By Wendeen H. Eolis
Bluff Magazine

April 2005

In a world of opinionated poker players, raging debates are daily fare and discussion will inevitably turn to the perceived war between the World Series of Poker Tournament and the World Poker Tour.

Until June 2002, the only poker tournament that drew the attention of every serious poker player was the main event of the World Series. However, just moments after the closing of the 2002 WSOP, the World Poker Tour raised the curtain on a new era of poker competition, with its inaugural event at Bellagio.

With the fanfare befitting a Fortune 500 corporation rolling out a spectacular business plan, Lyle Berman (Chairman of Lakes Entertainment Inc.) and Steven Lipscomb (President of the World Poker Tour) cooed to a rapt audience that the WPT was about to put poker on the map – like never before. The words sounded mere hyperbole then, but today no one can deny Lipscomb’s boast that he ‘has forever changed the face of poker’.

Not so fast, however, did the WPT work toward creating individual poker stars. The WPT business plan initially focused on making the game, rather than players, the mesmerizing force of the shows. At the heart of the WPT’s initial branding campaign was the production of poker as a spectator sport with the players as fungible pawns navigating the stage. It worked!

By the spring of the following year, the worldwide poker community was thrilling to a full season of WPT poker action on the Travel Channel. Players were consumed and awestruck by the new method of hand analysis , watching them as they progressed, on their boob tubes. Under the table cameras, dubbed ‘lipstick cameras’, were adapted from a concept created by toy inventor and poker player, Henry Orenstein, for the UK’s Poker Million Tournament in 2000.

No one could have predicted the impact of the WPT (in conjunction with the development of internet poker) on attendance at the 2003 WSOP until it was upon us. In fact, there were plenty of pessimists around at the time promising that the demise of Binion’s Horseshoe was near and that the fabled WSOP had already lost its luster. But at the opening bell of the 2003 Tournament, the whopping increase of entrants into the finale , 839 in all, set the record straight about the unstoppable growth of poker.

Clearly internet poker sites were rapidly gaining ground in attracting players, with relative newcomer PokerStars.com carving out for itself an untapped niche in poker tournament competitions, including satellites for the World Series’ ‘Big Dance’. It was at the 2003 Big One, that Chris Moneymaker, a strictly internet-based poker player on Poker Stars won a ‘super satellite’ that propelled him to the WSOP’s main event. His fairy tale story set the poker world on fire. A rank amateur, with a graduate degree in accounting and a job as a comptroller for a local Nashville restaurant, busted out one pro after another, until he was last man standing. And as word spread that this fellow had won his seat into the tournament with an initial investment of $40, that his name was Moneymaker, and that one of his two financial partners in the tournament was named David Gamble, the media went positively wild.

Even before Moneymaker’s name began to cross reporters’ lips during the five-day do, ESPN was prepared for an historical event, having decided that the purse in 2002 was big enough to warrant multiple days of coverage of the final event, rather than just the final table. So, the public got the full Monty!

Unlike the WPT, which was emphasizing the game of poker with an underlying theme of the destinations where the game was being played (as per the requirements of the Travel Channel with whom the WPT made its television deal), the WSOP seized the opportunity to create a reality show that highlighted the players and hyped personalities, as well as focusing on the broad international mix of players and the complexity of the relationships at the tables. The immensely successful productions of the WSOP and WPT events of the 2003 season did not go unnoticed by the pros. Royally miffed by the realization that their player-funded events had become money machines for casinos, producers and television networks, resentment began to simmer in the poker world, and talk of a player-owned tour, as well as the possibility of a poker union, surfaced.

WPT brass, hardly retiring wallflowers in the face of a threat, moved quickly to form a player management. The mission: to help grumbling WPT top performers make hay with increasing visibility. The World Poker Tour Management Company was to become Poker Royalty, Inc. with the WPT taking a minority financial interest in the new company.

