Poker league takes shape

Jan 2, 2007 6:25 AM

A league of professional poker players that’s seen as "poker’s answer to the PGA" may be in action by April or May, according to sources familiar with the planning.

Poker pro Berry Greenstein said his hopes of announcing the league’s formation by late last year were shattered by the Internet poker legislation that knocked some of the biggest sources of sponsorship cash out of the U.S. market.

What league organizers had to do as sponsorships dried up, Greenstein said, was go out and look for alternative sources of venture capital.

How much capital?

Greenstein did not put a number on it, but a source who spoke only with the promise of anonymity, suggested the figure might be in the range of $20 million.

What is known is that league action will have a cash game format and be played at the Venetian and telecast to the world on cable television’s I Network, which is partly owned by NBC.

Greenstein and Phil Ivey are the co-captains of one of eight teams that have each drafted 64 players.

Daniel Negreanu and Jennifer Harman are co-captains of one of the other eight-member teams.

"This could lift poker to a new level," said Negreanu, who compared the possibilities to what the PGA has done for golf.

Highly-regarded poker professional Chip Reese is generally credited as the key figure in the organization that will be known as the Professional Poker League.

Everything is subject to change, but that’s the label insiders have recently been using. Previous conversations with Reese have found the personable pro unwilling to confirm or deny much of anything about the league.

What he has said is that there will be an announcement when the time is right. Initially, this was going to occur last November or December.

Vanessa Rousso, a 23-year-old "phenom" who graduated from Duke University in two and one-half years and then put law school at the University of Miami on a temporary hold while she has played poker, said she was drafted by Greenstein and Ivey’s team only after a long telephone interview with Reese himself.

Bluff Magazine’s Player of the Year Chad Brown also said that Reese has been the man in charge as the league reached out to pick players from around the world.

Negreanu would not disclose the identity of the players on the team to be captained by Harman and himself, but said "they are people with solid records as cash game players."

Negreanu is one of poker’s most visible personalities and prolific writers, but said he has been asked to refrain from extensive commentary for the moment about the league and its prospects because organizers don’t want a piecemeal marketing program.

Is the future of the league assured at this point?

Brown fielded that question by saying, "For me, it is a kind of free-roll right now”¦ a good opportunity, if everyt hing comes together."

Greenstein said the challenge to get financing and begin televised play has required a search for non-traditional sources of financing.

"A lot of people do not realize that money from the poker web sites trickled down in so many different areas of the poker business," he said.

Although some foreign-based Internet sites continue doing business in the U.S. market, Greenstein said outlawing the funding mechanisms for Internet poker has had a "big impact."

One of the other hold-ups in the planning of the league was the early hope of its architects that players agreeing to be drafted by one of the eight teams would not play in other televised poker events.

And there are a lot of them.

Greenstein conceded that he had a hand in negotiating this issue out of the way, explaining that it ultimately works to everyone’s benefit if poker’s top talents and personalities can get as much visibility as possible.

"Besides," explained another source, "people were just not signing up if they had to give exclusivity to league events."