Handicapping the Poker Hall of Fame Nominations – Too Many Candidates, Not Enough Spots
12 June 2018
PokerBrave (988 articles)

The 2018 World Series of Poker started last week and, along with players looking for fame, fortune or at least a good time, the Poker Hall of Fame announced the beginning of the process for their 2018 inductions. Voting opened for the public to nominate people for the next two slots in the Hall, with the top ten (minimum) vote getters being submitted to the Voting Committee – the living Hall members and an equal number of industry personnel. The top two vote getters from the Voting Committee, provided they receive over 50% of the vote, will be the next inductees into the Poker Hall of Fame during the play of the $10,000 Championship Event Final Table.

There’s only two problems with this process. One, there are WAY too many people that deserve induction into the Hall – candidates for election – and not enough spots available for them to be inducted. The second problem would be that there is not actually a physical location to mark their honor.

Since its creation in 1979, the Poker Hall of Fame has looked to honor those immortals of the game – whether they be players or “contributors” – and solidify their place in the game’s history. And, for the entirety of its existence, there is a note of quality among the individuals that have become a part of the annals of history (although there are a couple of questionable choices – “Wild” Bill Hickok and Sir Edmund Hoyle, here’s looking at you). But as time has passed, however, there have been several people who have been bypassed for one reason or another.

For example, for virtually the entire existence of the WSOP, there has never been a non-U. S. citizen inducted into the Hall. This is despite the fact that there are many international players that are more than qualified for entry. Sure, Canada’s Daniel Negreanu was inducted in 2014, but the first European players weren’t inducted until 2016, when Spain’s Carlos Mortensen was voted in, and 2017, when the late David ‘DevilFish’ Ulliott earned the honor.

This is quite problematic. When you have men like Ireland’s Terry Rogers (basically brought the game of poker to Europe and created the second-longest running poker series behind the WSOP in the Irish Poker Open), Norway’s Thor Hansen (the Godfather of Scandinavian poker), Bruno Fitoussi (long the driving force of poker in France) or even the Netherlands’ Marcel Luske (who might not have the accolades outside of the game but has demonstrated his poker prowess over more than two decades) and a litany of others that are shut out for some reason (a U. S.-centric voting bloc?), there is the start of the logjam.

Then there’s those U. S./Caribbean/Western Hemisphere players who have more than earned the right for induction. What about the women who broke ground in Las Vegas for poker, such as Betty Carey, “Poker Alice” Ivers, or potentially Cyndy Violette or Victoria Coren-Mitchell (getting Annie Duke any votes for the Poker Hall of Fame will be about as tough as fighting a cobra in a phone booth)? What about Humberto Brenes, the pride of Central America? We can also toss a few men in there that, were it not for some of their transgressions – men such as Chris Ferguson (stripped of the “Jesus” moniker), Russ Hamilton and Howard Lederer – would be more than qualified for admission.

You can also look at another area where there is always some controversy – the “contributors.” The Poker Hall of Fame has a clause in their induction criteria that states that an inductee who isn’t a professional poker player must have “contributed to the overall growth and success of the game of poker, with indelible positive and lasting results.” From that statement, it is obvious that there could be a laundry list of people who have made an impact on the game of poker and are deserving of induction into the Hall.

How about we go with the casinos? George Hardie, the founder of the Bicycle Casino in California (who has been previously nominated), and Robert Turner, who brought Omaha Hold’em to the fore, are two choices that should be looked at. Going beyond that, there’s tournament director extraordinaire Matt Savage who deserves consideration. There’s even some thought given for 2003 World Champion Chris Moneymaker as a “contributor” (for the “Moneymaker Boom”) and PokerStars founder Isai Scheinberg (unlikely because of his current legal situation with the Department of Justice regarding “Black Friday”).

But what about those people who have helped to bring the game to the masses – do you seriously think that poker would have become the phenomenon it has become without the authors, journalists and writers who have covered the game? Top of this list would have to be the late Andy Glazer, who was a tournament reporter before many doing it today were even conceived. Then you’d have to look at people like Mike Paulle, one of the first media directors for the WSOP; Nolan Dalla, who not only served as the media director for the WSOP but continues to be an author, writer and occasional poker player in his own right; and Max Shapiro, whose whimsical (and sometimes truthful) essays on the personalities of the game are legendary. Then there’s the authors who have penned some of the greatest tomes in not only poker history but literary history also – men like Al Alvarez, Anthony Holden, Jim McManus, and others whose love of the game was translated to the pages of time.

There are ways to fix this. While the number of inductees should remain at two (and both should receive more than 50% of the vote), every two years a “Veteran’s Committee” should meet to induct one person from prior to the “Internet Age” – let’s say 2000 – who had a predominance of their success outside of the online era. This will ensure that the past of the game will continue to be honored, especially as some of the early Internet players begin to creep up on that minimum age set by the “Chip Reese Rule.”

From just this recollection (and I am sure that there are others that could add even more), it is obvious that there’s a backlog of players, including some that were nominated last year. But just who looks to be a lock for being nominated?

Let’s look at last year’s nominees. While Phil Ivey and Ulliott earned induction, these players were left outside looking in:

David Chiu
Mori Eskandani
Ted Forrest
Thor Hansen
Mike Matusow
Max Pescatori
Matt Savage
Huck Seed

From this list, Savage and Seed seem to be the two who will be able to earn another nomination and, in this writer’s opinion, have the inside shot at being inducted. Pescatori has been tremendously influential in his native Italy for poker, but he’s not exactly had his name in the tournament poker news for awhile (and trust me, if there’s one thing that nominations for the Hall are dependent on, it is “what have you done lately?”). While Eskandani has been influential for his work in the production and promotion of poker programming, it might not be enough to get him in. Hansen will be nominated again, but it is highly likely it will be just another nomination and not an induction for the Norwegian legend.

Chiu and the rest? There’s a reason that it is called the “Hall of Fame” and not the “Hall of Pretty Good.” If you’re truly going to honor those that were the benchmark, the legends of the game that made you (in poker’s case) sit down at the table and say “crap, I’ve got (insert name here) on my table,” then there must be some that just can’t quite reach that level. Forrest, for example, has a nice number of bracelets, but there isn’t exactly the “fear factor” that you’d have running up against Ivey. Same goes for the others – they were (and are) great players, but they weren’t that groundbreaking force that is necessary to be remembered as a “Hall of Famer.”

So, who will be the rest to get that special nomination? This is why they have the nomination procedures…

Although many of you may have already entered in your nomination (you can go to a dedicated spot on WSOP.com to place your nomination – one per e-mail address), think of the history of the game (and remember the embarrassment of seeing Tom Dwan a few years ago be nominated, even though he hadn’t met the criteria). Think of those that deserve the spot the most, whether they are a U. S. citizen or a member of the international community. And think of those that are truly worthy of being enshrined in poker’s Valhalla…then the Voting Committee will have something to debate.

As far as there being a PHYSICAL location for the Poker Hall of Fame…you’ll just have to wait a bit for that diatribe.