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What’s The Point of Poker Ranking Systems?

When I was a kid I created my own wrestling card game. I took it into school on a day we were allowed to bring our own games. My mates loved it. The game was a hit for two reasons. The fights were interesting and absorbing; dice rolls, special moves and skill sets giving it a Dungeons and Dragons type feel. Then there were the rankings. The kids loved those rankings.

Points were awarded to each wrestler dependent on what type of fight they won. The more points you scored, the higher up the ranking system you went. This created order where there was chaos, and more importantly, it made the game more realistic. The Brooklyn Brawler was never going to get the chance to fight Hulk Hogan for the WWF title because he never accrued enough points.

I was obsessed with the rankings. I would play the game for hours and loved how the title contenders changed with the ebb and flow of the point system. I was also obsessed with the recording of statistics: who beat whom, how many titles wrestler’s held, and the excitement of The Ultimate Warrior’s 45-match unbeaten run was impalpable.

So I get the need to rank, to order, and to puff up the chests of our peacocks. I just don’t get why we need to have so many? It’s like orange cordial with too much water. There is a dilution that’s gone too far, and I have to start asking what’s the point?

Poker news website PokerNewsDaily has announced plans to introduce a PokerNewsDaily Player of the Year (POY) race. Whilst bestowing some heady praise on the ranking systems of Bluff Magazine, CardPlayer Magazine, and the Global Poker Index (GPI) – PokerNewsDaily believe they have crafted a points system that provides more ‘food for thought’ into the question of whom the best poker player of the year is.

I am struck by one particular question.

What’s the point?

Here’s the opinion of the former World No.1 Online Tournament Player and recent $1m winner of the PokerStars Shark Cage, Griffin Benger:

As a player, I find the ranking systems very motivating. I attribute a great deal of my early online tournament success to the ranking system of PocketFives. As for the abundance of different rankings, if a site thinks they have a better formula to calculate rankings, then I’m curious to see what that is.”

So Benger thinks the ranking systems are important, and even goes as far as to say that the PocketFives ranking system was integral towards his early success. He’s not alone in that thought process. When I was interviewing another former World No.1, Patrick Leonard, he also told me how important his obsession with rankings was for his growth as a player.

The PocketFives example is a good one because as far as I know there aren’t any other competing rankings. High Stakes Database (HSDB) ranks online cash game action and stands alone in what it does. Both PocketFives and HSDB are authorities because of this. They have this air of superiority about them.

The live tournament scene is a different animal. There isn’t one authority. There are several organizations ranking players. Each of them using a different formula designed to make the ratings as fair as possible. When Bad News Brown beat Earthquake in my wrestling game, he got more points than when he beat The Red Rooster. It was an easy equalizer for me. It’s a lot more complicated in poker, and I think it gets more complicated the more ranking systems we have.

Ranking systems are important. We need to have them. Equally, nobody can stop anybody from creating their own. It makes sense for a magazine or website to have their own ranking system. It’s not only content, but living, breathing, moving content. A must for a poker magazine, in my opinion.

But if poker is to one day become a recognized sport, we need one recognized ranking system that rules them all. I know that’s a little Mordoresque in its approach, but I think it’s the right one – I’m not alone.

I haven’t heard about PokerNewsDaily created their own ranking system, but to me it seems like the GPI has clearly taken the leading role as being the most respected ranking system of them all,” says the World Series of Poker Champion of the World, Martin Jacobson.

“I usually just periodically check the GPI rankings,” says Benger.

When I widen my scope of thinking, the hump that I have over so many poker rankings starts to subside. This is especially true when I remember how many rankings there are for bestselling books, movie ratings, and music charts. And you won’t hear me complain that Maxim and FHM both have a ranking system for the hottest woman of the year.

Lists sell, and that’s why they’ve been created. PokerNewsDaily understand this and that’s why they are getting in on the action. It’s all about the clicks.

“Before the GPI was created, I used to check the rankings in Cardplayer and Bluff,” says Jacobson. “That said, I think they are both kind of faulty, with one favoring min-cashes and the other one favoring final tables.”

For someone like Daniel Negreanu, all three ranking systems are important. In his 2015 Annual Goals blog post, Goal No #8 was to finish in the Top 10 of the GPI, and Goal No # 9 was to make the Top 10 of the CardPlayer or Bluff rankings.

So rankings are important to the creators. They bring eyeballs to their shit. But what do rankings mean to the players and to poker in general? After speaking to the likes of Martin Jacobson and the recent two-time World Poker Tour (WPT) winner, Mohsin Charania, there may need to be some changes before rankings mean as much to the players as they do to the people making them up.

I think it’s cool to be ranked really high, but being a professional poker player for as long as I have, I just want to make money,” said Charania. “Unless you are ranked #1 and it helps with sponsorships, the rankings are benefiting other people – not you. Now if there was an incentive to get to the top of the rankings: like a sponsorship deal, or million dollar freeroll, then rankings suddenly become more interesting to the players.”

Jacobson concurs: “Right now the rankings don’t mean that much to me, but in the future, if they create a poker league based on the rankings, then that’s a different matter entirely. I think if it’s done right, and with the right contacts/investments, it could work and be turned into a TV deal.”

And this is why I keep sounding like a lover of all things GPI. Whilst I appreciate and accept the value that Cardplayer, Bluff and PokerNewsDaily bring to the rankings table, only the GPI seems likely to take their rankings structure down the road that Charania and Jacobson seem eager to follow. The Global Poker Masters is the seed, and it could turn into a tree that bears a lot of tasty fruit.

I have never put much thought into the existence of ranking systems if I am being honest,” says Jason Koon. “Perhaps that’s because there isn’t really one that stands alone as the best system. That being said, I really like what the GPI is trying to do. It looks like they are the first to try really hard to make the right adjustments.”

Suddenly there is a point.

Ole Schemion is Hulk Hogan, Dan Smith is The Ultimate Warrior, and Daniel Colman is Mr. Perfect. The whole point of my childhood game was to figure out who deserved a shot at the title. The likes of Cardplayer, Bluff and PokerNewsDaily have earned the right to have their own POY system, but they are never going to deliver a ranking system that pits the world’s best against the world’s best in a Champions League type format.

That’s the job of the GPI, and why at this moment in time they are the number one poker ranking authority in the world of poker.

 

 

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Lee Davy

Life can be viewed as the sum of the parts or the parts themselves. I believe in the holistic view of life, or the sum. When dealing with individual parts you develop whack-a-mole syndrome; each time you clobber one problem with your hammer another one just pops up.

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