Me and Uma
I have never been to the GPI Global Poker Awards, but I have been to the Oscars. I’d like to think this is because of some cool reason, like that Groucho Marx remark about not wanting to be in a club that would have me as a member. In reality, I’m just too cheap to fly for 20 hours to watch the opening of an envelope.
On March 23, 2003, I attended the 75th Academy Awards on the coattails of my father whose film had been nominated in three categories. It was a fun, if somewhat underwhelming night. It might be long-Covid brain fog but I only have a few overriding memories.
darted out to the smoking balcony next to a resplendent Uma Thurman
I remember making small talk with an in-costume Ben Stiller (Starsky or Hutch, I don’t remember which one he was) as we went through a security tent at the end of a red carpet. I remember how before the ceremony started, I bummed a cigarette and lighter from my incredulous stepmother and darted out to the smoking balcony next to a resplendent Uma Thurman, who I’m pretty sure realized immediately that I didn’t know how to smoke.
I remember that I put my rented tuxedo under immense pressure by eating dozens of Wolfgang Puck hors d’oeuvres. I remember that ‘Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King’ won everything. I also remember that, at the end of the night, waiting for my limousine bore an uncanny resemblance to waiting for my Saturday night kebab; a guy with a megaphone shouting out three-digit numbers to a room full of drunk people all holding half-crumpled slips of paper.
The rise of the content creator
While these sorts of events aren’t usually as elegant as they might seem, it’s fair to say that Global Poker Index has chosen a glamorous host for this year’s Global Poker Awards in reporter Drea Renee. They also picked poker broadcaster and wedding cake groom figurine who wished and wished and eventually became a real boy, Jeff Platt.
On Friday, the GPI Global Poker Awards will honor a wide variety of people who contribute to the game. In part one, I made my predictions in the player-focused categories. In part two, I will turn my attention to poker’s content creators who have, in a big way, overtaken players as the people upon whom the industry markets the game.
- Kevin “kevinmartin” Martin
- Ben “Spraggy” Spragg
- Jonathan “apestylespoker” Van Fleet
- Lex “LexVeldhuis” Veldhuis
Lex is undoubtedly the King of Poker Twitch, his audience numbers surpassing all others, year in, year out. It will be tough to dethrone him despite the categories strong contenders.
Fintan Hand can count himself unlucky not to be in the mix after his own triumphs in 2021, but his old partner-in-crime, the sardonic Benjamin Spragg, might well be the man to take this one down and keep the coveted prize with Team Pokerstars.
a journey from fun player to genuine crusher
Apestyles and Kevin Martin are both great communicators, infusing entertainment with education on their streams. The former is an online poker OG who has remained at the top of the game for almost twenty years. Meanwhile, the latter is a reality tv star who has brought his audience on a journey from fun player to genuine crusher.
In perhaps the most competitive category, I expect Lex to retain his crown but if he doesn’t, I think Martin will cause the upset.
- Jaman Burton
- Ryan Depaulo
- Brad Owen
- Ethan “Rampage” Yau
One would have to assume that Brad Owen is the front runner for Best Vlogger this year based on his enormous audience, but the GPI Awards are not a box office prize.
Yau and Depaulo are both big personalities, but for sheer artistry, imagination, and innovation with the medium, Burton deserves recognition above all others. His comic book sensibility, fresh editing skills, and beautiful transitions have brought a vitality to a medium that is weighed down by samey hand histories broken up by B-roll of casino carparks.
Best Live Reporter
- Mickey Doft
- Tim Duckworth
- Chad Holloway
- Christian Zetzsche
Probably the most under-valued people in our industry, live reporters are the men and women on the ground, writing the first drafts of poker history. They watch the boring bits so you don’t have to, wading through a sea of monotony to find a worthy story, an exciting hand, or just capture the essence of an event.
The good ones are camouflaged. The best ones are invisible. Flies on the wall, they buzz around from table to table, finding narratives within the greater narrative of the tournament. Doft does Trojan work on the World Poker Tour (WPT) and Duckworth is a machine in PokerGO, but I suspect this is a two-horse race between veteran live reporter Holloway and Zetzsche.
routinely performs miracles in the role of tournament reporter
Holloway was a powerhouse in the role of executive editor of the Pokernews World Series of Poker (WSOP) 2021 reporting team but for me, one person routinely performs miracles in the role of tournament reporter. Seemingly in two places at once, Zetzsche is a wizard, pumping out more words than any of his colleagues, providing the most comprehensive coverage on anyone in the business.
Van Gogh once said: “Quick work doesn’t mean less serious work, it depends on one’s self-confidence and experience.” If tournament reporters are poker’s impressionists, then Zetzsche is its magnum exemplum.
- Will Jaffe
- Jamie Kerstetter
- Kitty Kuo
- Kevin Mathers
For this category, I shall keep my review to 280 characters:
Mathers is a national treasure, Kuo is a rare diamond, Jaffe’s ‘tough convos’ hold up a vital mirror, but Kerstetter is sublime.
There will never be another winner of this award so I would like to formally make a petition that it be re-named ‘the Jamie Kerstetter Award’ and that, after this year, she can no longer win it.
Best Media Content: Written
- Lance Bradley for PocketFives: Isai Scheinberg: His Company, His Legacy, and How Black Friday Impacted Both
- Alex O’Brien for BBC: How a $10k poker win changed how I think
- D’Arcy Maine for ESPN.com: While battling brain cancer, Michael Graydon lives World Series of Poker dream
- Charles Rabin for Miami Herald: From immigration ‘cage’ to newest poker champ at Hard Rock. An Afghan refugee’s luck turns
A problematic category that needs breaking up, the longlist for this one included poker books and poker strategy books, both of which need their own award.
