A Definitive Guide to the GPI Global Poker Awards – Part Three: Industry Figures

  • On Friday, February 18, the third GPI Global Poker Awards will recognize industry figures
  • While there are already 20+ categories, adding more would ensure no one slips through the net
  • VSO News writer David Lappin has cast his eye over the nominees, predicting winners
  • This includes Best Poker Personality and its controversial reigning champion Jonathan Little
Global Poker Awards
The third edition of the GPI Global Poker Awards will take place on Friday, and VSO News writer David Lappin has provided his predictions for the industry figures category. [Image: Global Poker Index Twitter]

More awards is better

Firstly, congratulations on getting this far. In the previous two parts of this trilogy, I covered the GPI Global Poker Award nominations for players and content creators. My biggest takeaway from those deep-dives is that there should be more awards with existing categories broken up so as not to force panelists to vote for apples over oranges. 

the ‘Global Poker Awards’ have failed to go properly global

My second biggest takeaway is that the awards are too dominated by North America. In fact, 53 out of 68 nominees in the 17 panel-voted categories are North American. Despite the best efforts of Eric Danis, one of the game’s real treasures, the ‘Global Poker Awards’ have failed to go properly global since their inception, instead just unifying old European and American poker awards. 

Of the fifteen other nominees, twelve are European with just two coming from Australia, one from Asia, and none from South America. Bringing the poker world together was obviously a very on-brand decision from the ‘Global Poker Index,’ but it has been to the detriment of lesser-known figures in the industry who contribute massively in their regions without global recognition.

To be fair, 2021 was a tricky year to cover. The vast majority of live poker took place in the US and a good chunk of the categories center around industry roles and achievements around live poker. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the runners and riders in the industry categories. 

Best Broadcaster

  • Jamie Kerstetter 
  • Ali Nejad
  • Jeff Platt
  • Joe Stapleton

Confined to just 280 characters, she is poker’s queen. Locked in a commentary booth with the legendary pairing of Lon McEachern and Norman Chad, she is poker’s princess – witty and combative, flanked by her two Dads. Kerstetter has always been a sharp and humorous presence in the booth, but in 2021, she also flexed in a big way as an analyst.

This is a category that needs splitting up into commentator/commentating pair and sideline reporter. Both bring different skills to the table and are hard to compare. Nejad, Stapleton, and Platt are all consummate professionals and bring a great deal to every broadcast. However, for her work on this year’s World Series of Poker (WSOP), my pick for the gong is Kerstetter, who I believe will walk away the night’s only double-winner. 

Best Event

  • Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open Opening Event 
  • World Series Of Poker Main Event 
  • Wynn Mystery Bounty
  • Wynn Millions

If you had to pick one category on which to bet your life, it would be Best Event, but the fact the WSOP Main Event will undoubtedly win makes it all the more important to acknowledge and celebrate the other nominees. 

the best innovation for tournament poker in a long time

The Wynn is a phenomenal poker room and easily the nicest place to play in Vegas. The Wynn Millions was the Main Event of the Summer and the Wynn Mystery Bounty was the best innovation for tournament poker in a long time. The Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open Opening Event proved a huge success and also deserves its place. 

Best Industry Person

  • Tony Burns
  • Jack Effel
  • Mori Eskandani
  • Matt Savage

In a year when the vast majority of poker was online, I am hugely surprised to see four live poker figures in the mix for this prize. Rightly or wrongly, the high-ups in GGPoker have been snubbed in a year where they grew their brand precipitously. 

Ultimately, this prize should be awarded to the person who most successfully grows the game from the inside. With that in mind, and putting the obvious online omissions to one side, Matt Savage stands out for his tireless work with World Poker Tour (WPT).  

For his contribution to live poker as a tournament director and more recently his work as director of poker marketing for Seminole Hard Rock Support Services, Tony Burns is also most deserving of recognition. Burns took to Twitter last month to thank everyone for the votes:

This award, however, should go to the godfather of televised poker – producer and Poker Hall Of Fame member Mori Eskandani. A visionary and a talent-spotter, he has helped to launch the careers of so many in the industry. His sphere of influence is simply extraordinary. 

