There have always been arguments about who the best player in the world might be. One thing that usually has not been argued, however, is who the best player in a given calendar year might be. Organizations like CardPlayer Magazine and the Global Poker Index have done magnificent work to trying to figure out who the best player in a calendar year might be, but of late there have been some changes in the tournament poker world that are corrupting that work. Thus, it is time that both CardPlayer and the GPI take one of two paths (both would be perfect) towards fixing their Player of the Year systems.
High Roller Events Have Corrupted the Overall Tournament Calendar
I have written about this before, but it has never been more evident than in 2021 that the “High Roller” events have spread like a fungus and are infecting the overall tournament poker scene. PokerGO has even gone as far as to create a touring series out of them (something that the World Poker Tour tried to do several years ago with WPT Alpha8 – perhaps they were just a bit ahead of their time) in the PokerGO Tour, events with buy-ins north of $10,000 that the “Average Joe” poker player could only dream about getting into. That is not the way that poker is supposed to be and it certainly shouldn’t dominate the “regular” tournament scene where someone proves their mettle.
There are several issues with High Roller tournaments that are problematic. First, they are populated with about three dozen “regulars” that are constantly take part. Most poker people would say that, if you were playing the same 36 people all the time, if you did not learn anything about their playing styles over a lengthy period of time, you probably shouldn’t be playing poker. To allow 36 people to decide who the Player of the Year is just because they have boatloads of cash to toss around is not the way that poker was meant to be.
I am reminded of something that one of the greatest poker writers of all time, the late Lou Krieger, once wrote about the game of poker. He wrote the following (and I am going to separate it away so it can be respected):
“Poker is a microcosm of all we admire and disdain about capitalism and democracy. It can be rough-hewn or polished, warm or cold, charitable and caring, or hard and impersonal, fickle and elusive, but ultimately it is fair, and right, and just… Not only is poker good for you, it’s the American way – where winners play fair, have the right stuff, and nothing else matters – except, perhaps, a bit of luck every now and then.”
Note that nowhere in there did Lou state anything about spending a crapload of money. Poker is supposed to be an egalitarian game, not an elitist game. CardPlayer Magazine and the GPI can do one of two things (or both, in a perfect world) to change the way their rankings are compiled and return the game – or at least how it is Player of the Year is determined – back to that egalitarian goal Krieger stated.
Change #1 – Set the (Player) Bar High
These “High Roller” events are not going anywhere, but it should actually be a tournament and not a glorified Sit and Go. In looking at some of Ali Imsirovic’s finishes for the year (no reason to pick on Imsirovic, but he is one of those players who almost exclusively plays the “High Roller” circuit), he received Player of the Year points from both CardPlayer and the GPI for tournaments that had as few as 30 ENTRIES – note, that is entries, not the individual number of people. While CardPlayer does set a physical entry number limit on their POY rankings, both they and the GPI need to set that player bar higher, not as low as it is currently set.
For ANY tournament to earn points towards the POY, it should be set by CardPlayer and the GPI that there has to be a minimum of 75 PLAYERS – individual players, not “entries” – that have entered the tournament. This ensures that it is a serious event, not a little “made for television (or streaming)” event that is not drawing a decent number of players to contest. It is an actual tournament that puts the participants to the test rather than allowing a clique to get together to shuffle chips (and money) around. I would like to see that number set even higher, myself – take it on up to 100 individual players, make sure that there is some challenge set for everyone, rather than just a small group.
Change #2 – Separate Leaderboards
The GPI tried to do something like this for 2021, but they set the standards too low. The GPI does a “normal” POY that covers everything, but then they also compute a “Mid-Major” POY race that covers tournaments with a buy-in under $2500. Since they already do this, then they should take that figure a bit higher.
There should be TWO POY races established. One, of course, would be a “High Roller” POY that covers tournaments from $10,000 on up. The second would be the REAL POY, the players that have to routinely battle through fields hundreds (sometimes thousands) of players strong, show their skills and demonstrate that they are the BEST that poker has to offer – not that they can beat 30 other people who like to torch stacks of cash.
For the REAL POY, you can make it tournaments with a buy-in of $10,000 and under. Yes, I know the “High Roller” POY goes $10K and up, but that is where the slight bit of overlap can occur. All $10,000 tournaments are not created equal – there is a stark difference between taking on 700 players at the WPT L. A. Poker Classic and “slumming” at ARIA in one of their “High Roller” events along with 30 of your closest friends you have been playing with for years.
What Would Be the Difference?
There would be a substantial difference if you implemented these two guidelines. First off, Imsirovic would probably not be the POY of a REAL POY ranking on CardPlayer or the GPI because most of his work was done in tournaments over the $10K mark. You would see someone like a Qing Liu, who won a WPT event one night and came back the next evening to nearly do it again, or even Brian Altman, who does a majority of his “dirty work” in the tournaments under $10K, receive the POY honor for their demanding work.
This is not a slam against the “High Roller” events, Imsirovic, Bryn Kenney or a multitude of other players who seemingly play these tournaments exclusively. It is a slam, however, on the fact that they are not taking on all comers; they prefer to play the same 30-50 people that they KNOW HOW THEY PLAY. That is arguably the biggest challenge in poker is taking on people you have never even seen before, learning their tendencies, and then figuring out the right approach to take – that is the egalitarian nature of poker.
Instead of rewarding the 30-50 people playing “High Roller” tournaments, give them their little tour and their own POY. Reward the hardworking people who ply their trade in Florida, or Los Angeles, or Las Vegas, or Baltimore, or any of the other places where the poker COMMUNITY gathers to enjoy the game. That is what a Player of the Year award is supposed to do, not reward who had the most money to fling around at a given time. Hopefully CardPlayer and the GPI will institute these new changes – the minimum player numbers and the separation of the tabulations – so we can have a true indicator (or, at least as close as possible) of who had the best year.