In the meantime, to the relief of WPT honchos, there seemed to be no effective leadership for the concept of a competitive tour on the immediate horizon. And on a separate front, the Harrah’s folks, who had steeply increased player costs for the 2003 WSOP, calculated that their newfound World Series Tournament was hot as a pistol. Any worries they might have had before the opening day had long since evaporated. Meanwhile, poker pros were becoming increasingly aware of their integral role in the fortunes of the casinos and the surrounding entertainment industry.

Around the time of the 2003 WPT Battle of Champions, several high profile players began a march to get the WSOP organizers and WPT principals to throw some cash in their direction. Most tournament circuit regulars were united on one point: the producers of poker tournaments were making out like bandits on the backs of the players. To make matters worse, the casinos and their network partners were also locking arms with rules that banned logo wear, effectively cutting paid to player sponsorship deals. It was no wonder that the chorus of complaints grew louder and more persistent on the tournament trail.

Re-enter Henry Orenstein, the toy inventor who had invented the under-thetable cameras across the pond back in 2000. He arrived on the scene with a wheelbarrow full of cash , poised to jerk the chain of WPT honchos, while pulling on the heartstrings of disgruntled top players. Multimillionaire Henry, a seventy plus Holocaust survivor, is always at the forefront of something big. This time he reportedly went head to head against the WPT in a bid to produce a Tournament of Superstars in a deal with NBC.

According to a source close to NBC: “Orenstein’s presentation dislodged negotiations between the WPT and NBC for a second production of the WPT Battle of Champions.” Ultimately, the super wealthy independent entrepreneur got the nod over the WPT. Henry went on to create a one-table spectacular Invitational that featured a blend of icons, youthful stars, successful ‘luckboxes’ and a couple of ‘controversial choices’.

Henry forced WSOP and WPT executives to rethink their ‘belligerent’ positions by offering hundreds of thousands of dollars in added monies and serious player recognition. Harrah’s and ESPN figured out that poker was about to become a true cash cow, and that players could no longer be ignored in the process.

ESPN blew its filming time of WSOP events wide open to prepare for a full season of poker tournament shows, featuring not only No Limit events, but a wide variety of additional poker games (although No Limit proved to be the ‘mother of all poker games’ among viewers).

Harrah’s also responded to Henry’s gambit with one of its own, creating a partnership with ESPN to produce a two million dollar free roll , a ‘player appreciation tournament’ for a group of tournament pros that purportedly were voted most popular players of the 2004 WSOP. Of course, there was the usual groaning about who was in and who was not, but the notion of giving back to players was now firmly planted into the poker landscape.

Not to be outdone, or perhaps smelling more competitive initiatives by Harrah’s, the WPT made a series of titillating announcements about expanded Invitational events. And then it geared up full throttle for the first Professional Poker Tour.

No sooner than rumblings of a PPT were heard in Harrah’s executive suite, the quick footed, mega casino moved with its own tour, the World Series of Poker Circuit Events, which offer player points as well as prize money, with a monumental carrot , a two million dollar free roll tournament open to the top hundred point getters.

The battle for supremacy between the WSOP and the WPT continues to the definite benefit of the players. By virtue of the competition, there is a slow but steady shift in the balance of power between organizers and producers on one side, and players on the other. The results: the elevated stature of the game, accelerated visibility of players and a budding pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for poker players who have the stuff to make poker tournament competition a career.

Wendeen H. Eolis was selected as one of the six women at the final table for the 2004/5 WPT televised Ladies Night 11 event. She has to her credit seven world record-setting performances for a woman in major tournaments, four at the World Series of Poker. Her legal consulting company, Eolis International Group, Ltd. reviews law firms and selects counsel, worldwide , for companies, governments, and individuals. You may contact Ms. Eolis at wheolis@aol.com.


By Wendeen H. Eolis
Bluff Magazine

December 2004

The message read World Poker Tour Producer Chris Palbicki has invited you to participate in the WPT 2004 Ladies’ Night II Invitational Tournament.’ Hallelujah! I was going to have a chance to strut my stuff at a WPT ‘final table’ on the Travel Channel’s top-rated show.

