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The Epic Venture

The Epic Venture

by Matt Matros |  Published: Nov 01, 2011


Matt MatrosUnless you’ve been wearing your headphones for the past five months, you’re probably familiar with the Epic Poker League by now. If not, don’t worry, you’ll soon see Epic everywhere — most prominently in TV broadcasts on CBS and the new Velocity channel.

The idea itself — creating an exclusive series of tournaments for only the best poker players — is not new. In fact, the World Poker Tour tried it seven years ago with the Professional Poker Tour (PPT). There are some distinct differences, however, between the two approaches. PPT events were freerolls, which meant relatively paltry payouts.

Epic’s events cost a cool 20 grand American to enter, so the prize pools are plenty big enough to interest spectators. The PPT provided a $500,000 prize pool for each of five events in its only season, but Epic has actually promised even more money to its players. Epic is adding $400,000 to each of the four tournaments in Season One, and there’s a $1 million freeroll for the top 27 finishers at the year’s end, for a total of $2.6 million contributed to the prize pools by the League. Finally, Epic’s TV contract already is in place. The PPT carried out and filmed their events before they had a contract, and the gamble backfired. It took years before all of PPT’s tournaments got on the air.

I played in four of the five PPT events, and I played in the first Epic event. All of the players had high hopes for the PPT, and I have no regrets about traveling across the country to support those tournaments, but Epic is on another level. League members are treated to a limo ride from McCarran airport, free rooms at The Palms, and $100 in food credits for each day they’re in the tournament. The Epic brass understands that poker players care about value — and the more value you offer, the more pros will support your league.

However, even with the added money, the perks mentioned above, and the potential television exposure, many players have questioned whether Epic events are good investments for the average professional. After all, the fields are ludicrously tough. (I’m not sure “ludicrously” is a word, but if it’s not, it should be invented just to describe the Epic fields.) My table at the first event consisted of 2011 WSOP bracelet-winner Allen Bari, top-15 Global Poker Index player McLean Karr, online sensation and 2010 WSOP main event third-place finisher Joseph Cheong, and veterans James van Alstyne and Matthew Brady with their combined $6 million in tournament earnings. Don’t worry, when Joseph Cheong busted, he was replaced by Bryn Kenney, who immediately became the best player at the table. Why would we subject ourselves to this?

Believe it or not, there are four good reasons.

1. No hand of poker is played in a vacuum. I’ve improved throughout my career only when I played against better players. Competing against the best forces me to break out of my routines and develop new strategies to counter what my opponents are doing. Tougher events mean I have to prepare more, which means I have to think more, which means I’ll likely take a new approach to my game and learn something in the process. After just one Epic event, I already think I’m a better player than I was at this summer’s WSOP.

2. The Epic Poker League offers players an opportunity to build a brand. For an unknown pro, this is potentially a very big deal. Although there are very few new endorsement deals getting signed in the U.S. in the post-Black-Friday era, eventually that’s going to change. Sooner or later, online poker will be back, and it will be legal — and the players who have established names for themselves will be the first to benefit.

3. The Epic fields are brutally tough, but the added money is quite significant. The first event got 137 players, which means the prize pool, with no juice, would’ve been $2.74 million. With the $400,000 added by Epic, it became almost $3.1 million. (Two percent of buy-ins were withheld for dealers and tournament staff.) That’s nearly a 13 percent jump! Any strong player should be at least break-even with such an overlay. There just isn’t that big of a difference between the best player in the world and the hundredth-best player in the world.

4. The inaugural Epic event was the most enjoyable poker I’ve played in a long time. During most tournaments, we have to deal with slow play, Hollywooding, deck-washing requests, out-of-turn actions, and the generic cloud of misery that seems to hover over poker’s negative-EV class. My Epic table featured six guys who knew each other, who respected each other’s games, who acted quickly, and who never took it personally when they got three-bet, or four-bet, or five-bet. Sure, it was a tough group to play against, but it also was a pleasure. It’ll be good for my mental health to have that kind of playing experience once in a while.

No one knows whether the Epic Poker League will be a successful enterprise. What we do know is that they’re treating the players great, they’re offering an unprecedented amount of added money, and they’re assembling the strongest tournament fields televised poker has ever seen. If that combination can captivate the country, deliver high ratings, and generate a devoted fan base, the benefits would be reaped by poker players everywhere.

That’s something we all should be rooting for. ♠

Matt Matros is the author of The Making of a Poker Player. He is also a featured coach for