Maine and Rabin tugged on the heartstrings
Regardless, the finalists all did great work. Maine and Rabin tugged on the heartstrings, Bradley got unprecedented access to an enigma, but my pick is O’Brien for her beautifully written piece, foreshadowing her upcoming book ‘The Truth Detective.’
Poker doesn’t get enough mainstream coverage and when it does get some, it’s normally negative. It was therefore heartening to see such a positive representation of poker go viral.
Best Media Content: Photo
- Antonio Abrego for PokerGO: Adam Friedman defeats Phil Hellmuth for third straight WSOP 10K Dealers Choice title
- Hayley Hochstetler: The End of an Era
- Enrique Malfavon for PokerGO: The WSOP Main Event Bubble Bursts
- Danny Maxwell for PokerNews/WSOP: Brandon Shack-Harris and his umbrella at WSOP
Poker photography is hard. The lighting in casinos suck. Poker is mostly quite pedestrian. Poker players are, for the most part, an unglamorous bunch. Great poker photographers are sorcerers, weaving their magic spells on the daily, turning frogs into princes.
This year’s nominations for best photo are eclectic. Abrego captured a dramatic moment of victory and defeat. Hochstetler’s moody offering depicted a room that was both empty and filled with ghosts. Malfavon encapsulated the agony and the ecstasy of the WSOP bubble-bursting.
My pick, however, is Danny Maxwell’s sumptuous portrait of Brandon Shack-Harris under his umbrella. Perfectly framed, beautifully juxtaposed, he captured a magical moment of playfulness and whimsy:
Best Media Content: Video
- Paul Graydon & Andrew Neeme: The Villain Who Stole Christmas
- Last Call Pokeridokumentii
- Jeff Platt for PokerGO: “Stand Up for Me, Please!”
- Remko Rinkema for PokerGO: Run it Back with Stefanie Ungar
- Run It Once: Meet the Jungleman
This is another strange category that pits a compilation of one-minute interviews against a vlog, and a documentary against a two minute advertisement. Nonetheless, I’ll do my best to parse the contenders and find a winner. Cue drumroll…
Neeme’s blog was heartfelt, Jungleman’s ad was hilarious and Rinkema’s trip down memory-lane with the daughter of Stu Ungar induced goosebumps. I also enjoyed Platt’s “Stand Up For Me, Please” segments but wonder if the true meaning of the catchphrase was lost on his subjects. It amuses me to think that what became his catchphrase was actually a plea to be defended against what I assume was workplace bullying from Norman Chad and Jamie Kerstetter.
I would, however, give the award to ‘Last Call,’ a slickly produced, professionally edited story that really captures what the poker life is all about. The last episode featuring VegasSlotsOnline News writer Dara O’Kearney is a stand-out piece of content and for that, it deserves the nod.
- Poker in the Ears (James Hartigan and Joseph Stapleton for PokerStars)
- The Chip Race Poker Podcast (David Lappin and Dara O’Kearney for Unibet Poker)
- The Doug Polk Podcast (Doug Polk)
- The Heart of Poker (Kara Scott)
It would be wrong not to mention the podcasts that didn’t make the shortlist, with some some scandalous omissions in this category. ‘Thinking Poker’ is pound for pound the best poker podcast ever produced and the show’s output in 2021 was up there with its best. ‘The Grid’ is a stellar piece of content and Jennifer Shahade never fails to deliver a thought-provoking interview with her subject. ‘Chasing Poker Greatness’ is the most prolific podcast in the space, with its hard-working host Brad Wilson generating huge amounts of excellent content each and every week.
Polk would seem like the man to beat
Of those who made the final four, Polk would seem like the man to beat. His contribution to digital poker content is surpassed by nobody and while he is new to the podcast streets, he has already made his mark. ‘Poker in the Ears’ features two very worthy nominees in commentary veteran’s James Hartigan and Joe Stapleton who have produced almost 250 episodes.
Never underestimate though how the voting panel can be swayed in this category by the sheer sex appeal of the hosts. Should that prove to be the deciding factor, ‘The Chip Race’ is a shoo-in to pick up its second GPI Global Poker award. I suspect, however, that Kara Scott’s intimate high concept show ‘The Heart Of Poker’ will pip Polk for the prize.
Order of Merit
Rounding off the content creators section, we are lucky in poker to be occasionally blessed with some mainstream crossover. ‘The Biggest Bluff’ came out in 2020 and was a third New York Times Best Seller for psychologist turned writer turned poker pro turned poker writer Maria Konnikova.
On Monday night, the GPI made a very nice announcement:
Speaking exclusively to VSO News, Konnikova said:
“I’m thrilled that ‘The Biggest Bluff’ is being recognized by the poker community. Poker has given me so much—and it’s an honor to be able to share my love of the game with new audiences.”
‘The Biggest Bluff’ chronicles Konnikova’s own journey from novice to professional under the guidance of poker legend Erik Seidel while at the same time examining the nature of poker itself and how it can improve ones ability to assess risk, make decisions, read people, appreciate luck and control emotions. Konnikova is a very worthy winner of this very special prize.
In part three of my definitive guide, I will look at the categories honoring poker’s leading industry figures. Read part one here.