2015 American Poker Awards Draws a Full House
The inaugural American Poker Awards presentation was held Friday night at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, CA. The awards ceremony and a preceding all-day conference were created and organized by Alexandre Dreyfus, CEO of the Global Poker Index and the Hendon Mob. Call this poker’s equivalent of the Oscars, which was intended to recognize the game’s most accomplished players over the previous year, as well as honor those who work the elevate and grow the game behind the scenes.
Here are some of my personal experiences and observations on what turned out to be quite a memorable day and evening:
The American Poker Conference included five seminars featuring panel discussions with industry leaders from a broad spectrum of different poker backgrounds and perspectives. I was asked to moderate a loaded panel which was titled, “Live and Online Poker: Two Industries in Harmony.” Panelists included — Alex Dreyfus (CEO — Chillipoker / CEO — GPI and Hendon Mob), Dan Goldman (Executive VP of I-gaming at VCAT), Matt Savage (Head of Poker Operations, WPT), and Neil Johnson (Head of Live Poker Operations, PokerStars Europe). By the way, I opened by introduction with a sour (but realistic note, saying the actual title of the panel discussion should have been “Live and Online Poker: Two Industries in DIS-Harmony.”
I knew beforehand that this would be one of the day’s most informative presentations, simply because of the vast wealth of knowledge and ideas these four professionals brought to the discussion. Certainly, they did not disappoint us. We ran 15 minutes over the allotted time frame. I presume this program will become available at some point for public viewing since it was recorded and filmed. If and when that time comes, I’ll post a link.
For me, one of the highlights was hearing Dan Goldman’s answer to a question as to when exactly he thinks online poker might be legalized in California. Given Goldman’s background as the VP of Marketing for PokerStars as well as his current affiliations with regional Native American tribes (Barona specifically), support which is so critical to achieving passage, he was uniquely qualified to answer. Spoiler Alert — Late 2019. Then, Alex Dreyfus pointed out that he thinks California represents a national tipping point on the online poker question. He even went so far to say this would likely ignite another poker boom in the United States. Those were just a few of the interesting points which were made, of many.
Here’s a short interview with Dan Goldman after the panel discussion was over. LINK HERE
By the way, a personal highlight for me on this day was finally meeting Eric Hollreiser for the first time. He’s the Director of Communications for PokerStars/Amaya. Hard to believe, but I used to hold Hollreiser’s job (2004-2006) and he’s since come in and helped take the online company to one of the biggest empires in all of gaming. I already knew Hollreiser is great at what he does from seeing his work, and found him to be even more engaging and pleasant on a personal basis. He’s also a wealth of useful information about the industry and see the bigger picture about growing the game where everyone benefits.
No surprise, this was one of my favorite times of the day. Way too many names to post here, but just a few of the people I hung out with were Todd Anderson, Steven McLoughlin, Dutch Boyd, Jeffrey Haas, Jennifer Winters, Garry Gates, Donnie Peters, Linda Johnson, Jan Fisher, Adam Small, Russ Fox, Mark Hoke, Jon Friedberg, Adam Pliska, Eric Rosenberger, Mike Sexton, Matt Savage, and about 50 others. By the way, whoever picked up my bar tab — thank you! I never quite did figure out who it was.
A special moment for me was seeing Marta (Salvado) Norton again, for the first time in nine years. Marta and I worked together at PokerStars. She’s come quite a long way since initially working with the firm’s PR agency in London, and is now the Director of Event Operations at Stars. I was also glad to finally meet Edgar Stuchly, President of the European Poker Tour for the first time.
Speaking of Mike Sexton and Matt Savage, we all got involved in (what else?) a handicapping discussion on who would win “Poker Ambassador of the Year.” There were four contestants, but only three really had a shot. There’s no way Phil Ivey was going to win, and like Daniel Negreanu said later, “why was he even nominated in this category?” Seriously?
