Anthony Zinno stood against a wall at a posh Beverly Hills hotel. Dressed in a suit and blue tie, Zinno looked as if he'd plastered an irremovable smile from his face in lieu of shaving.
A semi-circle had formed around him, a man who had earned more than $5 million in the last eight years of playing live poker tournaments. The people he could reach out and touch had less than $10,000 in tournament earnings among them, and yet Zinno was the one who seemed humbled.
It's not been too many years since Zinno was like many of the people around him, people in the categories of Wanna-Be, Never-Had-Been, or Never-Could-Have-Been. He was the young man who watched TV poker, grinded when he could, and did his best to earn himself a Plan B degree if it all didn't work out.
Zinno was no dummy back then. He earned both chemical engineering and law diplomas. Nevertheless, he had his sights set in a far different arena. He looked to the people playing on TV and thought, "That's where I'd like to be."
So, on this night in Beverly Hills, Zinno stood against the wall with a half-moon of fans peppering him with questions, and he admitted he had once been a fan boy of a man named Moneymaker.
"I've looked up to Chris since I was a broke law student at the beginning of the poker boom," Zinno said.
Zinno played for years, grinding up big scores, and finally making it to 2015 when he won two WPT titles and a WSOP bracelet. He made it on his own, and that's what made this night all the more special.
Just a few hours earlier, Moneymaker had drafted Zinno in the first round of the nascent Global Poker League. Before long, Zinno and Moneymaker will be playing alongside each other on the Las Vegas Moneymakers with Jonathan Duhamel, Jake Cody, and Jonathan Little.
Ten years ago, Zinno looked up to Moneymaker and dreamed. Today, Zinno is Moneymaker's first round draft pick.
"I'll try to make him proud," Zinno said.
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There are a lot of dreams to go around. They come cheap but sometimes end up costing as much as nightmares. We collect them like baseball cards and file them in cool dark places so we can admire them later. For many people, that's all it ever amounts to. The binders of dream cards gather dust over the years, and we flip through them one last time before we die.
It takes a certain sort of person to turn those dreams into action. It takes a person unafraid to fail over and over again. It takes a person willing to not let one dream's failure turn into a poison for the rest.
Enter the Global Poker League, the brainchild of entrepreneur Alex Dreyfus. It's a wild concept by any measure, one that aims to turn poker into a sort of televised sport, one where people stand up while playing, one that's played in a cube, one that looks almost nothing like the poker we know today. For many people, it's been good for a laugh. Even Dreyfus laughs at himself when he thinks about it, not at all sure his new venture will be a success and not at all afraid of failing on a world stage.
The concept puts 12 franchises up against each other in a series of contests unlike any you will see on the traditional poker circuit. Though it's a concept that could fail as easily as it succeeds, it's drawn some powerhouses of poker to its ranks. The franchise manager roster includes Moneymaker, Team Online's Marc Andre Ladouceur, Team PokerStars Pros Liv Boeree, Andre Akkari, and Celina Lin, as well as Max Pescatori, Bryn Kenney, Faraz Jaka, Anatoly Filatov, Maria Ho, Philipp Gruissem, and Fabrice Soulier.
As you might expect, Team PokerStars Pro was heavily represented during the four draft rounds. Jason Mercier, Vanessa Selbst, ElkY, George Danzer, Eugene Katchalov, Bryan Huang, and Jake Cody all got draft nods. None of them know if the GPL will work out, but they're all willing to dream alongside Dreyfus.
Even after 13 years in the business, Moneymaker was ready to give the GPL a shot.
"I don't really put my name on much, because it's really hard to get behind a lot of projects. So many have failed. So many have seemed so poorly thought out," Moneymaker said. "This is one that when it was developed, right form the beginning, I loved it, and I wanted to support it."
The GPL and dreamers in general perhaps had no greater ambassador on that day than Jason Mercier. Drafted in the first round by Bryn Kenney's New York Rounders, Mercier was ready to take his spot on the team.
Mercier is a man we normally see in relaxed clothing--usually some sort of sports jersey and comfortable workout shorts. On this day, Mercier wore a dress shirt and tie as he climbed up on the stage and said, "It's an honor to be the first pick of the New York Rounders."
Like Zinno, Mercier always had dreams. An avid basketball player and fan of all sports, Mercier has watched young men like himself get drafted to multimillion-dollar sports contracts his entire life. He couldn't help but want the same thing for himself.
"Growing up, I wanted to be a professional athlete, and I wanted to be drafted," he admitted.
Instead, Mercier's talents took him in a different direction. Now, he's one of poker's most successful players. He is, by any definition, a pro. Now, he's had his dream of being drafted turned into his reality.
"Being a professional poker player is a great honor and we need to be great ambassadors of the game," he said. "This is a great opportunity for all of us."
Dreams are funny things. They can make us fly. They can make us drown. They can put a man in another time and place wondering why a water buffalo would want a glass of champagne and why it's a monkey's job to serve uncork the bottle. Dreams aren't bound by the laws of physics or chronology. They are the kind of thing that could put a broke law student like Zinno and a wannabe pro athlete like Mercier on the same stage in the first round of a professional draft.
Who knows what will become of the GPL, its teams, and its players. By this time next year, the GPL may just be some ethereal memory, a gauzy piece of poker history that never really found its place. No one can say.
But know this: the GPL has a lot of dreamers like Zinno and Mercier in its ranks, and those are people who have discovered the magic of waking up to find their dreams have been real life all along.
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Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging.