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Earlier this year, PokerStars announced that Igor Kurganov became the latest member of Team PokerStars Pro. While he has numerous accomplishments in the world of poker throughout his career, he is also the significant other of Team PokerStars Pro Liv Boeree. The two players travel together, play tournaments together, and now belong to the same online poker team roster.

The move is a solid one for PokerStars in the area of marketing, as the site already used the couple in a blog post for the site touting “poker’s power couples” for Valentine’s Day. The other couple widely associated with PokerStars and mentioned in the blog post is Jason Mercier and his now-wife Natasha, as both are professional players, though only he is currently a member of Team PokerStars Pro. Her results have been more positive in recent years, however, and she may be considered for a spot on the team as well.

These pairings have their rewards for companies like PokerStars, but there are risks involved.

Rewards of Sponsoring Poker Duos

The signing of Kurganov was almost a no-brainer, as he not only already travels with Boeree and plays in the same series, but they are a fun couple, as evidenced by the many social media posts showing them playing unusual games of hide-and-seek and pursuing random and exciting adventures. They are also both actively involved in REG charitable work, which works well with PokerStars’ own penchant for philanthropic work.

In addition to being able to market the duo together and save money on hotel accommodations and other expenses, PokerStars can appeal to a wider range of players with Boeree and Kurganov. While she plays mostly medium to high buy-in tournaments, including all PokerStars Main Events, her partner tends to focus his energies on High Rollers and Super High Rollers.

Of course, a couple consisting of a male and female also appeals to both primary gender demographics. Marketing to men in poker typically doesn’t present many challenges, but appealing to women takes a special personality as Boeree possesses. Intelligence combined with humor, strength and aggression mixed with kindness and understanding, all go together to attract a variety of women to the game.

In addition, many poker players tend to keep their poker passion to themselves and not invite their significant other to learn the game. But putting poker couples in the spotlight shows that a shared love of poker can be enjoyable and beneficial to the relationship. Instead of one half of the couple sitting on the sidelines or always waiting for a person to bust from a tournament in order to spend time together, both can find their own fun in the games and share the experiences. PokerStars can certainly capitalize on that aspect of their newest Team Pro couple if they so choose.

Risks of Sponsorships are Inevitable

The biggest risk to signing a couple to two sponsorships is the most obvious. A break-up can be awkward at best and messy at worst. This leaves a site like PokerStars with a decision to remain loyal to its longtime pro (Boeree) or stick with a top-earning pro (Kurganov). And any negativity that comes from relationship woes or a break-up can roll over on the brand and have the opposite effect of the original signing of the two players.

PokerStars likely talked to Boeree and Kurganov at length about this possibility and feel some assurance that the couple is solid and any separation would be amicable. Nevertheless, it is a risk that the site seems willing to take but will be monitoring for any potential struggles.

Another risk of sponsoring couples is the potential to alienate some players who prefer to think of poker as a solitary game and one that allows an escape from a relationship. There is also the risk of something happening to one half of the couple, such as an injury or even a pregnancy that technically sidelines one player but can prompt the other to stay off of the tournament trail as well. However, the availability of online poker is a ready answer to any such obstacle.

Clearly, there are more benefits than potential hazards in sponsoring couples, and PokerStars undoubtedly found that weighing those odds went directly in favor of putting Kurganov on the team to join Boeree. Could the Merciers be next?

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Jennifer Newell

Jennifer has been a freelance writer in the poker industry for a decade. She left a full-time job with the World Poker Tour to tell the stories of poker. She now lives in St. Louis, writes about poker while pursuing other varied interests, and speaks her mind on Twitter… a lot.