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The Power 20

5/6/2009

Poker's Power 20 is a list of the entities and people who make the poker world go round and strive to keep poker in the forefront of its most die-hard players and fans, as well as the more casual mainstream observers. This year, as we have in years past, we called upon our colleagues in the industry to help us with our selections, and we are thrilled with the results. Drum roll, please …

Honorable Mention: Although these folks didn't make into our top 20, that is not to say that they don't deserve praise. Poker is such a mega industry, and without all its cogs, it would surely not be where it is today. This year's honorable mentions include in no particular order: PokerRoad, 11 Management, No Limit Management, CEREUS, Phil Hellmuth, NBC Sports, 441 Productions, Matt Savage, PokerListings and The APT.

20. Wicked Chops Poker: With gossip sites and shows like TMZ and Perez Hilton becoming more and more popular, the minds behind Wicked Chops have seamlessly brought this addictive format to the poker world. Frequently the first to scoop a story and always there to cover the major events in the poker world, WCP's dedication to poker, gossip and hot women allow the "entities" to crack the Power 20 for the first time.

19. The Backers: Relatively unknown to the casual enthusiast, poker relies very heavily on a select few wealthy investors to keep a large number of tournament and cash-game pros in business. The likes of Erick Lindgren, Cliff "JohnnyBax" Josephy, Eric "Sheets" Haber and Tom "Durrrr" Dwan are integral in keeping the poker economy moving, as without them, many of your favorite poker personalities would either never have broken onto the scene or wouldn't still be here.

18. Poker Player's Alliance: It's been a tough year for poker in the U.S. from a legal standpoint, but it would have been a lot tougher if it hadn't been for the efforts of PPA. Alfonse D'Amato, John Pappas, Greg Raymer, Chris Ferguson and Howard Lederer, among others, have worked tirelessly to lobby for the legality of poker, by working with politicians, hiring the best lawyers and, most importantly, uniting the poker-playing public and giving it a voice and hope.

17. CardRunners: Founded by professional poker player Taylor Caby, Cardrunners has been an industry leader in training poker players in both cash games and tournaments for both live and online games. On top of providing a tremendous amount of unique training videos, the additions of Lee Jones -- one of the brightest minds in poker -- its sponsorship of the WSOP satellite room and its partnership with Full Tilt are all signs that this company is here to stay.

16. Ivan Demidov: An unknown name just a year ago, Ivan Demidov has captured the world's attention by being a member of the first November Nine, finishing second in the WSOP Main Event and finishing third in the main event of the WSOP Europe. With the continuous globalization of poker, Demidov has become to the world what Chris Moneymaker was to the U.S. in 2003. Already the face of poker in the Russia, he gives players around the world hope that they too could become a poker superstar.

15. Player's Advisory Council: Formed in 2006 by the freshly appointed Jeffrey Pollack, PAC is a group of top professionals, including Daniel Negreanu, Howard Lederer, Jennifer Harman and a few others, who work together with Harrah's to ensure the WSOP is looking out for the players. The group has helped the WSOP improve all aspects of the WSOP, from food options, to registration, to tournament structures, to the event schedule. It's a major reason the WSOP has continued to grow and attract more players every year.

14. Doyle Brunson: You would think that his age would begin to catch up with him, but it hasn't, as Doyle is still as involved with the game he loves as he was in years past, and actually probably more so. On top of playing in the biggest cash games and tournaments all over the world, Doyle is actively involved with making DoylesRoom.com a safe and reliable place to play poker online, and he has one of the most-read blogs in poker, which you can read at BluffMagazine.com.

13. TwoplusTwo.com: In an industry that relies heavily on forums, nobody has more influence than the community at 2+2; founded by David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth and instrumental in bringing the UB/Absolute scandal to light, 2+2 provides various forums for poker players and fans, including categories such as Books and Publications, Coaching/Training, Home Poker and the ever-popular News, Views, and Gossip. On top of the forums, 2+2 is also a major player in the poker publishing world, offering up titles like "Harrington on Hold'em," "The Theory of Poker" and "Hold'em Poker for Advanced Players." The company recently launched its own radio show for advanced listeners, which has garnered a lot of attention.

12. PokerNews.com: Led by professional poker player and majority shareholder Tony G, PokerNews is without a doubt one of the largest poker portals in the world. With a combination of unbiased news, strategy, videos, forums and live tournament reporting, all of which can be translated into 23 different languages, it's easy to see that PokerNews is one of the core reasons that poker has been expanding so rapidly internationally.

11. World Poker Tour: The company that helped start it all has had a busy year, switching over from GSN to Fox Sports Network, launching Club WPT (free, legalized poker online) and developing the first fully integrated poker destination at MySpace, all while putting together one of the most popular poker tours. With events from Barcelona to Borgata to Biloxi, the WPT schedule culminates with one of the most prestigious events of the year, a $25,000 buy-in at its favorite tour stop and the heart of the poker economy, the Bellagio.

10. Professional Poker Players: The lifeblood of poke and the industry as a whole would be nowhere without the men and women who make a living off the game that we all love so much. Proving that poker is a game of skill would be a difficult task if it weren't for these players, who consistently win championships, make final tables and dominate cash games. On top of it all, they work tirelessly with the media, various advertisers and poker sites to educate the public and aid in the expansion of poker all around the world.

