The 2019 World Series of Poker is in full swing and, normally around this time of year, the nominations would have opened for the Poker Hall of Fame. There were changes this year, however, as it seems that the staff of the World Series of Poker chose the nominees for the Poker Hall of Fame in 2019 rather than the previous method of public nominations. Let’s look at the list of nominees for induction (of which two people will be chosen) in alphabetical order:

Chris Bjorin
David Chiu
Eli Elezra
Antonio Esfandiari
Chris Ferguson
Ted Forrest
Mike Matusow
Chris Moneymaker
David Oppenheim
Huckleberry Seed

With Esfandiari as the only first-time nominee in the bunch in his very first year of eligibility (turned 40 in December 2018), the nominees are a group with some extensive and excellent resumes for the most part. We will handicap the field here, which presents some tough choices and unanswered questions as to who the two men who will be inducted in 2019 will be.

Tough Choices Abound

It is arguable that this is the most qualified list of nominees that has been named in some time. Almost every player on the list has covered the criteria for entry into the Hall, which is as follows:

Played against acknowledged top competition,
Minimum 40 years old (the “Chip Reese Rule”)
Played for high stakes
Played consistently well, gaining the respect of their peers,
Stood the test of time

There is also a qualification here for non-players – industry personnel or “contributors” to the game – but…well, we will get to this in a moment.

Handicapping the field, we can probably say that Esfandiari won’t be a first ballot Hall of Famer like Phil Ivey (2017) and Daniel Negreanu (2014). Nothing against Esfandiari, but he is up against some of the finest cash game players in the world and THREE former World Champions. While there would be a decent argument for ‘The Magician’ to get in (top ten all-time money list, WSOP and World Poker Tour titles, first winner of the “One Drop”), there are too many obstacles and other players he would have to overcome.

Matusow and Forrest have been waiting for some time themselves, but this doesn’t look like their year, either. Matusow, a four-time WSOP bracelet winner, has been out of the game for a couple of years because of a bum back, but he’s been back playing in 2019 and seems to have his game in good shape. Forrest is a bit more complex a story; he hasn’t been a player at this year’s WSOP, but his six WSOP bracelets (not to mention his work with “The Corporation” against Andy Beal in that now-legendary match) give Forrest some gravitas.

Oppenheim, Chiu, Bjorin, Seed and Elezra are all the ‘old school’ players that the Hall loves to induct. Their experiences as cash game veterans give them credence with the veterans who will be voting on the next inductees. Seed, in particular, has a bit more panache with his 1996 WSOP Championship Event victory (but his activity in the game of late has been…patchy, to say the best) and Elezra has won four WSOP bracelets and has that “rags to riches” story that everyone loves.

Tell you what…we’ll get back to these last five.

Unanswered Questions for Two Nominees

There are two nominees left and there’s plenty of unanswered questions for these men.

First up is the Shakespearean odyssey that is Chris Ferguson. The 2000 WSOP Championship Event winner (and six-time winner total) probably should have been in the Hall more than a decade ago, but a little thing like the Full Tilt Poker debacle unfortunately sidetracked that eventuality. Ferguson, as one of the de facto leaders of “Team Full Tilt,” was viewed by many as being a part of its demise and, ultimately, one of those to blame.

Ferguson went into a pariah status, taking a six-year hiatus from the WSOP. In 2016, he would come back and, in 2017, Ferguson would win his sixth bracelet and the coveted WSOP Player of the Year championship. Alas, have the voters for the Hall (the 30 living members and 21 members of the media and industry experts) found a way to let Ferguson’s bygones be forgotten?

Then there’s the situation of Moneymaker. The unanswered questions for him would be whether he is going in as a player or as a “contributor.” If he is to be judged as a player, then the answer would definitely be no; with only $3.7 million in career earnings – and $3 million of that through three tournaments (including one made for television event) – and the singular bracelet (no other major championships or bracelets won), Moneymaker falls in the category of such players (and former champs) as Brad Daugherty, Hamid Dastmalchi, Noel Furlong and Robert Varkonyi, all players NOT in the Hall. Even Jim Bechtel, who won the Main Event in 1993 (and isn’t in the Hall), has tacked on a second bracelet to his record this year. And as far as playing against top competition or high stakes play, there is no record of this.

If Moneymaker is to be inducted as a “contributor,” then there is much more room for argument. There is no doubt that his 2003 WSOP win (and the ad nauseam coverage that it received on ESPN), combined with the perfect storm of the “lipstick cam,” the development of online poker and the birth of the World Poker Tour, helped to make for the “golden age” of poker in the Aughts. But there are also other contributors on the roster for entry, people such as the late Terry Rogers, Liam Flood, Thor Hansen, Marcel Luske, Bruno Fitoussi and Humberto Brenes who have done way more for bringing the game of poker to Europe and Central America and WAY before Moneymaker was around (and this doesn’t even touch on someone like tournament director Matt Savage, who probably should have been inducted before this time simply for the innovations he brought to the game of poker).

The Final Decision

At least one of the players inducted this year will come from the “list of five” that we compiled earlier. Oppenheim, Chiu, Bjorin, Seed and Elezra are all worthy of induction into the Hall. They mark each box on the list of criteria and have the respect of the industry. For arguments sake, Elezra and Chiu were the front runners until Oppenheim demonstrated his skills at the $50,000 Poker Players’ Championship (finishing in seventh place). Thus, the choice gets a bit cloudier.

If the Hall were to throw a monkey wrench into matters, they could induct Ferguson, which would send the internet community into a rabid frenzy. And the only question with Moneymaker is which route he is taking…if he wants to be a player, no. If he wants to go in as a contributor, then he must wait his turn for the lane to clear a bit.

Voting by the living members of the Poker Hall of Fame (30) and the 21-member panel of experts will conclude on July 8, at which time the inductees will be announced. The two men who will make up the class of 2019 for the Poker Hall of Fame will be honored during play at the final table of the $10,000 Championship Event, becoming the 57th and 58th inductees into the hallowed halls of poker’s Valhalla.

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