For many, a poker sponsorship is the Holy Grail for a professional poker player. We look back through 2015 to see who got lucky and who didn’t.
The games are getting tougher. Win rate is narrowing. Sponsorship of any form will do very nicely. In 2015, we saw players signed, dropped and even a resignation.
Let’s get to it.
As expected, PokerStars saw the biggest number of changes in their player roster during 2015.
It started in January when the Red Spade announced key signings in both Japan and India. Kosei Ichinose and Aditya Agarwal becoming the first members of PokerStars Team Pro to represent both Japan and India respectively.
The first player to leave PokerStars in 2015 turned out to be their biggest blunder (not that they would have seen it coming). Long-standing employee Vanessa Rousso given her marching orders. Later in the year, she would go on to star in Big Brother, finishing third, in a performance many believe was the greatest in BB history. Rousso’s profile was raised significantly as a result, and she received a high level of media exposure.
Every cloud has a silver lining, and Rousso’s departure created a space in the payroll for former Ultimate Poker pro-Jason Somerville. The signing made perfect sense as Somerville was, and still is, dominating the Twitch airwaves. Somerville continues to be one of the most influential poker stars in the world today.
In March, PokerStars poured some fire onto the sexism in poker debate when they hired Japanese model Yuiko Matsukawa to act as a PokerStars Ambassador. A quick Google search showing Matsukawa in a variety of sexually titillating poses while dressed as a schoolgirl and sucking on a banana. Maybe it’s time for the Stars hierarchy to give that values and vision statement a feather dusting.
Jonathan Duhamel was the next PokerStars player to leave the team. The Canadian left in April after four years. Duhamel joined after his World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event success. Arguably the most successful WSOP Main Event winner in recent years, there was no reason offered for his departure.
Then the bombshell of the year.
Immediately thrust into the spotlight in a series of TV ads that were thought to have been the most expensive in PokerStars history, PokerStars wasted little time trying to reclaim what must be millions in salaries.
PokerStars see the pair as the key to attracting more recreational players to the game and have promised to promote them heavily in 2016. Two months later and it became clearer how Stars were able to afford those two huge salaries after parting ways with the man hogging that entire payroll – Rafael Nadal.
Asia was once again the focus of attention when in September Stars announced the signings of Taiwan’s Chen-An Lin and China’s Yaxi Zhu. There wasn’t a banana or schoolgirl uniform in sight. And Bertrand ‘ElkY’ Grospellier made history when he became the first player sponsored by an online poker site and a professional eSports team when he was picked up by Team Liquid where he will feature as a Hearthstone player.
Sponsorship is such a precious thing; you rarely see anybody walking away from it. In 2014, PokerStars were the only online poker site to suffer that fate when Victoria-Coren Mitchell left over a values clash concerning the introduction of sports betting, and they have earned that same accolade in 2015, and for similar reasons. Team PokerStars Online player Alex Millar deciding to jump ship after failing to make his voice heard regarding the upcoming changes to the VIP program. Twitch star Jamie Staples was immediately signed to take his place.
Shane Warne is one of the most famous sporting names in the world (unless you live in the USA and then you have never heard of him). The Aussie cricket legend left 888Poker in January after six years as the main face of the site. Whereas PokerStars missed out on the Big Brother coverage that Vanessa Rousso would have given them, 888Poker would have been glad that they cut ties long before Warne’s non-profit fell under investigation for potential fraud allegations.
A month later and Xuan Liu left the side. Later in the year, we would find out that Liu would be chosen to star in a reality TV show called Girl Got Game. 888Poker won’t miss out entirely though, as their other sponsored pro-Sofia Lovgren will also feature. In May, 888Poker followed PokerStars interest in the Far East with the signing of Japanese poker player Akira ‘Clutch Hero’ Ohyama.
888Poker’s final piece of business was to secure the services of the young German Dominik Nitsche. The youngest player to win three WSOP bracelets, widely recognized as one of the smartest minds in the game, is also a workhorse. He joined the side in the summer.
3# The Rest
Kara Scott left her long time sponsor partypoker at the turn of the year. She then teamed up with her husband Giovanni Rizzo to represent Italian poker outfit Tilt Events. The former four-time world boxing champion Carl Froch took up her vacant position. The Cobra had appeared in several partypoker sponsored Dusk Till Dawn events before his appointment. partypoker created a series of boxing-themed online tournaments in his honor.
Everest Poker realized that ponying up the buy-ins for a man as prominent as Sam Trickett was a pretty expensive business. Everest dropped Europe’s most winningest poker player after only a year with the team.
Isabelle Mercier made a return to the headlines after TonyBet Poker signed her as an ambassador for the site. TonyBet Poker targeted the French-Canadian for her prowess in the game of Chinese Poker. She has since created a series of tutorials on the game for PokerNews and won a side event at the recent TonyBet World OFC Poker Championships.
Finally, PKR signed Dan O’Callaghan and then let him go. Not that the UK-born pro did anything to deserve such an honor. PKR releasing a statement to say that there would be seismic changes happening on the site during 2016, and the Team Pro concept was not part of them. Eleanor Gudger also fell by the wayside in that shuffle.