I etched the filming date in indelible ink on my dance card: September 1, 2004, Bicycle Club Casino, Bell Gardens, California.

The tournament was slated to be as much a celebration of women – the fastest growing demographic on the poker map – as it was a tournament to determine momentary supremacy among the ladies that were selected by the WPT.

The six contestants for the 2004 Ladies’ Night crown were: Clonie Gowan, the southern belle who captured the championship at the 2003 Ladies’ Night event; Cyndy Violette, an Atlantic City-based pro who has beaten the best on both coasts; Sharon Goldman, an emerging force on the World Poker Tour, with two money finishes to her credit; French-Canadian Isabelle Mercier, a former Paris card-room executive who turned tournament-poker pro a few months ago; Cuiling ‘Lavinna’ Zhang, the Asian-American beauty who qualified for Ladies’ Night II by wining the Legends 2004 Ladies’ Tournament; and yours truly, a businesswoman who has been mixing it up with the pros in cash games and tournaments for two decades.

On the day of the tournament, the WPT organizers welcomed us with lovely goody bags, complete with WPT-engraved Tiffany key chains, and then whisked us off to the back-stage dressing room for professional make-up applications and hair styling assistance. An hour later we were on the road to engage in hand-tohand combat. A prized $25,000 voucher for a seat in the 2005 World Poker Tour Championship event awaited the lady that ‘jitterbugged’ longest at the table.

Moments before the opening bell, our Ladies’ Night II cast received a final blessing from Jesus! Chris ‘Jesus’ Ferguson, the popular 2000 World Series of Poker Champion, strode up to our table and said, “You all deserve your seats at this table.” Personally, I was wondering how our ‘team’ would measure up against the ratings of the first Ladies’ Night show. With or without blessings, I was also worrying about how I would fare against the field in my least favorite tournament structure: blindingly fast.

Defending champion, Clonie Gowan, the woman who had bested the
high-voltage female pros at the table last year, was the first one sent to the rail this time around, in less than an hour. Next, Cyndy Violette, who won a WSOP bracelet this past spring, was forced to take her final bow in fifth place. She has been invited to play on the WPT Professional Poker Tour.

Defending champion, Clonie Gowan, the woman who had bested the high-voltage female pros at the table last year, was the first one sent to the rail this time around, in less than an hour. Next, Cyndy Violette, who won a WSOP bracelet this past spring, was forced to take her final bow in fifth place. She has been invited to play on the WPT Professional Poker Tour.

The heads-up challenge was fought between this year’s two wild cards, Isabelle Mercier, and Lavinna Zhang. It was a few-minute affair. While Lavinna had dazzled the table with her ‘no guts, no glory’ style of play, it was Isabelle who forcefully dominated the end-game show. WPT ‘super champion’ Gus Hansen had been tutoring her for several months on the finer points of fast and furious betting in shorthanded play. Her lessons paid off with the coveted $25,000 seat into the 2005 World Poker Tour Championship.

The television ratings for Ladies’ Night II are yet to be determined, but there is no doubt that the World Poker Tour turned up a spicy mixture of talent and unique stories among the accomplished women in residence at the ‘final table’ invitational. The tournament is scheduled to air on the Travel Channel December 15, 2004 at 9pm.

Ms. Eolis has been recognized by WPT management with a sponsor’s exemption, giving her a seat for the entire first season on the Professional Poker Tour. She has seven record-setting performances for a woman in major poker tournaments to her credit – feats accomplished not as a pro, but rather as a full-timebusiness professional who looks on poker as only a hobby. Ms. Eolis may be reached at wheolis@eolis.com.


By Wendeen H. Eolis
Bluff Magazine
October 2004

With our last minute airplane tickets in hand, Paul and I head from Manhattan to Kennedy Airport for a flight to Paris. Our four-day excursion to the City of Light is an annual ritual.