It came down to Sexton, Negreanu, and Jason Somerville. Oddly enough, the race was probably between Sexton and Negreanu, although it really should have been a Negreanu-Somerville rivalry. Reason is, Sexton is more of the “lifetime achievement” winner in this category — kinda’ like the Rolling Stones. But given that it’s intended to recognize accomplishment over the past 12 months, Negreanu and Somerville have elevated their work to new heights. With all due respect to Negreanu and in no way intending to dismiss Sexton, my vote would have gone to Somerville. Main reason — Somerville put his career on the shelf for nearly a year and cost himself money, to do what he now does. That’s making sacrifice. That’s taking a gamble, which is now paying off.
Anyway, Savage and I certainly agreed Sexton and Negreanu stood the best chance to win. Sexton thought he had no chance and even said, “I’m a 100-1 shot.” Savage, always on the prowl for a hustle, snapped back — “You’re on! I’ll bet you $100!” Sexton backslid some, which was funny to watch because he’s always so certain about everything, and so convincing when he says it. Sexton decided not to make a bet, although I offered Negreanu at -160 against the field. No takers. I should have priced it higher and then scooped, because there was no way Negreanu wouldn’t win this category.
Of course, Negreanu won.
AMERICAN POKER AWARDS — CEREMONY
The SLS Hotel ballroom consisted of a full house, with about 250 luminaries in attendance. Judging by the heavy turnout and enthusiastic response, a night like this was long overdue.
My escort for the evening was Tina Napolitano, (co-founder of PokerPages.com) who was in Los Angeles with her daughter Georgia, who sings with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I was honored to sit with Mrs. Napolitano, and was joined at our table by an esteemed group which included Todd Anderson, Bernard Lee, Gregory Chochon, and Ty Stewart, Executive Director of the WSOP. Interesting to note that I was sitting at the same table as two of the people I now work for — Stewart (World Series of Poker) and Anderson (“Poker Night in America” TV).
Fourteen awards were given out, plus a special recognition for “Lifetime Achievement.” Kara Scott did a terrific job as the host, with just the right mix of charm, humor, and seriousness that’s tough to pull off in an event like this. Some of the winners, were already known in advance. Others were more suspenseful. A few were even quite surprising, not so much because they didn’t deserve to win (they did), but because there’s some doubt others see what we see. In short, the voters and board got the winners right, and I applaud them all.
“MEDIA PERSON OF THE YEAR” — NOMINATION AND AWARD
It’s a cliché to say “it’s an honor just to be nominated.”
That said, it was indeed an honor to be nominated for “Media Person of the Year” — especially among this esteemed group. I had a lot of people come to me beforehand who thought I would win the APA, but quite honestly, I was glad I didn’t win. This award was intended for the person who did more to advance poker in media over the past year, and each of the three other nominees really did more than I in this arena in the last 12 months. In a Grammy’s sense and keeping with the rock metaphors, I was akin to the Bob Dylan in this category, comprised of some real cutting edge innovators who were consistently hard working and broke lots of new ground.
Fellow nomineees Kevin Mathers (a.k.a. KevMath) and Rich Ryan both put in massive time and were dutifully excellent in their own way. But my vote would have gone to Chris Grove (OPReport) who really has become “the” trusted source of news for online poker, whatever the subject matter — be it business, politics, people, or whatever. If you do nothing else today, be sure to add him among those you follow on Twitter. CLICK HERE Then, read his stuff. It’s always excellent and often breaking news.
Grove did something classy when he won, which was to dedicate his award to DiamondFlush, who passed away recently. He noted that DiamondFlush was instrumental in inspiring many others who work in poker media. Bravo. Grove’s thank you speech was short and powerful, as good as anything you’d see and hear at the Academy Awards.
My heartfelt congratulations to Mr. Grove and my fellow nominees.
PRESENTING THE “MEDIA CONTENT OF THE YEAR” AWARD
I was so pleased to see this picked as a category with an award. It’s been a long time coming that we recognize the hard work of so many dedicated writers, video people, television personalities, and other personnel who tell poker’s story. That the APA and Alex Dreyfus asked me to present this award to one of my colleagues was an honor I took seriously and with great pride.
