Crowded Field Contend for Spots in Poker Hall of Fame



As pointed out last week by my colleague and friend Dan Katz, nominations are open once again for the Poker Hall of Fame. Poker’s fandom is asked each year to nominate one person for induction into poker immortality and, because the Hall only inducts two people per year, there are many that are contenders for induction. What makes the field even more crowded in 2017 is that one of the slots is virtually locked in as a “first ballot” induction.

Finally eligible for the Poker Hall of Fame, 10-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner and high stakes cash game terror Phil Ivey is a shoo-in for induction into the Hall. If there were anyone who fit the parameters of the induction guidelines (we’ll look at that in a moment), it would be Ivey and his career resume. Perhaps the only thing that might dim the glow of Ivey’s induction would be his reluctance to play at the WSOP of late (hell, in the States of America as a whole; Ivey is rumored to really enjoy the Macau cash games). Ivey’s last bracelet win came in 2014 (and his last tournament cash overall in 2016) and he hasn’t exactly been burning up the felt in Vegas or California, but many will overlook that situation because…well, he’s Phil Ivey.

With one slot taken, the competition for the only other slot (unless the Hall voters and administrators take a third this year) is going to be tremendously hot. If you forgot the criteria for the nomination process, these are the criteria for consideration of a person for election to the Poker Hall of Fame:

1. A player must have played poker against acknowledged top competition.
2. A player must have played for high stakes.
3. A player must be a minimum of 40 years old at the time of nomination.
4. A player must have played consistently well, gaining the respect of peers.
5. A player must “stand the test of time.”
6. If not a player but a contributor, the person must have contributed to the overall growth and success of the game of poker, with indelible positive and lasting results.

While former World Champion and three-time World Poker Tour champion Carlos Mortensen was inducted in 2016 alongside Todd Brunson, there is a dearth of representation in the Poker Hall of Fame from people outside of the States of America. In fact, since the advent of the Hall, there have been exactly TWO people from outside of North America inducted (Sir Edmond Hoyle was a member of the inaugural class; Mortensen was the second…other players like Johnny Chan and Scotty Nguyen, although born outside the Americas, were U. S. citizens when inducted). This is a situation that needs resolving.

There are literally a dozen legendary poker players that deserve enshrinement in the Poker Hall of Fame from Europe alone. Such names as the late Terry Rogers (who led the “Irish Invasion” of the WSOP in the late 1970s), Donnacha O’Dea, Liam Flood, David ‘Devilfish’ Ulliott, Marcel Luske, Thor Hansen, Fabrice Soulier, Bruno Fitoussi, Max Pescatori, Jeff Lisandro, Chris Bjorin (a multiple time nominee) and John Duthie barely scratch the surface of those who should be considered for induction (like I said, the Europeans have been ignored for some time). When you add in Latin and South America – and such names as Humberto Brenes, Andre Akkari and Luis Velador – you can obviously see that there is a logjam when it comes to non-U. S. players getting into the Hall.

There is also a backlog of poker players from the States of America that, like those who allegedly used steroids in baseball, may have a tougher time getting in because of their actions. The Lederer siblings, Howard and Annie Duke, are both eligible for the Hall and, by their poker achievements, are qualified for induction. By their actions, however, some will always have a difficult time considering them for a place in the Hall (and we don’t need to rehash that turf again). The same can be said for Chris Ferguson and Men ‘The Master’ Nguyen, qualified for induction but tainted by past scandal. Those U. S. players that are eligible and not tainted by some malfeasance include Kathy Liebert, Mike Caro, David Sklansky and Mike Matusow (some debate on the “scandal” issue with these two) and John Hennigan.

There’s been a drive by some to consider someone else who has some scandal in their background and, for that reason, they shouldn’t be considered either. Isai Scheinberg, the founder of PokerStars, seems to be a popular choice for many to be inducted as a contributor for basically starting an online poker site. What people forget, however, is that Scheinberg is still under indictment in the U. S. for PokerStars’ role in the “Black Friday” collapse (all others, including longtime holdout Scott Tom of Absolute Poker, have surrendered to authorities and either paid their fines and/or served their sentences). If you’re going to hold Lederer, Ferguson and other peoples’ feet to the fire for their actions, then the same should be applied to someone who is basically a fugitive. Thus, Scheinberg shouldn’t even be considered for the Hall – at least until the legal issues are settled.

With the change to the WSOP schedule – and the elimination of the “November Nine” – it isn’t known exactly what the timeline will be for the nomination process. In the past, the nominations were closed after about two weeks and the Top 10 nominees were announced to the public. Then the living members of the Poker Hall of Fame and a select number of media personnel were given 10 votes each to do with what they will. A voter could give all ten votes to one person or split it amongst as many as three people. The top two vote getters – provided they get more than half the vote – would constitute the Class of 2017 for the Poker Hall of Fame and be honored with a dinner and ceremonies conducted in coordination with the WSOP Championship Event final table. Whether this schedule will hold true with the final table being played in July is currently unknown.

Unfortunately, I am not one of the media members that has a voice in this matter (although I would love to have the honor), but it is a job that is tremendously difficult. With so many well-qualified choices, who gets in? What puts one player above another? I do not envy those that must sit back and decide on this subject because of its complexities. But it is obvious that the contenders for the Hall are numerous and, in some cases, have waited quite some time for their induction.

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