Poker Sponsorships – What’s The Deal?

The big poker news this winter has been all about who’s signing with who. A handful of notable pros – namely Annie Duke and Phil Hellmuth – have left their longtime sponsors and are currently free agents. Conversely, some of the industry’s most promising young up-and-comers have finally thrown in with professional sponsors. In this article, we offer a brief recap of the season’s biggest poker sponsorship news.

In December, the news of Isildur1’s decision to join Team PokerStars set the poker forums ablaze. Within days, the leading poker site also announced a heads-up challenge centered around their new star – the SuperStar Showdown. Isildur1 failed to live up to the hype when he lost to his very first challenger, Isaac Haxton, but quickly rebounded with a handful of exciting nights at the nosebleed tables and an equally decisive win in the second SuperStar Showdown against Tony G. Saturday night, PokerStars is sure to grab even more headlines when they reveal Isildur1’s real identity at the Caribbean Adventure.

At the end of December, poker spectators were buzzing again when Annie Duke and Phil Hellmuth simultaneously announced their departure from the poker room they essentially built, While Duke immediately released a statement saying that she wasn’t looking for a new sponsor and that her decision was both personal and mutual, Hellmuth stayed mum for several days. This week, he spoke very candidly about his decision to leave, echoing Duke by saying that the break was mutual and that was also pursuing a new direction. Only two days later, though, Hellmuth was meeting with Full Tilt Poker executives in Las Vegas.

Don’t feel too bad for, though. On the heels of announcing Duke and Hellmuth’s departures, UB announced an exciting new addition to their own team of pros, and rumor has it that more are on the way. For weeks there has been speculation that Prahlad Friedman was in talks to join the brand. It was surprising news for anyone that’s followed Friedman’s career. He was won of the pros that took the biggest beating from the site’s super-user scandal a couple years ago, and after the incident he vowed that he would never sign with any poker room.

“You’ll never see me with a poker site or casino logo,” will now be Friedman’s famous last words, because it was revealed this weekend that Friedman has indeed made amends and signed with the UB brand. His fellow competitor, Daniel Negreanu, was one of the first pros to weigh in on the news, calling Friedman a “sellout” and “stupid.” It’s definitely not a stupid move for UB, though, who has been trying hard to coerce paranoid users back to their newly rebranded site. Friedman’s decision to forgive and forget will no doubt resonate strongly with players on both sides of the issue.

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