Best Tournament Director

  • Paul Campbell
  • Justin Hammer
  • Ray Pulford
  • Andy Tillman

This category features four great candidates, all of whom express their passion for poker time and time again on the frontlines. Paul Campbell is the tournament poker manager at The Aria. Ray Pulford is head honcho over at The Wynn. Justin Hammer calls the shots over at Prime Social in Houston. All three do sterling work to bring excitement to their poker rooms. 

a confident and courteous presence, Tillman makes it look easy

My pick, however, is former WSOP Main Event dealer and tournament director extraordinaire Andy Tillman, a man who travels the world, bringing the highest standards of professionalism with him wherever he goes. It cannot be underestimated how tough the job of a TD is when you are constantly moving between different venues in different countries with different staff. Always a confident and courteous presence, Tillman makes it look easy. He is also a tireless advocate for floor staff who are the often overlooked backbone of the live poker industry. 

Fans Choice: Best Trophy

  • Mike Sexton WPT Champions Cup
  • MSPT South Dakota State Championship
  • Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open Championship
  • WPTDeepStacks Gold Coast

This category is an attempt by GPI to inject a bit of whimsy into proceedings and while I’m normally all for fun, I must confess that I’m not a fan of this category. Is it right that, for their work in 2021, a trophy designer will win a prize but a journalist won’t? I have no strong opinion on who will win Best Trophy so I will instead take the opportunity to propose changes to the categories. 

  • Best Journalist should be re-instated. The pokerindustrypro.com team of Nick Jones, Sam Bevington and Anuj Arora knocked it out of the park this year, not to mention the enormous contributions of hard-working writers like Robbie Strazynski, Paul Seaton, Haley Hintze, Jennifer Newell, and Jon Pill. 
  • It is also the case that strategy content is completely over-looked. There should be separate best strategy categories for written, video and podcast. 
  • The awards should include long-form written and video categories. 
  • As mentioned, Best Broadcaster could be split into Best Commentator and Best Sideline Reporter.
  • In addition to Best Vlogger and Best Streamer, there could be a recognition of up-and-coming talent with Best New Vlogger and Best New Streamer. 

Fans Choice: Poker Personality

  • Johan ‘YoH ViraL’ Guilbert
  • Greg ‘Greg Goes All In’ Liow
  • Jonathan Little
  • Masato Yokosawa

Last time out, ‘Poker Personality’ was won by Jonathan Little, an extraordinary achievement when you consider that he doesn’t possess one. In a recent episode of The Orbit, Matt Berkey and Matt Savage pointed out how Little campaigns for this award via his ‘mailing list.’ There are no rules against such but it’s tacky as hell. 

One would hope that similar dark forces are not at play

In 2020, there were strange voting patterns (exactly 100 all cast for Little instantly) in a Best Poker Book Twitter contest. This was noticed on numerous occasions by, among others, Erik Seidel, who spoke out. One would hope that similar dark forces are not at play in this ‘audience voted’ category:

I don’t want to be mean about Jonathan Little nor suggest that he is dishonest, but when you look at his track record, it’s genuinely hard not to. In 2008, he was banned and had $250,000 confiscated from his Full Tilt account after it was discovered that he was taking advantage of his status as a ‘red pro’ sponsored player to cheat. 

In a career that has been marred by controversy, it arguably reached new lows a few months ago when Little took photos of a sleeping homeless woman in Las Vegas. He later explained that he had paid her $100, but that just begged the question – did he pay her the money before she took her nap or wait around until she woke? The fallout was so bad for Little that he was forced to walk back his initial defense, ultimately apologizing for his disgusting behavior:

In summary, Little should not win this award and if he does, it should be viewed with extreme skepticism. Johan ‘YoH ViraL’ Guilbert exploded in 2021, both on and off the felt. Masato Yokosawa is helping to fuel a Japanese poker boom. I am, however, rooting for Greg ‘Greg Goes All In’ Liow whose comedy videos have been a breath of fresh air in poker.

Charitable Initiative

On Tuesday, GPI announced the winner of the Charitable Initiative honor:

Veronica Brill was the initial whistleblower in the Mike Postle Saga. When his case was dismissed due to a technicality in California gambling law, he went on the offensive, filing a $330m defamation lawsuit against Brill and 11 other individual and corporate defendants. Brill sought financial help for her defense and the poker community jumped to her aid. 

When wealthy poker player and philanthropist Bill Perkins said that he would cover all of her legal expenses, Brill was left with extra funds which she redirected to a fundraising drive to purchase KL Cleeton a medically retrofitted van. As a result, Cleeton was able to attend the 2021 WSOP where he did his proverbial conkers, so everybody won! 

Click here to read part one of the definitive Global Poker Awards guide focused on players, and part two focused on content creators.