As the 2016 calendar year approaches its final quarter, the poker media landscape continues to take shape with a number of next-gen personalities occupying the top tier of relevance among poker fans.
The evolution of media in general (namely more accessible production and distribution methods for audiovisual content) has resulted in a drastic power shift within the hierarchy of traditional sports, eSports, reality TV and real money poker.
Highly engaged viewership realms previously dominated by operator/publisher-driven media outlets now share that elite space with grassroots efforts put forth by players and other talented individuals who possess lights-out authority in their respective fields.
The entrepreneurial opportunities afforded to these stars often acts as a counter balance to industry-focused pursuits, and in some cases can result in a personality wielding as much (if not more) influence as publishers, operators and IP owners. Poker is no exception.
Five years ago, it would have been hard to imagine a list of “relevant” poker personalities that didn’t include both Phil Ivey and Phil Hellmuth.
But times have changed. The once-touted “best poker player in the world” has been busy these last few years exploring new verticals; moonlighting as a pit game advantage player and showing little to no interest in connecting with the poker community.
Meanwhile, the world’s all-time leading WSOP bracelet winner — despite a fairly recent Reddit AMA Thread — still can’t seem to effectively communicate whether he’s shooting or working a response to any given topic.
Once upon a time, Viewers, Readers and Listeners demanded quality content from creators. Nowadays they simply don’t care if someone’s work isn’t up to par… as fans find it much easier to ignore uninspired drivel rather than add importance to it by engaging.
The following five individuals are not only relevant to a mainstream poker audience now, but are likely to be instrumental in molding the poker industry in 2017 and beyond.
Doug Polk (Upswing Poker, DougPolk.TV, Polkernews)
Doug Polk (also known as WCGRider) is the obvious choice to headline this list since he’s our personal favorite, but really all five choices offer a unique connection to their respective bases.
Polk, a heads-up NLHE cash game specialist, thrives on granting an enormous amount of professional and personal access to his DougPolk.TV live viewers, premium subscribers and Upswing Engaged Lab users — showing a willingness to openly communicate on just about any fan-generated topic.
Doug places the highest priority on taking care of his supporters, as evidenced by the fact that no one in the Team Upswing world (not even his closest friends or associates) enjoys non-filtered, marathon access to the two-time WSOP bracelet winner as much as the 27-year old’s fans do.
When Twitch Poker viewers requested by a landslide that Doug select $100 to $10,000 for his 2016 Online Poker Bankroll Challenge amount, there was zero doubt who would get the final word.
When TwoPlusTwo Forum contributors expressed the need for more exposure of NVG’s most widely-discussed threads, Polk began uploading weekly Polkernews segments providing fresh commentary on subjects that often generate more “recreational player” interest than the latest lottery-style poker gimmick.
Furthermore, Polk is the voice among this Top 5 who is least liable to “pull rank” on his public by fire-walling sensitive business and personal dealings that have had an impact on his career.
His emotionally-tinged video shoot on Pot Limit Omaha pro Ben Tollerene may not have received overwhelming approval from the poker insider crowd, yet the monologue was certainly appreciated (and expected) by Doug’s live viewing supporters — a tightly-knit group of followers who insist on backing up their favorite pro as long as his is willing to relay legitimate insight into the high stakes poker world.
Ask any Team Upswing loyalist and they will be quick to tell you… Doug Polk doesn’t love the camera, the camera loves Doug Polk. The California native’s credentials include laying the foundation for poker live casting on Justin.tv years ago, and extend to a victory over the Claudico Poker Bot designed by professor Tuomas Sandholm of Carnegie Mellon University.
Throughout his career, Doug has managed to surge in relevance as he has worked his way up and established a name for himself in poker. Viewers relate to the way Doug Polk embraces both logic and emotion as a bonafide high stakes pro.
Joey Ingram (Poker Life Podcast, One Poker Life)
ChicagoJoey‘s “Poker Life Podcast” has only been around in its current form for a couple of years, but it has already become one of the best poker shows ever. Ingram may be 31 now, but was actually uploading poker-related content on YouTube in 2009 when he broke the single-day record for most hands played on PokerStars.
Joey’s “conversations” with high profile players and industry representatives have captivated the poker community. Hundreds of live viewers typically stick around for an entire 2-hour show, with thousands more checking out archived Podcasts each day.
Once again, it is the access the OnePokerLife.com website owner provides that keeps fans coming back for more. Topics routinely discussed on Papi‘s show may be too taboo (or too inconvenient) for some outlets to cover, as Poker Life Podcast guests have a reputation for opening up on matters they would never discuss in a typical interview with poker media.
Jason Somerville (RunItUp.TV, PokerStars)
If you could choose one personality that the world’s largest poker site is lucky to be in business with, that individual would be Jason Somerville. The poker community in many ways has “grown up” with JCarverPoker; following along with the 29-year old’s career from his early online tournament days to a subsequent WSOP bracelet win and emergence as the King of Twitch Poker.
Last summer, the broadcaster was responsible for 30,000 new sign-ups on PokerStars through his daily streams and remains an active proponent of regulated online poker in the United States. You can read about Jason’s August 2016 nationally-televised debate segment on CNBC’s “Power Lunch” here.
Daniel Negreanu (PokerStars, Full Contact Poker Podcast)
Daniel Negreanu is the all-time live poker tournament money leader with roughly $32.6 million in lifetime cashes dating back to the 1990s. He is also the unofficial lead spokesperson for the PokerStars brand; and the only company representative who has publicly discussed meetings related to player-rewards payouts he had with former and current Amaya executives.
KidPoker has remained relevant over the years through tireless outreach; both as a poker player and social media personality. Daniel’s advocacy of the game and involvement in poker is undisputed — as is the 41-year old’s penchant for antagonizing followers via politically-charged Twitter rants and other diatribes that are difficult to express in 140 characters or less.
Regardless, Negreanu’s fans have accepted this reality for the most part, and are fully inclined to either raise the native Canadian’s hand in triumph or throw him over the top rope depending on whatever his opinion of the day might be.
Chairs do occasionally get tossed into the ring when Negreanu decides to personally attack TwoPlusTwo Forum chief Mason Malmuth (this dispute dates back to the late 1990s and the old Rec Gambling Poker boards), but ironically Daniel is on the short list when it comes to high profile, old-school poker pros who haven’t severed ties with the community in light of scandal.
Phil Galfond (Run It Once Poker)
Of all the predictions poker insiders could have come up with for 2016, the announcement of a brand new Rest of World poker site scheduled to launch in the next 180 days was not something most knowledgeable “experts” would have considered. And perhaps that’s for the best.
Phil Galfond (aka OMGClayAiken) has been a marquee name in the high stakes community for a decade, but is staking much more than his reputation on entering a highly competitive global online poker sector that is dominated by the big-budget marketing efforts of PokerStars.
Can Galfond pull off the impossible and become a savior for Internet Poker as his Run It Once Poker press release suggests? Or will the project quickly go sideways and prove once and for all how difficult it is to attract recreational poker players in the current environment?
One way or another, we’re about to find out!
(If you’re interested in improving your poker game, check out the Upswing Lab! Doug Polk and Ryan Fee collaborated on this A to Z training course and the great reviews keep rolling in! Check out our Upswing Lab testimonials page here)
David Huber (known as “dhubermex” online) has been involved in the poker industry for more than a decade. He currently assists several poker and gaming entities as a researcher, writer, and consultant. Former Editor-in-Chief & Head Moderator of online tournament rankings site PocketFives (2006-2011).