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Who's Got the Power in Poker?

Poker News RSS / Short-Stacked Shamus / 25 February 2011 / Leave a Comment

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This week BLUFF Magazine announced its annual "Power 20" list which catalogues the 20 most influential people in poker. This marks the sixth year the magazine has produced such a list, which tends to include major figures from the business side of poker (both online and live), various media types, some political leaders, as well as a few high-profile professional players.

Howard Lederer sits atop this year's Power 20, thanks primarily to his association with the popular Full Tilt Poker site. And in second sits Isai Scheinberg, founder of PokerStars, an indication of the continued significance of the online game to poker, generally speaking.

The process by which BLUFF has compiled the list has been refined somewhat over the years. While the list has always been referred to as "the most influential people in poker" since it was first introduced in early 2006, there have often been included businesses, television networks, agencies, or other entities as well as individuals. In fact, the new list for 2011 represents the first time in the six years that only people were named.

Each year BLUFF chooses a panel made up of individuals with special insight into the poker industry, including some who end up getting voted onto the lists. Voting usually occurs toward the end of the year, with the list appearing the following January or February. Thus (for example) does the 2011 Power 20 represent what the voters collectively determined to be the 20 most influential people in poker at the end of 2010.

Not surprisingly, the list has provoked a lot of debate already -- kind of a primary purpose, really, for compiling the list in the first place.

Dave "F-Train" Behr, a poker reporter and keeper of the "Riding the F-Train" blog, was among the 101 voters this year. In a recent blog post he describes how his own ballot differed (unsurprisingly) from the final list, with a couple of people he listed relatively highly not appearing at all among the top 20. F-Train also notes how no women appear on the 2011 Power 20, wondering if perhaps a woman has ever made the list. In fact, a quick check of all the Power 20 lists since 2006 reveals that F-Train's hunch was correct -- no woman has ever been included.

Looking back at the BLUFF Power 20 lists from 2006-2011 is an interesting exercise, actually, insofar as doing so partially reveals how "power" in the poker world has evolved over the last six years. Or at least how perceptions of such power have changed, anyway.

Each year a handful of professional players usually appear on the list. For example, Daniel Negreanu has been among the top 10 every year since the list began. Doyle Brunson, who topped the list back in 2006, has also been included among the Power 20 each year since. Phil Hellmuth has also been frequently included, returning again to appear on the 2011 list (in 16th). Meanwhile players like Chris Moneymaker, Johnny Chan, and Chris "Jesus" Ferguson who appeared on the list early on have fallen out of the top 20 in recent years.

Looking over past Power 20s also helps one to trace the consolidation of power in the online poker world over the past six years. In 2006 -- prior to the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act which resulted in several sites pulling out of the American market -- five different online sites appeared among the top 20. This year, as already mentioned, only two sites (PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker) are represented on the list, with their figureheads positioned in those top two spots. Indeed, both PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker have remained part of the BLUFF Power 20 every year since 2006.

On the television side of things, ESPN (or representatives of the network) has been ranked highly every year but one. High Stakes Poker (or GSN) has been included in past years. And the World Poker Tour and/or figures associated with it have been on the list each year since 2006, too.

Speaking of the WPT, its current Executive Tour Director Matt Savage (recently interviewed here) was ranked the 14th most influential person in poker this year, his second straight year in the Power 20. The World Series of Poker, Harrah's, and/or Caesars folks have usually occupied high spots on the list as well. For example, Ty Stewart, current WSOP Executive Director and VP of Caesars Interactive Entertainment was ranked third this year, with Caesars CEO Mitch Garber also in the top ten.

Among the agents and agencies that have been singled out as particularly influential over the years, Brian Balsbaugh of Poker Royalty has appeared nearly every year, climbing into the top five in 2011. Media entities or such as PokerNews, Bluff Media, CardPlayer, and TwoPlusTwo also often have been represented in the top 20, although this year the latter two do not appear.

The Poker Players Alliance and/or those heading it has remained part of the list since 2008. And usually at least one spot in the list is given to U.S. political leaders, with Rep. Barney Frank having dropped out this year, replaced by Senator Harry Reid.

This year a total of 195 different names were submitted by the 101 voters as deserving spots in the top 20, showing just how difficult it is to reach a clear consensus when it comes to indentifying who has the "power" in poker.

Not that big of a surprise, I suppose. Indeed, just think about your average table full of players. Some will likely appear to have more "power" or an edge over others, although a single hand can alter the status quo very quickly. And, of course, everyone's perspective on who has the most power is likely going to be different as well.

Such is necessarily the case when debating who holds the "power" in the poker world, too.

Click here to see the entire list of the 2011 Bluff Power 20.

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