9. Bluff Media: Founded in a basement four years ago by Eric Morris, Eddy Kleid, Jeff Markley and Michael Caselli, Bluff is the industry leader in promoting the poker dream and lifestyle to poker fans and players around the world. Available in the U.S., Canada, South America, Asia, Australia, South Africa and Europe, Bluff is more than a magazine. Since partnering with the WSOP, Bluff has powered the huge growth of WorldSeriesofPoker.com, and over the past two years has been behind the broadcasts of countless WSOP, WSOP Europe and WSOP Circuit event final tables.

8. Poker PROductions: Basically a two-man show, Mori Eskandani and Eric Drache have been behind some of the most successful poker television since its inception. If you've watched poker on TV, you have watched one of their shows, as they have produced NBC's "Poker After Dark," the NBC "National Heads-Up Poker Championship," GSN's "High Stakes Poker" and Fox Sports' "Poker Superstars," among others. Nobody has more influence as to who gets on the airwaves: Mori and Eric hand pick the lineups of most of their programming.

7. Daniel Negreanu: Not only is Daniel one of the top performers on the poker circuit -- this past year alone he won his fourth bracelet, among other final tables and wins -- but his face is everywhere you turn. Nobody in the game is more media-friendly or crosses over to the mainstream better than Negreanu. With the launch of his new training site PokerVT, plus a new book, countless TV appearances and an association with the biggest poker site on the planet, Daniel looks to be a major player in the industry for years to come.

6. Barney Frank: Politicians have played a major role in the industry since the UIGEA was introduced in 2006, most of them in a negative sense, but Congressman Barney Frank from Massachusetts has been poker's knight in shining armor, attempting numerous times to get the bill repealed and continuing to work to introduce Internet poker legislation. Although his efforts to this point have been fruitless, the election of Barack Obama and the Democrats' control of the House and the Senate give Frank and the American poker-playing public hope that there will be positive changes in government that work towards legalizing the new American pastime.

5. Poker Royalty: The name says it all: The 5-year-old agency fronted by Brian Balsbaugh and James Sullivan represents the "Kings and Queens of poker," including Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu, Patrik Antonius, Erick Lindgren and countless others. Poker Royalty has been a driving force in making poker players household names, landing them endorsement deals with online and live poker rooms and numerous products, booking their public appearances and going the extra mile to facilitate their clients' needs as well as the needs of their industry peers.

4. Full Tilt Poker: Launched in 2004 and fronted by Howard Lederer and Team Full Tilt Pros including Chris Ferguson, Phil Ivey, John Juanda and Erick Lindgren, among others, Full Tilt has grown into a poker superpower. With a roster of pros that is second to none, Full Tilt has stayed put in the U.S., even with the UIGEA in place, and given poker players a safe and reliable place to play poker. Their involvement in various poker programming such as "Poker After Dark," their quirky television commercials, their work with charity and the logo placement on pros and amateurs who make televised final tables all help make the name Full Tilt synonymous with poker.

3. ESPN: The worldwide leader has been a force in poker since before most people even knew the WSOP existed, back when there were no hole-card cameras and Phil Hellmuth was making head-shaving bets that amateurs couldn't win the big one. Now, with Jamie Horowitz at the helm and a new main event final table approach, the network, which continues to push poker mainstream, saw significant boosts in ratings, bringing them back up to 2004 numbers and beating out both regular-season major league baseball and NBA ratings, proving to the haters that poker isn't dead, but instead is thriving.

2. Pokerstars: A giant among men, there is nobody in the industry who does what Pokerstars is able to. With more people playing online than ever, Pokerstars grabs a majority of the market with its thousands of weekly tournaments, cash games and satellites that offer players at every level a wide variety of options. To expand its brand to land-based casinos, Pokerstars has recently opened a live poker room in Macau and has successfully run the ever-popular European Poker Tour, which makes stops all over the world, for a number of years. This past year Pokerstars has branched out and launched the Latin American Poker Tour, Asian Pacific Poker Tour and Russian Poker Tour, and is rumored to be starting the North American Poker Tour. With the addition of Peter Eastgate, the youngest champ in history, Pokerstars continues its dominance by adding to its already full stable of champions, including Chris Moneymaker, Joe Hachem and Greg Raymer.

1. The World Series of Poker: Since 1971, the WSOP has been a true innovator in poker, helping the game rise from obscurity to a multibillion dollar industry that holds the attention of millions upon millions of people. The brains behind the operation -- Jeffrey Pollack, Ty Stewart, Seth Palansky and Craig Abrahams, among others -- stepped up to the plate this past year and pulled a rabbit out of their hat, introducing the November Nine and a final table delay that allowed the masses to watch poker's biggest final table play out as close to live as possible. Couple that with the vast improvements to make the WSOP more player-friendly and the push for globalization with continued European expansion, and it's clear that the WSOP helps make the industry as a whole continue to tick. It's safe to say that without the continued growth and popularity of the WSOP, poker would not be where it is today, and poker would quickly fall off the radar if it ever disappeared.

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