Welcome to the North American Poker Tour
On Wednesday, PokerStars did the smart thing by offering a free breakfast that the assembled media could find in the same room as the press conference trumpeting the worst-kept secret in the poker. Finally, the North American Poker Tour, the newest of PokerStars' series of region-specific tours, has been made official.
The subject of assorted whispers over the last eight months or so, the NAPT is looking like Stars' attempt to infiltrate and eventually conquer the US televised tournament market. With the WPT as weak as it's been in years, the time is right for this kind of a move if you believe there's still a niche for season-round tournament coverage in American television.
Here's what we learned today:
• Three of five stops were announced: The first is PCA, the second will be at the Venetian in Las Vegas on February 20-24th for the $5,000 main event of the Deep Stack Extravaganza series. The third will be at Connecticut's Mohegan Sun in April, with buy-ins ranging from $200- $25,000.
• According to Jeffrey Haas, Director, Global Poker Tour: "We have a first-tier broadcast partner who will be announced in the next two weeks."
• Joanna Kruppa will be the hostess of the show (Internet fan boys rejoice!).
Here's what we didn't learn today:
• Where and when the tour will be televised?
• Why Stars only announced three of five stops. I'm inclined to wonder whether there are presently locations that 'Stars hasn't yet secured that they're hoping to secure in the near future. If so, strange timing on the announcement, but they'll never have the kind of media attention they'll get at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure.
• What will this show bring to the table that the WPT hasn't already?
If this thing is going to work, Stars is going to need to learn from WPT's mistakes and develop multiple perpetual motion storylines and content that adapts with the viewer. In television, change is survival and the WPT's lack thereof was key to their eventual fall.
This sets up the kind of head-to-head match that intrigues me in a special way. Three years and three months ago, Party Poker and PokerStars were the two biggest websites in the world. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act passed and the directions each entity chose reshaped the online poker world to the one we see today. Now, it's Stars who are the big boys and their show is primed to go head-to-head with PartyGaming's recent WPT purchase. It'll be fun to watch the ratings come in and see if and how Stars' industry dominance asserts itself in the numbers.
PCA sets attendance record
Over 1,500 players have taken their seats in the Bahamas creating the largest European Poker Tour stop in history. With registration open until the end of the second level on Day 1B, the 668 players that played on Day 1A will represent less than half the field. Out of that 668, only 430 players moved on to Day 2.
Emerging from the field yesterday was Wayne Bentley who cracked Bill Edler's K-K with 8-8 late in the day to win a huge pot and boost himself to his current chip stack of $329,500. Bentley, listed as a PokerStars qualifier from the U.K. on the PokerStars blog, has more than $109,000 over his nearest competitor and tournament veteran Amnon Filippi.
Other notables at the top of the chip counts include 2009's PCA eighth-place finisher Kevin Saul (third), Eric Froehlich (fourth), 2009 WSOP November Niner Eric Buchman (sixth) and Daniel Negreanu (12th). While the tournament offered a $30,000 starting stack, it wasn't enough play for professionals JC Tran, Jonathan Little, Greg Raymer, Chris Moneymaker, Daniel Alaei and Erik Seidel who weren't able to make it through the first eight levels.
ESPN.com's Bernard Lee has an average stack of $46,800 and gained most of his chips during the last level of play when he doubled up with K-K against his opponent's 10-10.
Day 1B features a very tough field that includes Phil Ivey, Justin Bonomo, Elky, WSOP main event champions Joe Cada and Peter Eastgate, Annette Obrestad and Scotty Nguyen (just to name a few). During the first three levels Vanessa Rousso has chipped up to $140,000, most of which came from her pocket nines outflopping aces and kings on the same hand.
The athletes and celebrities will also be the field today. Orel Hershiser, Mats Sundin, Boris Becker, Jayde Nicole, Teddy Sheringham (busted out during Level 3) and Nelly (busted out during Level 3) will test their poker chops against some of the best in the world.
For one lucky winner, a trip to the Bahamas will be worth at least $3 million. Not a bad way to start the year.