Will OC's 2015 GPI American Poker Awards Picks

A few weeks ago, I was surprised with an email in my inbox with the subject heading “GPI American Poker Awards: join the Nomination Panel and cast your votes now”. I clicked and read on…

‘We would like to invite you to join the Nomination Panel for the 2nd Annual GPI American Poker Awards which will take place on Thursday, February 25, 2016 at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. The ceremony will once again reward the best players of the year, the most influential industry and media members as well as the most successful poker events.
We would be very happy to have you take part in the nomination panel process, which will gather at least 50 people from the poker industry. The Nomination Panel members' role is key in the awards process as the final list of nominees (4 in each category) is 100% based on their votes. A final jury will meet on the morning of the Awards to select the winners among the final list of nominees. Note that individual nomination panel votes are fully confidential and will never be released to the jury nor to the public.’

This was a pretty cool email to receive and, while maybe everyone who writes a word about poker throughout the year gets to vote, nevertheless, it seemed like an interesting opportunity. Now, I won’t be a part of the final selection process as that is saved for a “final jury” but I was able to vote on the nominees. Voting ended on January 20th and some of my picks made the cut for the Final Four in each category. Some did not but before those results are announced in February, I wanted to shamelessly promote my picks and, ultimately, who I think should take home the award for each category.

Sports and media writers have made picks or nominations public in the past, so without further ado, the Will OC 2015 GPI American Poker Awards picks…

TOURNAMENT PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR

  • Jonathan Duhamel, WSOP One Drop High Roller
  • Mike Gorodinsky, WSOP Poker Players' Championship
  • Joseph McKeehen, WSOP Main Event
  • Anthony Zinno, WPT L.A. Poker Classic

While all four performances were extremely worthy of nomination, there wasn’t a more dominating performance than that of Joe McKeehen in the WSOP Main Event. The television coverage shows a kid running hotter than the sun and I think Joe would admit that he did run well. But that pre-final table coverage doesn’t show just how much he altered the course of that tournament. With two tables remaining, on the bubble of the final table bubble, he was opening every hand, he had his entire table out chipped and showed no signs of slowing down, no signs that he was going to let anyone think that that table wasn’t his and his alone. The fact that he was never even put to the test, for nearly the last three days of the tournament and then at the final table, just shows how in control Joe was of the entire situation. It was never in doubt and this award shouldn't be either.

MOMENT OF THE YEAR

  • Anthony Zinno goes back-to-back winning WPT Fallsview, WPT L.A. Poker Classic
  • Over 22,000 players enter WSOP Colossus for chance at gold bracelet
  • Phil Hellmuth wins bracelet #14 - WSOP 10K Razz Championship
  • Daniel Negreanu busts 11th in the WSOP Main Event

Since the summer, I’ve wondered what the WSOP Main Event final table would have been like with Negreanu there. The build up would have been insane and with three months to prepare, ‘Kid Poker’ certainly would have contended for the title no matter how he stacked up to the rest of the table. I’ll never forget the excitement and tension in the Amazon Room during Day 7 when the entire crowd was on pins and needles, watching Negreanu’s every move. The same type of crowd formed a month earlier though, when Phil Hellmuth won his 14th bracelet in the $10,000 Razz Championship. I feel that MOMENT OF THE YEAR should be a positive moment and I truly believe that Hellmuth’s bracelet count will never be caught. It's safe to say that every win he notches only solidifies his standing as one of the best poker players in the history of the game. With that being said, it’s ‘Poker Brat’ over ‘Kid Poker’.

BREAKOUT PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR

  • Joshua Beckley
  • Asher Conniff
  • Cate Hall
  • Kelly Minkin

East Coast bias aside, all four of these nominees had amazing years and have solidified themselves in the world of tournament poker. Kelly Minkin, who will be named GPI Female Player of the Year in February, kicked off the close calls by female players in WPT events, while Cate Hall ended the year keeping that theme alive in the Bellagio Five Diamond Classic. Josh Beckley, who truly “broke out” on the East Cost two summer’s ago, likely would have won the WSOP, had he not run into the immovable force that was Joe McKeehen. All three had fantastic 2015 campaigns and they will all continue to see immense success in 2016 but in terms of individual performances and announcing yourself to the world stage, look no further than Asher Conniff and his “misclicked” run towards a WPT World Championship. I was at the WSOP for Beckley and Minkin’s run, I followed Cate Hall at both MarylandLive! and Bellagio but none of those runs or performances can touch what Asher did in April of last year. He opened Borgata’s Spring Poker Open with a win in their $1,000,000 guaranteed event and then followed that up by qualifying for the WPT World Championship through an online satellite. The rest was history, as Asher went from up and coming New Jersey online and Borgata regular, to the top of the poker world in a matter of a week and a half.

Side thought for this category: Aaron Mermelstein won two WPT titles and nearly $1,200,000 combined in 2015 right? Yeah, he did? Just checking.

