Fantasy Poker Blows Up at 2011 WSOP

Daniel Negreanu
DN: I choose you.

Could poker be the next big fantasy sport?

It seems altogether possible based on the amount of interest the $25,000 WSOP fantasy draft generated over the past week.

Organized by poker pros Daniel Negreanu and Erick Lindgren, this year's draft saw 15 teams/individuals each put up $25k for an amazing $375k in the prize pool.

A draft party was held at Aria and the draft itself was done auction style, which each team bidding on nominated players until they all had a team of eight players to ride for the entire 2011 WSOP.

So while Fantasy Poker has been around for years, it's safe to say this year it’s truly become a phenomenon.

According to poker players like Eric Froehlich, it’s easy to see why it’s so popular. 

“People want a piece of the action and fantasy sports let you have that,” said Eric Froehlich.

“The fantasy leagues for professional poker players give us more people to cheer for and more sweats. It’s a really good thing.” 

This year there was so much interest in the poker pros fantasy draft that Stan Magusiak, a 26-year-old web/application developer in Pittsburgh, set up to let poker fans and players follow the fantasy draft this summer. 

Magusiak understands that fantasy sports, at their most fundamental level, are simply about finding a way to compare two players in the most simple (but consistent) way.

Erick Lindgren
Erick Lindgren: Likes gambling.

That said, he thinks a great deal of the appeal comes from our more base instincts.

“I think the appeal of fantasy is twofold: it’s camaraderie and competition paired with gambling and fandom,” said Magusiak. 

“Most fantasy leagues are started within friend circles and the concept of a draft basically merges every aspect of being a ‘dude’.  Sports knowledge, camaraderie, competition and, most importantly, friendly trash talk.”

Fantasy sports have been growing incredibly fast and in 2007 the Fantasy Sports Trade Association estimated 29.9 million people in Canada and the U.S. played fantasy sports.

Poker is a relatively new fantasy sport and still seems to be finding its place in the massive fantasy league culture.

Could It Be Even Better?

Negreanu, who is a fantasy sports enthusiast and once compared winning his fantasy hockey league to winning a WSOP bracelet, thinks poker works very well as a fantasy game.

“It’s excellent,” said Negreanu. “I’ve actually already come up with a couple ideas for next year to make it even more fun.”

Next year Negreanu wants to add special categories to the draft including women and No-Limit Hold’em players.

“It would add even more strategy and make it more position-based,” Negreanu said. “It would be like drafting a quarterback in fantasy football.”

Yueqi Zhu
The elusive Yueqi Zhu.

Magusiak was more reluctant to say poker works well as a fantasy sport.

“It does and it doesn’t,” he said.

“Poker’s at a big disadvantage there because most people don’t have the knowledge of the player pool available to them as they do in other fantasy sports.  

“Don’t get me wrong, ESPN does a nice job with the time they have but good luck finding Yueqi Zhu or even Scott Seiver in any of the archived ESPN shows.”

Magusiak did go on to say that, despite the drawbacks, there are some tremendous upsides to fantasy poker.

One such advantage is that some of the biggest players in the poker world are also taking part in the fantasy draft.

You could compare it to the top 20 football players in the NFL doing a draft of their own every year, which everyone could follow.

No Experience Necessary

Regardless there are many poker players that have very little experience in fantasy sports who have thrown down the $25k entrance fee to play this year’s biggest fantasy poker draft.

Poker vet Barry Greenstein is one of them.

“I don’t know how much the fantasy sports experience helps,” Greenstein said.

Barry Greenstein
The Bear: Paid $108 for Ivey.

“You just have to be prepared going in and know a lot of poker players. Knowing who plays mix games is particularly important because of how vital the $10k events are.”

Over the first week of events, however, fantasy experience seems to be paying off as Erick Lindgren is second in the league with 77 points thanks to Eric Froehlich’s final four finish in the $25k Heads-Up Championship.

Greenstein was dealt a huge blow when one of his biggest horses, Phil Ivey, announced he wasn’t playing the entire 2011 WSOP. Currently his team is the fourth worst with just 16 points.

Meanwhile Negreanu is in the middle of the pack with 41 points.

Whether you’ve played fantasy sports for years or just getting into them now, there’s no arguing their popularity. Over the last two years fantasy sports have even branched out into politics, movies and celebrity gossip.

Considering the meteoric rise of fantasy sports, there’s really no telling how popular fantasy poker could eventually become.

“Fantasy football started years before the Internet with friends talking over landlines and reading the USA Today to keep score and has ballooned into one of the most popular pastimes in America,” said Magusiak.

“There’s absolutely nothing stopping fantasy poker from enjoying the same success. It just takes marketing and a few interested parties.”

Check for a complete list of entrants, their picks and the current standings.

The 2011 WSOP continues through July 19. For comprehensive coverage live from Las Vegas be sure to check PokerListings’ Live Updates and News.

Best Poker Sites - Editor`s Pick

Latest Blogs »