Last month, officials with the World Series of Poker and Caesars Entertainment announced the ten finalists for nomination to the Poker Hall of Fame. The Hall, set to induct two more members later this fall during the finale of the 2015 WSOP Championship Event “November Nine,” has once again put together a fine list of candidates that are all worthy of being inducted into such an honorary institution. The problem is that there will be a difference between who “should be” elected versus who “will be” elected.
First, let’s take a look at who is eligible this year to enter the Poker Hall of Fame:
David ‘Devilfish’ Ulliott
First off, anyone on this list is a “should be” candidate for induction in the Poker Hall of Fame, but there should be a hierarchy on the pathway to entrance. Befitting her position as arguably the best female poker player around – during an era when it is also arguable fewer women were playing the game – Harman should have the first seat on the “should be” ballot. With her three WSOP bracelets, her mixed game talents and her abilities to take on the “big boys” for decades and come out on the other side intact, Harman is undoubtedly someone who “should be” elected to the Hall.
The second name on that list that “should be” elected to the Poker Hall of Fame is Fitoussi. Arguably France’s greatest poker player, Fitoussi has also been at the forefront of driving the game in his native country until governmental intervention made it impossible for him to do any more great work. He was a major campaigner to keep the legendary Aviation Club in Paris open (unfortunately, a failed effort) earlier this year and he continues to represent his country in tournaments around the world.
Arguments for their impact on the game could be given to Bjorin and Mortensen and few outside of Chiu and Juanda have competed in the high-stakes arenas that they have. On my personal ballot, I would have Rogers receiving a few votes – few have incited a whole nation, Ireland, to pick up poker, but Rogers did – and Savage, Pescatori and Ulliott are worthy nominations. But Harman and Fitoussi top the “should be” inducted list.
“Should be” doesn’t equal “will be,” however. The problem with this year’s vote is that it has been overrun by those looking at election to the Poker Hall of Fame as a sentimental exercise rather than a true look at the overall body of work of the nominees. In particular, the passing of Ulliott, the legendary ‘Devilfish,’ earlier this year has probably skewed the voting that there may not be a second candidate who earns at least 50% of the vote.
There has been pressure since the passing of Ulliott in April from all corners of the poker world for his induction into the Hall. There was a T-shirt campaign pushing for his nomination at this year’s WSOP and, since he has earned the nomination, there has been further campaigning for those with the votes to put him in the Hall on the first ballot. In my opinion, that is reserved for those that have truly made an impact on the game such as Chip Reese or Daniel Negreanu (Phil Ivey, if he ever comes back to the U. S. for longer than a couple of weeks, is worthy of that honor too). While he is a Hall of Fame talent, Ulliott is not “first ballot” material.
Where would Ulliott be without the work of Rogers in promoting the game of poker throughout the United Kingdom (after his work in Ireland setting up the Irish Poker Open, the oldest poker tournament behind only the WSOP)? There wouldn’t be a ‘Devilfish’ or a Late Night Pokerhad Rogers (and arguably several others including Liam Flood) not pushed the game of Texas Hold’em on the Emerald Isle. Furthermore, would there have been a European poker scene without the people that created it, like Fitoussi, Bjorin or even past Poker Hall of Fame nominee Thor Hansen, for Ulliott to make his achievements? When examined in this manner, it becomes obvious that, while Ulliott is more than qualified to be in the Hall, there’s others that deserve it more for their work.
The second one that might get the “will be” vote would be Savage. The reason here is that Savage is nearly ubiquitous in the poker world and visibility in someone’s mind can often drive a vote home. Through his work as a tournament director extraordinaire around the world, Savage is seen by everyone in the community; add in his work with the Tournament Directors Association and Savage has become THE man for tournament organization and conduct, immediately giving credence to a tournament simply by officiating it. I personally believe, however, that Savage would admit himself that his greatest work is still ahead of him; I’m sure that even Matt would say there are some players on the nominees list that are more deserving of a seat in the Poker Hall of Fame in front of him.
The final vote is going to be a very difficult one for those on the Election Committee. Although it isn’t explained to the general poker public, past years have seen the living members of the Poker Hall of Fame (23 at this point) and media members (past years had an equal number of media to living Hall of Famers; this year it is limited to 16) given 10 votes to allocate to their candidates of their choice; they can give their entire block to one person or divvy it up among several nominees, even giving one vote for each nominee if they like. In the end, two people are elected to the Hall provided that they each get a majority (50%) of the vote (that would mean that, of the 390 votes available, a potential inductee would have to get at least 195).
While I personally believe that Harman and Fitoussi or Rogers “should be” elected to the Poker Hall of Fame, it will probably be Ulliott and possibly Savage that “will be” taking seats in the Hall. It isn’t the end of the world if those two men get in (they have the credentials, without a doubt), but it is an indictment on the poker community that they don’t respect the history of the game in honoring those that came before them. The 2015 inductees, if they are the “will be” choices that I believe they will result in, aren’t truly reflective of the annals of poker history.