Our trips to Paris invariably ratchet up our joie de vivre, thanks to lessons learned about the art of compromise.

The details of our yearly excursions are never planned far in advance-less likely that one of us will have to cancel them. We favor preparations at the eleventh hour-searching frantically for bargain airfares, deep discounts on lodging, nightly restaurant reservations and up to date listings of exhibits that are covered in the citywide museum pass.

The week we are to leave, Paul and I brush up on our French and check out the latest edition of our favorite guidebook: Paris Inside Out, by David Applefield. It refreshes our memories of previous treasured visits and helps us to settle on new explorations.

This year, cheaptickets.com turns up the best priced roundtrip airfares between New York and Paris– Air France, at $932 for a pair of them. The French Bureau de Tourisme talks Paul into booking a glamorous bedroom at the Hotel Napoleon for $170 per night, which is fifty per cent of its standard rate. Internet access is intermittent, and I’ll be grappling with a French computer keyboard, but I am still suitably impressed. Errol Flynn slept here!

The Napoleon is a stone’s throw from the fabled Champs Elysees and around the corner from sizzling poker games that go from dusk to dawn at Aviation Club de France. The hotel is also just one block away from a nightclub in the style of the Folies Bergeres.

Paul suggests that I get poker out of my system early on this trip. He reminds me that during my last visit to the Aviation he slipped out the door, opting to watch leggy showgirls, rather than my four queens, as they cracked an opponent’s full house. I remind Paul that he returned to the Aviation that night, in time to join me in the Club’s stunningly appointed gourmet dining room, where my winnings picked up the check! Tonight, I take in enough winnings to pay for a mini shopping expedition at Chanel’s flagship store on Rue Cambon, with enough left over to buy Paul dinner at Alain Ducasse’s top rated restaurant at the Hotel Plaza Athenee.

On day two, we figure it is time to get serious in our hunt for an Empire Ormulu antique desk. Paul is no fan of shopping of any kind, but he appreciates a well worn patina. He secures a private tour for us at Carousel Louvre, the most prestigious antiques fair in the world. Forewarned and forearmed, I speak strictly French here. Respecting the language is the key to seeing better goods in the back of the shops with better prices than the ones shown on the front of the sales tickets.

At the end of day three, we’ve enjoyed three lunches at quaint bistros and a half day “play date” in the park at Montmartre with local artists who do charcoal and pastel portraits of the two of us, in twenty minutes, for fifty dollars a piece. Our three dinners are spectacular three hour affairs, including our perennial choice of Taillevent which remains at the top of the heap in France’s vaunted Michelin Guide.

The crowning glory of the weekend is our day trip to the home and gardens of Giverny where Claude Monet painted his tableaux of water lilies; the biggest victory of the trip is beating the clock in time to get back to Paris’ intimate Orangerie Museum to see the fruits of Monet’s labor – his magnificent collection of water lilies that line the entirety of the museum’s basement walls.

The final morning we hit the streets for one more whirlwind tour: a last look at Notre Dame, a five minute stop to eye the Mona Lisa at the Louvre and a few more minutes to stand in awe at the Pantheon while we ponder Mirabeau, Voltaire, Rousseau, Hugo and Zola and the recently added humanist novelist André Malraux.

Paul and I will return to the city of Paris, again and again, because it offers a recurring feast for the eyes and the palate and the prospect of a profitable disruption in a hopping poker game.

Wendeen Eolis has been selected as one of the six women to compete in the 2004 WPT Women’s Invitational. Ms. Eolis’ accomplishments in business politics and poker have been profiled in the New York Times (four times), GQ and numerous other newspapers and magazines, as well as on the BBC, Court TV, and A&E’s Biography. She is the CEO of EOLIS International Group and has served as former first assistant to Governor George E. Pataki and as special advisor to Mayor Rudolph W Giuliani. Her e-mail is: wheolis@eolis.com

Editor’s Note: This feature is adapted from material that is slated for inclusion in Ms. Eolis’ book in progress,”Power Poker Dame.”