Alexandre Dreyfus has bold plans for the Global Poker Index in 2014 as he bids to take his tournament ranking system mainstream. Julian Rogers finds out more
Debates as to the world’s best tournament player have been cropping up as long as Doyle Brunson has been donning ten-gallon cowboy hats. Indeed, most poker aficionados have probably mulled over a mental game of poker Top Trumps at one time or another. Yet the vast fields at major live tournaments, combined with that omnipresent femme fatale, Lady Luck, means that determining the Great White of card sharks isn’t a precise science.
However, the Global Poker Index (GPI) has fast become a widely accepted barometer to gauge the current zenith of tournament poker, much akin to the rankings associated with sports like golf or tennis. Owned by internet entrepreneur Alexandre Dreyfus’s Zokay Entertainment, the goal has been to create the definitive ranking authority and plug the leaderboard to ardent poker fans and mainstream audiences alike. ‘Poker has been suffering and struggling in the past few years but if we want to have growth back then we need to expose poker,’ says Dreyfus. ‘The best way to do that is to promote it as a sport, to promote the best poker players and have a ranking. Right now, they [non-poker players] might know Daniel Negreanu or Phil Ivey but we need to make 20 or 30 players known.’
From Zokay’s mission control on the sunny island of Malta, a handful of busy number crunchers assimilate live results from tournaments taking place all over the world. To qualify for a ranking, any event a player enters needs to attract 21 or more players and to have taken place during the past 36 months. It previously had to have a buy-in of at least $1k, but recent changes means that any result recorded in the Hendon Mob database is eligible for GPI points. A formula based on a player’s finishing position relative to field size, the size of the buy-in and time elapsed since the score is then used to aggregate points for a ranking.
The GPI previously ranked 40,000 players worldwide, but by lowering the buy-in requirements this was expanded to a whopping 160,000. As PokerPlayer went to press, German wunderkind Ole Schemion topped the list with 3,883 points and live career earnings of $4.3 million. He also won the GPI’s Player of the Year (POY) race for 2013. But, of course, the GPI is in a constant state of flux and the hotly contested leaderboard can alter pretty quickly, especially with tournaments taking place all over the globe during most of the year.
For Dreyfus, though, it’s as much about ranking the game’s glitterati, or the ‘GPI 300’, as it is the casual players. ‘There is the 300 at the top of the tree, and then there is you and me – random players, recreational players who want to know where they stand globally and locally. They can then tell their mothers they are in the top 10,000 in the world, which is pretty cool.’ Dreyfus leans across to his desktop PC and promptly punches his name into the GPI website, only to discover he’s slipped out of the GPI because his last cash falls outside the three-year window (a €1,180 score in Marrakech in November, 2010). ‘Sh↔t, I’ve lost my GPI ranking,’ he shrugs insouciantly. Then again, the 36-year-old isn’t a regular face on the tournament circuit. ‘I love poker but I’m not an expert or a poker specialist and I’m not at all a good player. For me, poker is a commodity.’
Although he’s the owner of the GPI, it was in fact the brainchild of Federated Sports + Gaming, owners of the ill-fated Epic Poker League, before the business went belly up two years ago. Dreyfus, the ex-CEO of ChiliGaming.com, sifted through the remains of the bankruptcy and eventually acquired the fledgling GPI after Pinnacle Entertainment snagged it in an auction. And the charismatic Frenchman, who launched his first web business in 1995, says he has shoved his chips all-in with the patent-pending GPI. ‘I’ve put 100% of my cash and resources into this project, so I’m pretty much committed.’
Last summer, after 12 months of negotiations, Dreyfus also got his mitts on the aforementioned Hendon Mob website – the world’s largest live tournament results database. It was a logical purchase considering the GPI is so reliant upon results, and because the TheHendonMob.com stores tournament cashes on 286,000 players. ‘When you spend a lot of energy and money to develop GPI and you rely on data that you don’t own, it will always be an issue. So we decided to avoid being dependent on a third party and own the source of the information.’
He describes the acquisition as a good deal for both himself and the website’s owners (Ross and Barny Boatman, Joe Beevers and Ram Vaswani). ‘It made sense for everybody. I am younger than them and I probably have more energy, so selling it to us was a great opportunity to have their baby grow more than they ever expected.’ Indeed, Beevers reveals that it was the right time for the quartet to sell up and concentrate again on playing cards. ‘We were four poker players who became businessmen and we wanted to get back to poker. The deal made good sense for Alex and it was good for the Hendon Mob website – it’s in safe hands and I couldn’t think of anybody better to take it forward.’
Dreyfus has given the site a lick of paint and integrated the GPI ranking. The Hendon Mob and GPI websites attract around four million unique visitors a year and are data goldmines for stats fiends and journalists. However, the Hendon Mob’s strong visitor numbers, active forum and a sponsorship deal with Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars doesn’t mean it’s a cash cow, Dreyfus admits. ‘It is not a business that is very profitable; in fact, I would say it’s not profitable at all.’