Think about the thousands of articles and video packages, television shows, books, articles, podcasts, and do forth which feature poker. Now, try to whittle this list down to just four nominees who provided the most moving or informative content. That’s quite a task. These four nominees were an extraordinary reflection of diversity in poker media — from the mammoth PokerNews organization (2014 WSOP coverage), to Mark Newhouse allowing the world to watch him prepare for his November Nine appearance (All In Magazine), to Jason Somerville’s prolific and informative series, “Run It Up.” Then, there was Brad Willis, who I have known for more than ten years. I remember working with Willis (Head of Blogging) when we were both at PokerStars, and have many fond memories of that association.
When you consider all the live reporting, player profiles, strategy discussions, investigative reporting, news, advocacy, and op-ed that’s out there right now, it’s really indicative of a “golden age” of poker journalism right now, one that certainly didn’t exist when I got into the game some 22 years ago.
It’s also quite a special feeling to stand up before all your peers and have all the spotlights and cameras rolling. I took a little extra pride in this award because it went for something other than just winning a tournament or making a ton of money. This was about art, or at least the creation of something that moved people in some way. That’s not as easy at it sounds.
I opened up the envelope and just stood there. Silent for a few seconds. When I saw the winner, all I could say was, “Wow.”
I had spoken with Willis the previous day, more curious about knowing whether he was planning to attend the ceremony. I was eager to get together with him socially, and nothing else. However, this turned out to be an accidental gift of fate. Willis informed me he had things going on in South Carolina (his home), and wasn’t going to be there.
So, when Willis won, I realized there was no one to come onstage and accept the award. Later, Eric Hollreiser said he was thinking of coming up to the stage to accept, but decided to let me take the award and say a few things, instead. In my remarks, I noted how much time Willis had put into this business, writing perhaps as much about the game and its players as anyone who’s ever lived. Now, finally he was being recognized for two bits of feature writing which went way beyond the felt in terms of greater meaning.
Check out the rest of the winners here, via PokerListings.com
Once I learned I wasn’t a winner somewhat early in the show, and the stress of not having to do an impromptu “thank you” speech was off (I prepared nothing, since I didn’t expect to win), I could sit back, relax, and enjoy the rest of the evening. However, I was still proud to be sitting with my colleagues at the World Series of Poker (nominated for multiple awards) and Rush Street Gaming (for “Poker Night in America”).
Todd Anderson was really proud of the nomination, but like me, he didn’t expect for us to win. The “Poker Initiative of the Year” award rightfully went to Twitch, which really has become the next big thing in poker. Read a Wall Street Journal article on Twitch here.
The WSOP collected two awards and Ty Stewart accepted them both, and in doing so gave us a few of the night’s best speeches. The feeling of these wins for those in your organization (for me) was like first losing the “Best Supporting Actor” Oscar, and then seeing the sound editor and cinematographer winning trophies. And, we kinda’ won “Best Picture,” since the WSOP collected the (bog) event of the year award in poker. Hey, how could we not win that one?
I was certainly proud to see the WSOP was recognized two times, which is a testament to the entire staff — most notably Ty Stewart, Seth Palansky, and Jack Effel. Two wins and multiple nominations shows that the richest, longest-running, and most prestigious competition in poker continues to be the gold standard of aspiration and achievement.
The “Lifetime Achievement Award” went to Steve Lipscomb, creator and former CEO of the World Poker Tour. I have some very special things to say about Lipscomb, and will do so in tomorrow’s column, which contains a story no one has heard before, which I think is indicative of who he is why he deserved to win the inaugural award in this category.
A SPECIAL WORD OF THANKS
Alex Dreyfus is proving to be one of poker’s grand visionaries. He’s not only transforming the way poker is perceived both within the industry and in the mainstream, he’s also attempting to “sportify” the game. And, he’s succeeding.
My thanks to Alex and his entire staff — especially Lizzy Harrison, Ophelie Laffuge, and Max Rabinovitch. Moreover, thanks to PokerStars for their generous sponsorship and support. I predict the American Poker Awards is here to stay and will become an annual event not to be missed. I plan to be there in 2016, for sure.
Here’s a 17-minute video made by PokerNews.com which features some of the highlights from this year’s American Poker Awards.
Best photography collection of the day’s events posted here, by Dutch Boyd — APA FLICKR PHOTOS
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Global Poker Index (GPI)