Wednesday, October 7, 2009

When Choosing a Fantasy Team, Follow the Sponsorship Trail

This article appeared in the October 2009 issue of Online Poker Pro Magazine (European publication) and on their website at It then appeared in the December 2009 issue of Poker Pro Magazine and on their website at

When Choosing a Fantasy Team, Follow the Sponsorship Trail

by Chad Holloway

Getting sponsored by a major online poker site seems to be of the utmost importance to professional poker players. The topic was recently thrust into Negreanuthe spotlight when Jeffrey Lisandro could not acquire sponsorship before the 2009 World Series of Poker and then went on to win a record-tying three bracelets and the Player of the Year award. This left many sponsors shaking their heads while revolutionizing who should receive sponsorship and for what reasons.

In the poker world, sponsorship occurs when a company (usually an online poker site) recruits a player to wear its logo and promote the site; in exchange, the player will usually have a number of expenses covered, such as travel costs and tournament buy-ins.In his blog, Daniel Negreanu talked about the correlation between sponsorship and the low turnout at the 2009 WSOP $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. Championship:

“No TV is what caused it. Not for the reasons you might think. Not because poker players are so desperate to be on television. The main reason we lost so many players is that many pros today have sponsorship deals. Many of those deals are contingent on the fact that the event is televised.”

Negreanu elaborated: “For example, Pepsi might sign Joe Cassidy to a deal where he wears their logo. They might pay him a yearly salary and agree to pay his buy-ins for televised tournaments. Well, with ESPN coverage gone, instead of Pepsi ponying up the money, Joe would have to fork over the whole $50,000 out of pocket. There is no longer any incentive at all for Pepsi to pay his buy-in because they won’t get any real logo exposure out of it.”

Implications for Fantasy Poker

Clearly, sponsorship is a complicated and heated issue in the poker industry; however, its implications are also applicable to the Fantasy Poker world. You might wonder: How does sponsorship relate to Fantasy Poker at all? Simply put, drafting players who are fortunate enough to be sponsored will give you a better chance at success than selecting those who are not sponsored.

Players enjoy sponsorship because it allows them to travel the world and play in the premier poker tournaments free of charge. Unfortunately, most poker players do not have sponsorship and must pay expenses out of pocket. This means they must allocate a large portion of their bankroll to tournaments, and since tournaments are such high variance propositions, they are less likely to play as many events as a player who doesn’t worry about the cost.

So, by selecting sponsored pros, you will assemble a team that will play a full schedule of events without the stress of losing their own money, two determining factors in Fantasy Poker.

Now, suppose you’ve made the decision to select sponsored pros on your next fantasy team. There are two questions you must address to proceed further: Who is sponsored and in what events?

TV Coverage Is Key

For exposure reasons, sponsors are more likely to recruit players in events that will receive extensive coverage. At the WSOP, a list of which events will be broadcast on television and the Internet is released weeks in advance and it is a safe bet that most sponsored pros will be playing in these events. If all goes right, the sponsors will be rewarded by having a player make the final table, showcasing their site’s logo, a huge advertising opportunity in comparison to the initial buy-in.

On an interesting side note, the WSOP instituted Rule 43-B-i to address the sponsorship phenomenon. The rule was designed to keep broadcasts from seeming like an infomercial for the various online poker sites and states: “No more than three (3) players at the final table – and all other tables featured for television coverage – will be allowed to wear apparel with logos, patches or promotional language from the same entity.”

If you are preparing for Fantasy Poker and would like to draft some sponsored players for your team, you’re going to need to know who has been awarded a lucrative sponsorship deal. Each of the major online poker sites has a core stable of professionals chosen for varying reasons.

Full Tilt Poker

Full Tilt Poker put together a roster of names recognizable to the poker masses. These players are known as “Team Full Tilt” and consists of Howard Lederer, Phil Ivey, Chris Ferguson, John Juanda, Jennifer Harman, Phil Gordon, Erick Lindgren, Erik Seidel, Andy Bloch, Mike Matusow, Gus Hansen, Allen Cunningham and Patrik Antonius.

