville, SC’s, Underground Poker Scene
Faraz Jaka and CNN Money – Faraz Jaka:  Homeless Poker Millionaire
Jason Somerville – September 2015 Twitch broadcast of WCOOP breaks records
Joe Giron – Daniel Negreanu post-elimination in 11th place, 2015 WSOP Championship Event

Poker doesn’t have too many of those “captured in the moment” types of shots that are typical of other sporting endeavors. The shot of Negreanu – with the palms of his hands pressed to his eyes and forehead as he laid on his back on the floor of the Main Stage in the Amazon Room – is about the closest thing we have to a dramatic moment. With this said, I wouldn’t be at all upset if Willis was to win his second AMA in this category; his four-part series on Greenville’s underground poker scene – and the deep scars that remain even today – was incomparable.

What would your choices be? We will find out the winners come February 25 when the 2nd Annual American Poker Awards are handed out.

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