When Caesars Entertainment and the World Series of Poker postponed the 2020 WSOP, one of the things that also seemed to be postponed was the induction of new members of the Poker Hall of Fame. Usually held simultaneously beside the final table of the $10,000 Championship Event, the WSOP looked to be bypassing that during this COVID-19 plagued year. That all changed, however, when the WSOP reversed course with their “hybrid” WSOP Championship Event.
Currently the online segment of the WSOP Championship Event is underway for international players and, next weekend, those in the States of America will have their opportunity for poker glory on WSOP.com. And, along with this, WSOP officials are trying to also put new entries into the Poker Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, instead of inducting more members, like they should, they’re looking at inducting fewer.
Why Induct Fewer Members?
The Poker Hall of Fame is arguably the most exclusive Hall in the world. It has existed since 1979, over 40 years now, yet it has only inducted 58 members in that time. In the past, the Poker Hall of Fame has inducted at least two new members every year (save for 2009, when the late Mike Sexton was inducted into the Hall by himself). But this year, instead of continuing this tradition, for some reason the Poker Hall of Fame has decided to only induct one new member to its illustrious ranks.
The big question here is “why?” The Poker Hall of Fame has always deserved a little more attention and respect than it has received (it doesn’t even have a physical location and the Induction Ceremonies have become little more than commercial filler during play of the final table), even from the poker community. There’s no logical reason, however, that they should be limiting potential inductions instead of increasing them.
The simple reason is this: there’s more than enough qualified people, both players and contributors, that should be inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame. There was already a backlog of potential inductees before the “poker boom” of the Aughts, and that influx of quality talent has taken a backlog and made it a tsunami. Instead of limiting it to one player in 2020, there should be a way to get MORE players into the Hall, to give them the respect they so richly deserve.
Now I understand that there are certain qualifications that need to be met. In the Baseball Hall of Fame, an inductee must get at least 75% of the vote. If my memory is correct, those that enter the Poker Hall of Fame must earn at least 50% (could be more) of the vote for induction. But the caveat for that has been that, if there were multiple people who earned over 50%, then only the top two got in (that seems to be the reason Sexton was the only inductee in 2009). Why is that? Shouldn’t we go ahead and induct those when they earn the right for induction? It just seems short sighted to say “Well, you got 60% of the vote, but these other two people got more than you, so we’re not going to induct you?”
So, Who Goes In for 2020?
With the new rules in place (hopefully only for 2020), it makes it even more difficult to come up with a singular individual to induct. I have long advocated that there are plenty of people from pre-“poker boom” that deserve to be considered. Players such as David Chiu, Chris Bjorin, Eli Elezra, Huck Seed and the late Thor Hansen and contributors such as Ireland’s Terry Rogers, Liam Flood and Fabrice Soulier (and this list is by no means complete with just these names) are more than qualified to take a seat in the Poker Hall of Fame, but their names aren’t as recognizable as those who came during the “poker boom.”
Because of that very “boom,” the litany of players and contributors from 2000 on are plentiful. Players such as Antonio Esfandiari, Mike Matusow, Ted Forrest (debated on him in the “old school” category) and Victoria Coren-Mitchell (the first player to ever win two European Poker Tour Main Events deserves entry not only into the Women in Poker Hall of Fame but also the MAIN Poker Hall) and even the disgraced Chris Ferguson, Howard Lederer and Annie Duke are debatable. Contributors such as tournament director Matt Savage, PokerStars founder Isai Scheinberg (with his legal issues complete, he’s now worth consideration) and WSOP photographer Ulvis Alberts (Alberts’ work, in some cases, is the ONLY link we have to poker’s past) also are in this mix. And this goes without mentioning “dark horse” candidates that nobody seems to think of – players like Michael Mizrachi (three-time Poker Players’ Championship victor, over $17 million in career earnings) or online players such as Doug Polk or Tom Dwan (technically, Polk and Dwan aren’t old enough yet as they haven’t met the minimum age requirement, but it’s getting closer!).
Currently the nomination process is underway, with fans able to choose ONE person they believe is worthy of induction to the Poker Hall of Fame. Those who are deemed appropriate for induction with join those who didn’t make it in 2019 on the final nominees list. After that, the living members of the Poker Hall of Fame and a select list of poker historians and journalists will then make their choices from that nominee list, with apparently the person who gets the most votes earning the sole seat into the Poker Hall of Fame on December 30.
The issue is – and seemingly always has been – that the Poker Hall of Fame deserves more respect than it gets. It needs to get back to the days when it had a full-out Induction Ceremony dinner, complete with speeches and all (yes, understand that those are verboten in our current COVID world, but…). We need to honor those who have created this great game that millions around the world enjoy. And we need to start opening the (REAL) doors to the Poker Hall of Fame and inducting more individuals than fewer…these people deserve to be honored for their life’s work, not to have a relative pick up their honor posthumously.