Joining Team Full Tilt in site representation are the “Full Tilt Pros,” which include November Niner James Akenhead, Eli Elezra, Robert Williamson III and dozens more. Finally, Full Tilt has developed a working relationship with CardRunners (Taylor Caby, David Benefield, Corwin Cole, etc.) and the Hendon Mob (Barny Boatman, Ross Boatman, Joe Beevers and Ram Vaswani).

Team PokerStars

“Team PokerStars Pros” is well known for having signed former world champions Chris Moneymaker, Greg Raymer, Joe Hachem and Peter Eastgate. Joining these champs are some of poker’s biggest names, including Daniel Negreanu, Vanessa Rousso, Bertrand Grospellier, Barry Greenstein, Isabelle Mercier, Chad Brown, Dario Minieri, Gavin Griffin, Humberto Brenes and Joe Cada.

In addition, PokerStars has made an effort to sign players to represent countries from around the world (Fabrice Soulier, Bruno Stefanelli, Johan Storakers, etc.), while adding a number of sports stars and celebrities to the ranks (Jason Alexander, Orel Hershiser, Boris Becker, Sebastien Chabal, Mats Sundin and Sami Selio).

Not Just Stars and FTP

Doylesroom originally recruited a cast of old-time poker legends to represent the site, including Doyle Brunson, Todd Brunson, Mike Caro, Cyndy Violette, Hoyt Corkins, T.J. Cloutier, Minh Ly and Dewey Tomko; however, last month the site announced the formation of the “Brunson 10,” a group consisting of players who are under the age of 25 and consistently achieve at a high level. Although all ten players had not been chosen at press time, the first three players to be announced were Alec Torelli, Amit Makhija and Zach Clark, who is the nephew of the late Chip Reese. The “Brunson 10” will join the old-timers to create one of the most formidable sponsored teams in online poker.

Poker icons Phil Hellmuth and Annie Duke are the foundation of Team UltimateBet and are joined by fellow pros Adam “Roothlus” Levy, Brandon Cantu, Hollywood Dave Stann, Liv Boeree, Matt Graham, Michael Binger, Scott Ian, Shawn Rice and Tiffany Michelle. Likewise, UB’s sister site, Absolute Poker, has two sponsored pros: Matt Vengrin and Lacey Jones.

Team Bodog has thrown its hat into the sponsorship ring by signing some young up-and-coming players, namely Jean-Robert Bellande, David Williams, Justin Bonomo and Evelyn Ng. Likewise, RPM Poker decided to sign popular online players Steven “Zugwat” Silverman, Stephen “stevie444” Chadwick, Jim “Mr_BigQueso” Collopy and Andrew “luckychewy” Lichtenberger.

Not Just America

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006 has altered the sponsorship realm, forcing many sites to shift their focus away from American players to a broader worldwide audience. Everest Poker, which does not accept players from the United States, has put together a diversified roster known as “Team Everest,” which currently includes Cristiano “lalanco1” Blanco (Italy), Steven “Viktor” van Zadelhoff (Netherlands), Voitto “RandomEyes” Rintala (Finland), Kim “—icebeer—” Wooka (Japan), Maria “.may.” Maceiras (Spain) and Antoine Saout of the November Nine (France).

Likewise, Devilfish Poker caters to players from the UK and Europe and is home to the entertaining David “Devilfish” Ulliott.

Of course, this is not an all-inclusive list of sponsored poker professionals; however, it is quite comprehensive and a useful guide for Fantasy Poker enthusiasts. If you visit any online poker site, you will likely find a complete list of their sponsored pros.

These lists are useful tools that are often overlooked in the Fantasy Poker world. By taking advantage of this information and recruiting sponsored players, you will be a step ahead of the competition and give yourself the best chance of taking down a Fantasy Poker title.

Who knows, you might just become a Fantasy Poker celebrity and find some sponsorship yourself. Chad Holloway is a semi-professional poker player from Baraboo, Wisconsin. He specializes in Fantasy Poker and currently writes poker material for