For the second straight year, the Global Poker Index (GPI) will sponsor the European Poker Awards (EPA). The annual award festival will be held in the “Salle des Ambassadeurs” during the European Poker Tour (EPT) Deauville on January 29, 2014.
The partnership between the GPI and the EPA should come as no surprise since the poker ranking authority website has gathered momentum in the last few years. Its recent success boils down to two major events: the selling of the site to Zokay Entertainment, a venture founded by former ChiliGaming CEO Alex Dreyfus, and the purchase of the Hendon Mob poker database, one of the most comprehensive live poker tournament databases in the world.
But how did the GPI become so successful? And just how good is the GPI really?
The GPI was born from the need of ranking accurately the players who actively play live poker tournaments. Originally, the ranking system was created by Federated Sports + Gaming in 2011. The system had an innovative algorithm that helped shape a much clearer picture of what’s really going on in the live poker tournament world.
Currently, the algorithm is determined by combining three factors: finishing place %, buy-in, and aging factor.
What’s interesting about the finishing percentage factor is that it doesn’t only take into consideration the finishing place BUT the finishing position relative to the field size of the tournament. To be more precise, the points given to a specific player will depend on the number of entrants. The buy-in factor is calculated based on a baseline buy-in for events, calculated by the GPI as $1,000. This factor is trying to determine the relative difficulty of a certain event. So, larger buy-ins mean tougher fields and lower buy-ins mean softer ones. Finally, the aging factor is based on `the age’ of the event; if someone had a deep finish in the last six months, that finish would be much more significant than the case in which someone had a deep finish last year or two years ago.
Recently, the GPI tweaked its algorithm in an attempt to become a much more accurate ranking system. First of all, the baseline buy-in was lowered from $1,500 to $1,000. Secondly, the low-stakes tournament players are finally eligible to enter the rankings. Last year, for example, there was a minimum $1,000 buy-in cap. So if someone played a $750 or $500 tournament, he couldn’t enter GPI territory. This year, however, as long as it isn’t a freeroll, anyone can have a GPI score. Also, the maximum buy-in cap was lowered from $25,000 to $20,000, a plus for the lower-stakes grinders since the gap between them and the high-rollers has been lowered considerably. But this doesn’t mean that the high buy-in tournaments like the PCA $100,000 Super High-Roller won’t be in the mix; they will just weigh as a standard $20,000 buy-in tourney in the GPI leaderboard.
The ranking system is complex without a doubt and helps the poker amateur (who isn’t interested in reading much about the game) have a more accurate idea about who is hot and who is not. As GPI CEO Alex Dreyfus said in a PokerStrategy.com interview, the poker world needs an aggregate ranking like the ATP or PGA. The idea being that, yes, it’s much better for poker to be regarded as a sport rather than as a pure gambling game. The casual poker viewers need to know that skill is a big part of the game and such ranking systems can emphasize this fact.
But really, how accurate is the GPI in fact?
One major downside of the poker ranking system is that it limits the results that are taken into consideration from the best five tournament scores per half-year. So, no matter the cashes or the final tables, the GPI will only consider one player’s best five scores.
Which brings to the table an important problem: VOLUME. We all know that playing a large number of tournaments is key to beating variance and eliminating the chance factor from the game. So why do we want to remove that from the rankings? GPI mentions that the results cap is there to combat the players who just play a lot of tournaments but have a negative ROI. Still, this shouldn’t obstruct the live tournament grinders to rank higher in the leaderboard. On the contrary, grinding and volume should be rewarded as it can accurately show the skill of a certain player.
The aging factor should also be tweaked. Official ranking systems like FIFA take the last four years into consideration. The GPI factors only three years in a game where the luck factor is much more involved, at least in the short run. To be accurate, any poker ranking system should pay special attention to the sample size and a decent sample size is built after years and years of playing, especially if we talk about poker tournaments.
The problems continue. According to Dreyfus, the first goal of the company is to expose the famous players. The second one (creating famous players who are not getting the attention they should) seems to become more and more distant as the latest GPI news shows. Yes, the GPI helped a number of lesser-known players to become popular, but the company seems to center its attention on the big names – the players who were already big and promoted in the media, the players who can afford the big buy-ins and who can go on big trips across Europe, Asia, Australia or the Caribbean. And all those players are constantly named ‘the best’ – look at Daniel Negreanu for example.
We all know that Negreanu had a fabulous 2013, but what the GPI did was just too much. The last two months of 2013 were all about promoting “KidPoker.” No strings attached. Of course, the Canadian returned the favor and called the index “very important for poker” or “a special brand.” The cherry on top, however, was naming Negreanu as the GPI Player of the Decade …. in 2013! What decade? Not even the poker community knows. The community responded ironically with a thread on the 2+2 forums. “So people are keeping track of things with rolling decades?” user ‘Jigsaw’ asked. Also, ‘SrslySirius’ can’t wait to see who gets awarded Player of the Century next year. Other big names were thrown out in the special decade project like Erik Seidel, Barry Greenstein or John Juanda. Isn’t it enough?
Clearly the GPI is over-reliant on poker players’ wealth. Pros who have massive spending ability like Negreanu have a clear advantage over the low-stake and mid-stakes grinders. They can afford to play most High-Roller and Super High-Roller events throughout the year and even rebuy, which doubles and even triples their chances of making the money compared to most players who don’t have the same bankroll. It is far better to create a division system like the online poker world that is based on buy-ins rather than making up a buy-in factor that helps yet again the big media names to rank higher.
The ranking system also seems to mislead the casual players by describing itself plain and simple: A system for ranking the world’s best poker players. Now Daniel is the best poker player in the world just like 2013 WSOP champion Ryan Riess. Let’s not forget the overall picture here: poker is a complex game. The live tournaments are ONLY part of it; there are also the online tournaments, and the online and live cash games (which are almost impossible to rank, of course). And all those types can break down into several other sub-types that require different skill sets. But one fact is for sure: the GPI only tries to rank the world’s best live tournament poker players.
Lastly, although the index did a good job in not considering special events such as charity, seniors, women, team, employee, executive and CEO tournaments, one major event sneaked in the allowance list: the 2013 NBC Heads-Up Championship. Which brings us to the old news: the first goal of the GPI is to expose the famous players. The Heads-Up Championship was in fact a closed-doors tournament; the 64 players were all invited by the TV network. And since it’s a TV show, it’s almost natural for them to want the most popular (not necessarily the best) players on the felt. Players like Doyle Brunson, Mike Matusow, Phil Laak or Jennifer Tilly. Was it fair for Ole Schemion, Philipp Gruissem or Stephen O’Dwyer, top players who haven’t had the same publicity as Matusow, Laak or Tilly? Of course not! But the stat remains: the heads-up show was taken into consideration for both the GPI Player of the Year and GPI 300.
In conclusion, the Global Poker Index still has a long way to go to really become a reliable and trustworthy ranking system for the poker world. Whilst it’s undoubtedly a work in progress and a promising system to legitimize poker as a real sport with real rankings, the current system just isn’t good enough and places far too much impetus on short-term results while favoring players with far greater spending power and existing fame.