EVENT OF THE YEAR (BUY-IN UP TO $2,000)

  • 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
  • WPTDeepStacks – DSPT Championship, Grey Eagle Resort & Casino, Calgary

There were plenty of storylines from this summer but it all started with ‘The Colossus’. I had never been to Vegas for the WSOP before this summer but I imagine that, while it’s always busy, it’s never as busy as it was that weekend when the starting flights of the biggest tournament in the history of poker were playing out. Cash game lists at the Rio are always long but cash game lists for every game in town, at every casino, were hours long and stayed that way for days. 22,000 people need to play somewhere right? I covered the entirety of that event for WSOP.com and it was more than the sheer number of players that impressed. It was the fact that people had come from so far, so wide for a chance to play in the World Series of Poker. The WSOP is massive every year but for some, maybe most of the poker community, $1,000 or $1,500 buy-ins aren’t within their price point. This gave people a chance and with a doubled guaranteed slated to fire off in 2016, more and more people will be taking a chance this summer.

EVENT OF THE YEAR (BUY-IN OVER $2,000)

  • Super High Roller Bowl, ARIA, Las Vegas
  • WSOP Main Event, Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas
  • WSOP One Drop High Roller, Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas
  • WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown, Hollywood, FL

It’s easy to just crown a winner in this category to the biggest buy-in event of the year and that would be the $500,000 buy-in ‘Super High Roller Bowl’. That event was for the best, for the richest, which is not to take away from Brian Rast’s July 4th weekend victory. But, the $111,111 ‘High Roller for One Drop’ at the WSOP is more inclusive. The field is bigger, players can satellite in and while those players are top pros that have hundreds of thousands of dollars in career earnings, the average Joe can still qualify his way in. This is a tough category because all of these events are so big and so star studded that they’re all spectacles in and of themselves but with that being said, I’m giving the nod to the ‘High Roller for One Drop’. Maybe because in my wildest dreams, one year, someone like Darvin Moon will win a $1,000 satty and then a $10,000 satty and then crush the toughest field in poker to win One Drop. A kid can dream right?

INDUSTRY PERSON OF THE YEAR

  • Jack Effel, WSOP Vice President & Tournament Director
  • William Mason, Seminole Hard Rock Director of Poker
  • John Pappas, Poker Players Alliance Executive Director
  • Matt Savage, TDA Founder, WPT Executive Director

I have yet to have the pleasure of meeting either William Mason or John Pappas but I’m sure, throughout 2015, their contributions to the game and community of poker were felt throughout the country. I’ve met Matt Savage on a few occasions and, from the look of what he’s done for the various series and casinos he works with, is one of the best in the business. But, what Jack Effel did this summer was unprecedented. I’m not talking about ‘The Colossus’, I’m not talking about another hugely successful World Series of Poker, I’m talking about the change he made a few weeks into that WSOP series. Effel more or less ripped his structure sheets in half and threw them in the trash, all because he listened to the players. He listened to veteran pros and amateurs alike, he gave them what they wanted, he was accommodating. Most people in positions of power, regardless of industry, hate to be “wrong” and while Effel wasn’t “wrong” in the right or wrong context of anything, he and his staff tried something that didn’t really work through the first third of the series. Instead of forcing his customers to play the rest of the series with long and tedious smaller buy-in structures that saw players play deep into Day 2 just to barely make the money, Effel listened to the players and made the necessary changes. Those changes saved some events later in the summer and everyone in a position of decision making in this industry can learn from Effel’s compromise.

CHARITABLE INITIATIVE OF THE YEAR

  • Chad Brown Memorial Tournament (Maria Ho, Vanessa Rousso)
  • Charity Series of Poker (Matt Stout)
  • Tiger's Poker Night (hosted by Tiger Woods, WPT Foundation)
  • WSOP One Drop High Roller / Little One for One Drop

This category is a bit of a wash because to say one charity or charitable initiative was better or worse than the other is counterintuitive to what each charity is actually trying to accomplish. It’s the same as awarding EVENT OF THE YEAR to the biggest buy-in tournament of 2015. With all the money that changes hands on a daily basis in poker, it’s amazing that so many people, throughout the industry, make attempts to give back in a multitude of ways. In true charitable fashion, you are all winners.

MEDIA PERSON OF THE YEAR

  • Joey Ingram
  • Kevin Mathers
  • Jason Somerville
  • Donnie Peters

I’d say that Jason Somerville has changed the game in terms of streaming online poker but he didn’t change it, he started it. Since then, he’s branched out but I don’t exactly consider him to be a “media person” in the ways that Ingram, Donnie or KevMath are. Ingram has a niche and product that no one has been able to replicate and likely never will. He’s able to get big name players in the community talking about anything under the sun and while you’d think it would turn into incoherent rambling, hour three and a half with Fedor was my personal breaking point, but it’s all actually very informative, insightful and, most importantly, entertaining. Donnie is in charge of the biggest poker reporting company, team and site in the world and PokerNews is not only consistent in what they do but their work is one of the better standards of reporting in the industry. All three have contributed more than their fair share to the poker community over the last year but KevMath is it. The amount of questions he answers on a day to day basis, the amount of informational tweets he puts out seemingly every minute of every day, the way he promotes whatever it is that everyone else is doing in "media". He is half the reason a lot of our work gets to the masses and I know I mess with him about it but the fact that he’s even still alive after answering “Is ‘Monster Stack’ a re-entry?” or “Is there a live stream?” this summer is enough to earn Kevin this award. That and the fact that every day he #doeshisjob better than anyone else could.

