LAS VEGAS — Card professional Annie Duke plans to be the commissioner of a new league that is hoping to become the PGA of poker, defining the game’s best players and hosting invitational tournaments for only its biggest stars.
The yet-to-be-named league is planning four televised regular-season events plus a $1 million championship freeroll at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas this year, league executives said.
"This is incredibly pro-centric," Duke told The Associated Press. "This is the one piece that’s kind of missing from the poker landscape right now, which is something for the best players in the world to compete against the best players in the world."
Other tournaments, including the World Series of Poker, are open events with anyone able to play if they’re willing to put up pricey entry fees. The world’s most famous card tournament, the series’ no-limit Texas Hold ’em main event, costs $10,000 to enter and attracts thousands of players each year. Jonathan Duhamel, a Canadian professional not widely known before making the final table of last year’s main event, took $8.94 million for first place.
As poker became more popular during the last decade, growing tournament fields have made it impossible to guarantee showdowns between star players.
Duke, a former "Celebrity Apprentice" runner-up, said she hopes this league will change that by defining what it takes to become a card-carrying pro. About 200 players will be invited to the league based on a mathematic formula measuring finishes in major events, money earned and recent success, she said. It won’t measure success in cash games or in online poker.
The league, created by a private company called Federated Sports & Gaming, Inc., is co-founded by Jeffrey Pollack, a former World Series of Poker commissioner known for being well-respected among players, especially famous pros.
"Membership in our league will signify standing as a true professional in poker," Pollack told the AP. "We’re going to apply a little more rigor to that definition."
Pollack, who will act as the league’s chairman, said he will stay in his current post as chairman of Professional Bull Riders, Inc. He is a former executive for NASCAR and the NBA. The league’s other partners are the founders of Youbet.com, a horse racing wagering site that last year was sold to Churchill Downs, the track that runs the Kentucky Derby.
Most league memberships will have two-, three-, or five-year terms, with fewer than 10 lifetime cards being granted to living players who have had unparalleled success in poker, Duke said.
"Fans have shown over and over again that they love the stars of this game," she said. "It’s the stars of this game that they really want to be watching on television, and I think the stars should get something in return for that."
Pollack said he doesn’t see the league as competition to the World Series of Poker, World Poker Tour or other big poker tournaments. He said the league is about creating a new tradition — where players have to do well in many major tournaments just to get in.
"There are scores of perspectives on this, and we’re trying to clarify a new perspective on professionalism in this game," he said.
Duke, who lost to comedian Joan Rivers in the Donald Trump reality competition and has cashed 38 times at the World Series of Poker since 1994, said running the league will mean she won’t compete in it and will spend less time playing poker than she has in the past.
"This is something that I really wanted to see happen for a very long time," Duke said. "And if my sacrifice is to give up playing full time, then that’s my sacrifice and I’m OK that."
But Duke said she won’t give up playing entirely, and will still play in the World Series of Poker and other major tournaments.