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Why I Think the EPL Will Fail

Today marks the launch of the Epic Poker League (EPL), a members-only series of tournaments modeled somewhat after the PGA; in order to play, you’ve got to have a membership card. To be eligible for membership, you need a considerable amount of accomplishments in the poker world.

The EPL is a “by professionals, for professionals” enterprise. For qualifying players, it’s a tremendous deal. Not only will the action be broadcast on CBS, but the Epic Poker League is adding $400,000 to the prize pool of the tournament that started today (a $20,000 buy-in) and $1,000,000 to the prize pool of an event held in February ($0 buy-in).

A lot of hype and marketing has gone into getting the Annie Duke-founded EPL off the ground. As far as meets the eye, the EPL will be nothing short of a huge success. But I predict it fails.

A big reason for this is that it’s just not that interesting. Before I was anything close to a “serious” poker player, I was a poker fan. I’m still a poker fan. I love refreshing WSOP updates and seeing who will win the next EPT event. But in the case of the EPL, I really don’t give a damn.

Every single person with an EPL membership card is a highly accomplished poker player. Part of the appeal of poker (and one could argue, any competition) is the possibility of a Cinderella story. In the EPL, there are no Cinderellas. There aren’t really any players in the field seemingly incapable of winning the tournament. There are no Moneymakers or Darvin Moons. I honestly could care less who wins the EPL because there’s nothing interesting or surprising about any of them winning. The EPL is a few people trying to cash in on the televised poker bubble (which apparently still hasn’t popped) to the benefit of a few accomplished players who are basically getting paid (via overlay money) to show up and play.

A poker TV production consisting exclusively of accomplished pros and no Cinderella stories needs more than just the competition factor in order to be appealing. It needs loud mouths and big personalities. God help the EPL if the final table of this first event is a bunch of headphone-wearing 20-somethings with no personality. Just thinking about it makes me want to go take a nap.

The competition taking place in the EPL isn’t interesting on it’s own two feet. The idea of making some complicated league that you have to qualify for would be great… if poker were a game of skill. But it’s not. The winner of any single EPL tournament is decided in a very large part by luck. This is true of all poker tournaments, but what makes the WSOP and other tournaments so great is the variety of characters competing for riches. Unlike the EPL, the WSOP is not a mono-culture of spoiled pro poker players.

The EPL will not go belly-up right away. There’s been enough hype and funding to keep it around a little while. But within a couple of years, I think we’ll see it die off. TV ratings will be awful and eventually the EPL will run out of overlay money to add to the prize pool. When that happens, do you think these guys are still going to show up and play a tournament on their own money where 95% of the field is incredibly sharky?

I don’t think so.


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