POKER PRESENTER OF THE YEAR

  • Sarah Herring
  • Kara Scott
  • Joseph Stapleton
  • David Tuchman

This is a bit of an extension of MEDIA PERSON OF THE YEAR and quiet frankly, if Jason Somerville was up for this award, I’d likely give him the nod because he is, in essence, presenting his live streams. He’s not nominated, so I digress. I’ve never met Sarah or Kara but I know Sara has a great rapport with players and can usually get them talking about just about anything, much like Joe Ingram. That’s a good thing because many of these players are more than poker players; much, much more actually and Sarah brings that out in every interview she does. I’ve only actually met two of these nominees, David Tuchman during the WSOP and Joe Stapleton when he worked the Borgata Poker Open live streams in September and then again this past weekend. Both do a fantastic job but very different jobs. The fact that Tuchman anchors an entire series worth of final table coverage is not only the coolest job in the world but also more difficult than people give him credit for. Sure, he has pros and industry personalities come into commentate on some final tables but the entire time, it’s Tuchman leading the way. He jumped in the booth when myself and a few other members of the WSOP.com Live Updates team were streaming the first ever online bracelet event. He commentated for close to 15 minutes and it was just so natural, so smooth and he was staring at a 13 inch laptop screen talking about players named ‘TuttyBear’, ‘SLOPHOUSE’ and ‘Stonerboner’ for crying out loud. It was fun to watch and while all are very good in their respective roles, the voice of the WSOP live stream takes this one.

POKER INNOVATION OR INITIATIVE OF THE YEAR

  • Poker Central launces 24/7 television network
  • SHRPO (in conjunction with PNIA) livestreams four FT's in same room/at same time
  • WSOP adds online bracelet event (with live final table)
  • WSOP introduces 'The Colossus'

‘The Colossus’ has already claimed the Will OC GPI APA award for EVENT OF THE YEAR (BUY-IN UP TO $2,000) so I wouldn’t want to let it walk away with two WOC APA’s. Luckily for us, we don't have to, as for groundbreaking as ‘The Colossus’ was, the WSOP adding an online bracelet event to it’s schedule was more groundbreaking. ’The Colossus’, at some point in time, was always bound to happen. If you build it, they will come. The online bracelet event was a tough one though, for many reasons. It’s amazing how many people, non-poker people and poker people alike, are anti-online poker after Black Friday. People believe it’s rigged, helps aid terrorism and can lead grinders down into an endless, escape proof black hole. Maybe I’m being naive when I think that the WSOP awarding a bracelet to an online event somehow “legitimizes” online poker to part of the crowd but I think it did and does. Hopefully that wasn’t the first and only online bracelet event and, hopefully, the rest will only be bigger and better than 2015’s version.

MEDIA CONTENT OF THE YEAR

  • Bust, an Insider's Account of Greenville's Underground Poker Scene (Brad Willis)
  • Faraz Jaka, Homeless Poker Milliionaire, CNN Money (Jaka, Gayles, Carson)
  • Jason Somerville’s record Twitch Broadcast during WCOOP in September 2015
  • Joe Giron shoots photo of Negreanu crumbled on the floor after ME elimination

So it’s Somerville, who pseudo claimed my POKER PRESENTER OF THE YEAR award, ‘The Bust Out Seen Round The World’, the Homeless Poker Millionaire and the piece that if you haven’t read, you should stop what you’re doing right now and go to this link. I will never know how Brad Willis did it but somehow, he managed to capture my imagination, an insanely interesting story and an entire underground poker community into a four-part series that had me checking twitter for one link and one link only every morning for a week straight. It’s Making A Murderer combined with Rounders with a little High Stakes Poker mixed in. Read BUST, an Insider’s Account of Greenville’s Underground Poker Scene by Brad Willis while eating breakfast, at your office, before you go to bed, wherever, you will not be disappointed.

The official GPI American Poker Awards won’t be announced for a month and I wish all the nominees the best of luck. Their contributions to the poker community over the last year go far beyond whether their name is selected or not on February 25th. I'd like to thank the GPI for giving me a chance to be a part of the 2015 nomination panel. I’m happy to have a spot, albeit a tiny one, in this community and who knows, maybe one day some blogger will say that I don’t deserve one of these awards.