Dan Bilzerian’s year-long dodging of a promised $10,000 heads-up match against GGPoker freeroll winner Alexandra O’Brien is back in the news, courtesy of a new offer made by rival site America’s Cardroom to turn Bilzerian’s ongoing public-image flub into a charity-benefit opportunity. For nearly a year, Bilzerian has refused to honor the commitment or even speak on the matter, and the freeroll anniversary has given rival ACR a chance to generate more publicity at Bilzerian’s (and GGPoker’s) expense.
Following a flurry of Tweets on the one-year anniversary of O’Brien winning the $3,000 freeroll that Bilzerian never honored, ACR offered a $10,000 heads-up freeroll against one of their team pros, with the winner’s prize to be donated to charity. O’Brien quickly accepted and tabbed ACR pro Vanessa Kade as the player she’d like to play.
ACR and Kade quickly confirmed their willingness as well. Details for the O’Brien-Kade matchup have yet to be finalized, but the $10,000 duel will happen, possibly in the very near future.
O’Brien took down ‘Bilzerian Birthday’ tourney in December 2020
The tale of O’Brien winning the $10,000 freeroll last December turned into a strange, extended story of poker irony, even if most of those involved were innocent victims of the tale as it unrolled. Bilzerian, the self-proclaimed “King of Instagram” and private nosebleed-stakes poker player, was a new signee at GGPoker. His party-all-the-time lifestyle and huge social-media following of largely young males made him appear to be an attractive choice as a brand ambassador. However, the arrangement went sour before the ink was dry on his GGPoker deal.
GGPoker likely regretted signing Bilzerian within 24 hours when he made his infamous “Quiet, hoe,” Twitter post to another of the site’s ambassadors, Vanessa Kade. Kade found issue with Bilzerian’s very public and repeated misogyny and publicly protested against Bilzerian’s signing. The conflagration led to the affiliate relationship between Kade and GGPoker abruptly being cancelled by the site. She was soon signed by ACR as a sponsored player, where she’s flourished ever since.
In a technical and business sense, Bilzerian’s signing as a GGPoker ambassador could have worked. But when the personality aspect was factored in, the potential negative aspects made the deal a likely blunder, as was evidenced from day one.
GGPoker tried to salvage a public-image fiasco
Perhaps no poker ambassador ever got off to a worse start than Bilzerian. Still, GGPoker sought ways to make something out of the deal. The site had already planned a $100,000 “Bilzerian Birthday” freeroll as part of the promotional effort surrounding Bilzerian’s signing. The freeroll awarded $10,000 in cash and a $3,000 heads-up freeroll against Bilzerian to the winner, who turned out to be O’Brien, an author and amatuer poker player from Great Britain, and, yes, a woman.
O’Brien was happy merely to have won the freeroll and wasn’t invested at all in the Bilzerian-Kade drama. That was, until Bilzerian ghosted O’Brien for months and refused to schedule a time to play the freeroll against her. It was all just more unwanted bad press for GGPoker. Meanwhile, O’Brien made herself as ready as possible to play, despite Bilzerian’s non-participation. She began studying heads-up poker seriously and hoped to turn her freeroll experience against Bilzerian into one of the seeds of her upcoming book, Truth Detective, about using poker as a tool to successfully handle life’s challenges.
Bilzerian’s embarrassing cold-shoulder act delayed those plans, at the least. GGPoker, to its credit, tried to make it good for O’Brien by buying her into the WSOP’s $10,000 No-Limit Hold’em Heads-up Championship as an interim fix. And while O’Brien accepted GGPoker’s offer – she played but failed to cash – she still admitted some disappointment. As she recently told VSO’s David Lappin, “I did my best in it but it wasn’t the match-up I wanted, nor the one I’d been promised.”
The matter of Bilzerian and his no-show on GGPoker’s corporate dime remains unresolved. O’Brien still wants to play Bilzerian, and she brought it up again on Twitter this week. She stirred the pot on Tuesday with a brief “Happy Birthday?” tweet about her Bilzerian freeroll win:
That led to plenty of responses, including some from players who were shocked the freeroll had never run. Then ACR stepped in:
O’Brien immediately responded that this would be wonderful, and she’d love to play against Kade. The two now share a common bond in having been maltreated by Bilzerian, who has continued his radio silence on the freeroll. Bilzerian has been far from an active ambassador for GGPoker’s brand, though he did appear at a private party hosted by GGPoker at the WSOP last month.
The tale comes ‘full circle’
Both O’Brien and Kade are looking forward to the charity-themed matchup, whenever it occurs. For O’Brien, it’s yet another twist to a long, strange poker tale that she couldn’t have imagined a year ago. “I am a writer first before I am a poker player,” she told Poker.org. “And from a story telling perspective with this coming full circle back to Vanessa and I playing each other, for fun and in aid for humanitarian causes… well, it’s just is the perfect ending. It’s a modern-day fairytale. I couldn’t be happier.”
Kade described as honored to be selected to play O’Brien, but she also took the opportunity to call out Bilzerian for his ongoing publicity failures. “A year on,” she stated, “it’s impossible to say if Bilzerian has a specific aversion to the likely result of losing to a female after his public comments about how women can’t play poker – something I suspect he feels would be a big public embarrassment that he wouldn’t live down – or if it’s unrelated to this and he’d have welched either way.
“I’m glad ACR has agreed to step in and give Alex a match in the interim and honored that she chose me to play. I’ve won a lot of tournaments, but I’m not specifically a heads-up pro by any means, and although I’m not going to soft-play her, I sincerely hope she wins. She’s put in a lot of study time, and I think that result would make the most people happy. Especially Alex, which would make me happy.
“I hope in turn this pressures GGPoker to do the right thing and deliver the heads-up match Alex was promised and really deserves.”
ACR’s Head of Sponsorship, Melanie Moser, confirmed how happy ACR was to step into the situation. Moser stated, “When Vanessa approached me suggesting for ACR to step in and facilitate the heads-up match for Alexandra, I thought it was a no-brainer. Having worked with Alex previously and gotten to know how kind and giving she is, a charity heads-up match between her and an ACR Team Pro sounded like the perfect way to shine a light on her and the amazing causes she is supporting.
“I am in contact with Alex to schedule the match between her and Vanessa Kade. Keep an eye out for the announcement, I can guarantee you wouldn’t want to miss it.”
GGPoker offers something as well
GGPoker’s willingness to do the right thing has to be noted as well in the face of Bilzerian’s ongoing refusal to adhere to his promotional responsibilities. GGPoker has likely given up any hope that Bilzerian will play the freeroll as originally planned, but they also quickly got in touch with O’Brien after her ‘Happy Birthday?’ Tweet.
Whatever GGPoker offered hasn’t been made public, but O’Brien appeared pleased. “All good! @GGPoker loves my idea and will donate to charity. Turning this into a massive positive for so many people in need is way better than winning against @DanBilzerian. I couldn’t be happier!”
Both ACR and GGPoker appear to have found a way to create positive spin from a situation that could’ve been even more disastrous. It’s not the perfect ending, but it’s a very good one, all things considered.
Featured image source; Peters Fraser & Dunlop