Hard on the heels of this acquisition, Dreyfus forged a relationship with online poker community site PocketFives to share online and live results. Founded in 2005, PocketFives.com has also become a respected resource for tracking members’ results on the cyber-felt and creating its own rankings. By combining both live and online results, poker followers are provided with a holistic view of a player’s prowess, and shortcomings.
‘We want to aggregate more information to become the most accurate and biggest poker database,’ Dreyfus explains. ‘When you go to Chris Moorman or Sam Grafton you can see their online and live results on the same page so it provides a good profile of the player. It makes sense for the players and the audience.’ For PocketFives co-founder Adam Small, live and online rankings help validate player achievements. ‘I think the rankings and other forms of recognition of the most successful players play a major role in legitimising poker competition – both online and live.’
Read all about it
The GPI leaderboard is published alongside NFL and NBA standings in the weekly edition of USA Today Sports, and one of Dreyfus’ main objectives is to persuade other mainstream media outlets and sports publications to run the ranking. This, he hopes, will further enhance the game and the profiles of the elite players, helping put poker on an equal footing with pro sports in the eyes of the public. Dreyfus says: ‘Are our rankings going to be considered like the PGA [golf] and ATP [tennis]? One hundred percent yes. It’s already the case in the poker community and the next step is to go mainstream.’ He also hopes to enlist retired sports stars to promote the GPI on and off the felt and demonstrate to non-poker players that the game can be classed a true ‘mind sport’.
Television, too, will continue to play a key role in marketing poker as a skill game. Although Dreyfus acknowledges that poker will ‘never be as popular as sports that have been broadcast on TV for 30 or 40 years’, he’s a firm believer that coverage should be more ‘player-orientated’ instead of ‘cards-orientated’. By that he means promoting poker’s protagonists. ‘We should have a little bit more statistics on the players, such as ‘he is number eight on the GPI ranking or he was on the final table of this tournament with this player’. We should show the audience this player is not just sitting here by luck or [being] able to spend $10k, but because they are a good player and we can give you reasons why.’
One pro that he would put in this category is Negreanu. In fact, Kid Poker was recently bestowed the accolade of GPI’s ‘Player of the Decade’. Despite some in the poker fraternity questioning why the award was suddenly decided in 2013, Negreanu describes the GPI as ‘awesome’. However, he doesn’t think the GPI is quite perfect, highlighting how he thinks the scoring system to be somewhat opaque. ‘It would be good for the players if there was some transparency into what tournaments are worth in terms of points.’
Dreyfus is always open to suggestions when it comes to making tweaks to the point-scoring criteria and formula. And the GPI’s boss also isn’t afraid to make difficult decisions, such as axing players from the GPI. Jean-Paul Pasqualini and Cedric Rossi will soon be removed after a video emerged last year that allegedly showed the pair signaling their hole cards to each other on the final table of the Partouche Poker Tour Main Event in 2009.
They finished first and second, although no suspicions were raised at the time. After the video surfaced, Dreyfus sent his views and the footage to the GPI’s top 50 players and a few tournament directors. ‘I would say 99.8% of those who replied said they supported me. We cannot have players who were caught on camera cheating represented in the ranking. It makes no sense.’ It was a ‘bold and scary move’, according to Dreyfus, but illustrates how he doesn’t want anyone or anything besmirching the legitimacy of his ranking system.
He’s passionate about this project, as well as the other poker-related businesses in his swelling portfolio, including Fantasy Poker Manager (similar to Fantasy Football). As well as the hugely successful EPT now using the GPI to decide its Player of the Year, there seems to be overwhelming support in the poker community for what he’s building. The kudos of being ranked number one tournament player in the world creates a buzz and a target for the game’s elite to chase. Plus, circuit grinders and amateurs are able to see where they stand in the tournament food chain. There’s something for everyone.
When Dreyfus first acquired the GPI he considered staging a tournament solely for the ranking’s top 100 players, which would determine the best tournament player. But he soon conceded that this concept was intrinsically flawed, so canned the idea. ‘It would just be the best poker player who won a tournament full of the best players. The reality is that only a ranking based on several criteria gives the best picture of who are the best poker players in the world right now.’
For the time being that’s Schemion. However, his lead could soon evaporate with the chock-a-block schedule of tournaments on the horizon and Negreanu and a group of Schemion’s compatriots chasing him down. One thing’s for sure, it’s not going to be dull watching this struggle for supremacy unfold.
Kid Poker rules the decade
With it being roughly ten years since Tennessee accountant Chris Moneymaker helped spark the poker boom, the GPI decided to use its point scoring system to crown a Player of the Decade. The ageing factor was omitted and a maximum of 12 results per year were used to reach the overall score. The star-studded ‘final table’ of nine included legends of the game but it was Daniel Negreanu, third on the all-time money list with $21.2 million in winnings, who scooped the coveted award.
The Canadian tells Pokerplayer: ‘It’s pretty cool to be honoured for the body of work and consistent results I’ve put together over the last ten years, especially with all the changes the game has seen.’
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