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Since the early days of online poker, sponsored pros have been a part of the fabric of the industry, but it was at the time of the poker boom that sponsorship became an integral part. The signing of Chris Moneymaker changed the way poker players and fans saw the game, as he didn’t have to be the best or winningest player to garner a deal. He won a tournament that changed poker, and he became the face of PokerStars.

During that poker boom, some sites took the idea of sponsored pros too far. Full Tilt Poker had a group of “Team Full Tilt” players who represented the site as the highest profile and most well-known faces in the game, but the list of “red pros” grew so large that it became an industry joke. So many pros were classified as “red pros” that one had to alphabetize the list in order to find someone in particular. Of course, it made it easier to report that a Full Tilt pro won a tournament here or made the final table there, but it also made the idea of obtaining sponsorship less valuable and coveted.

PokerStars Tries to Find the Right Mix

At one time, PokerStars had a plethora of players on its roster as well. There were Team PokerStars Pros, Team PokerStars Online, Team SportStars, and Friends of PokerStars. The list dwindled after Black Friday to a more reasonable number of pros, however. The “friends” category disappeared, and more recently, the members of the online team seem to have become more integrated with the overall list of players.

Some of the latest additions to the team were quite well-known and live-streamed their poker experiences to a regular and growing audience. Jason Somerville and Jaime Staples brought a new dynamic to the team and a rapidly growing viewership that translated into real-money players. Their popularity wasn’t based on massive poker victories or high-stakes games but affordable (to many) poker tables to which most fans could relate.

The latest signing came last week when Team PokerStars Pro added Igor Kurganov. The longtime online and live pro mostly plays high-stakes poker, but his appeal has grown in the past year or so due to his close association with Team Pro Liv Boeree. The two have been a couple for quite some time, and they demonstrate quite a bit of fun in their relationship – at and away from the poker tables. Kurganov and Boeree are also part of the Raising for Effective Giving (REG) charitable organization, which puts more of a focus on philanthropy, something close to the heart of many players and those at PokerStars.

As for the overall PokerStars roster, there are several players who seem to hold a place for nostalgia’s sake, as the likes of Barry Greenstein and Victor Ramdin live in the United States – but not New Jersey – and are not the popular fixtures at the live tables that they used to be. Some of the lesser-known online pros remain on the roster as representatives of their particular countries, but their effectiveness as representatives of the brand is unclear.

888poker and Catches On and Creates Stellar Team

In the past few years, 888poker has made a tremendous effort to appeal to a broader range of poker players and expand its base. In order to do that, they began to sign players who had that broad appeal, players who brought fun to the tables as well as a range of play from high-stakes to recreational. Dominik Nitsche and Chris Moorman were on the high-stakes level but also played a variety of games, and Kara Scott was at the other end of the spectrum, bringing her love of recreational poker and her engaging and fun personality to the site. 888poker was starting to build its own unique team.

Other signings add new dimensions to the team, as Jeff Gross has a very popular Twitch channel and is a very outgoing, friendly player with his audience. Sofia Lovgren has been with the team for a while, and the addition of Natalie Hof completes a trio of women to make the game more welcoming to the female demographic.

As more sites build and refine their lists of sponsored pros, it will more accurately reflect the current state of the game, which will always have a high-stakes and professional component but also welcome new players and casual fans of the game.

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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.

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