In an announcement over their Twitter feed on Thursday, Caesars Entertainment and World Series of Poker officials announced the list of nominees for induction into the “mythical” Poker Hall of Fame (I will save my “physical” Poker Hall rant this year). The ten men on the list are no strangers to having been nominated and all are well deserving of induction. But the voting process has changed from year’s previous, which may have some weight when it comes to who is inducted during the heads-up match that will crown the “hybrid” 2020 WSOP “World Champion.”
Change is Not Always Good
In prior years, there would have been a lengthy period to compile a list of nominees for the honor of entering poker’s Valhalla, with a similar consideration towards the vote. This year, it seems like it was rushed when the “hybrid” 2020 WSOP event was put together. But that’s a minor situation compared to other changes.
There is also a change in the voting panel for the Poker Hall of Fame. Instead of the living members of the Poker Hall of Fame and an equal number of media, poker historians and others knowledgeable about the subject, 2020 will see only the living members of the Poker Hall of Fame eligible to vote. Those 31 people will have ten votes each that they can disperse as they please but, in another change, only the top vote getter will be inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame.
To be honest, none of these changes are improvements of the Poker Hall of Fame. The media contingent provides a balance to the living Hall members, hopefully bringing a bit of historical knowledge about the process to balance out the anecdotal “I was there” evidence from the living Hall members. It is also short-sighted to only induct one new member when there is obviously a backlog of potential entries that now will be banished to the dustbin of history as the “internet age” takes over the memory of people.
Hey, 2020 has screwed up a lot of things. Maybe this is a one-year aberration…
Handicapping the Field – The Long Shots
With the new voting procedures implemented, there is a definitive line between the “favorites” and the “long shots” when it comes to the Poker Hall of Fame. We will break them down here, starting with:
Antonio Esfandiari (10-1) – Esfandiari has been able to put together an outstanding career, earning the first “Big One for One Drop” WSOP Championship and picking up other major victories on the WSOP and World Poker Tour trails. He continues to be at the forefront of the game and is still active (OK, maybe not as much as in the past), which means we may not have seen the best of Esfandiari quite yet.
Mike Matusow (15-1) – Matusow is one of those players who seemingly has had an outstanding career but, when you hold his credentials up to most every other Poker Hall of Famer, he fades a bit. He was a key cog in the “poker boom,” however, with his battle against Greg Raymer at the 2004 WSOP Championship Event etched into history. Since we’ve decided that you can have borderline career stats but get in because you were “influential,” people will always look at Matusow as “worthy.”
Matt Savage (20-1) – Savage is only one of the most influential “industry” people in the game. His work as a tournament director is beyond compare and his efforts to bring the tournament world under a unified structure with the Tournament Directors Association (a group he helped found) continues to this day. But he is one that is hurt by the living members of the Hall being the only voters – players would rather vote for players, to be honest. Thus, another year will go by without Savage being inducted.
Patrik Antonius (25-1) – If my memory is correct, this is the first nomination for Antonius to enter the Hall. This also demonstrates some of the problems with the Hall; if you’re looking to honor Antonius but not Thor Hansen, Marcel Luske or a host of other international pros that came before him, how can he be honored? This isn’t a problem that is singularly of the Poker Hall of Fame, however.
Lon McEachern & Norm Chad (50-1) – A rare ‘group’ nominee, but it is deserved since they are pretty much inseparable to poker fans because of their tandem work as announcers on ESPN’s poker broadcasts. Once again, they fall victim to the fact that they are not players, despite Norm’s dalliances in Seven Card Stud. If they were to be inducted, it would also be the first time that the Poker Hall of Fame has recognized the media’s works regarding the game.
Isai Scheinberg (50-1) – Do not let the odds diminish the work that Scheinberg has done in poker. As the founder of PokerStars, the only thing that I believe kept Scheinberg from being nominated previously was his outstanding legal issues with the federal government. Now that those have been cleared up, he is getting the nomination he deserves. The problem is that he’s been nominated in a year where there are only players voting and the media is being shut out AND the fact that there will only be one inductee.
With that we’re left with our three favorites (Chris Ferguson was disregarded for consideration because of prior actions).
Handicapping the Field – The Favorites
There are only three men can be what you might consider to be “favorites” and they have waited patiently for induction into the Poker Hall of Fame. That anyone on this list gets overlooked is unfortunate but, for one of these three men, the “wait ‘til next year” lamentation is going to sting a bit more.
Huck Seed (4-1) – One of the few former World Champions that HASN’T earned induction (for eff’s sake, Moneymaker got in before him), Seed has waited patiently to hear his name called. He’s got the credentials, he’s more than covered all the criteria…what’s keeping him out? The factor that he hasn’t embraced the “internet age” of poker. It would be a huge embarrassment for the Poker Hall of Fame if they didn’t induct one of the greats of the game.
Ted Forrest (2-1) – Forrest has done it all in the game – won tournaments, been a top cash game professional and is considered one of the “good guys” in the game. He hasn’t been quite as active in the past few years, but he doesn’t have to be…what else does he have to prove? In a normal year, he would be one of the inductees; that he will be waiting another year demonstrates the idiocy of the singular induction in 2020 by the Poker Hall of Fame.
Eli Elezra (EVEN) – The odds are all in Elezra’s favor for induction in 2020. The players are the only ones doing the voting (and he’s played against virtually all of them) and they know he’s still at the peak of his game. Elezra has also, like Forrest, done it across the board – tournaments, cash games, low stakes, high…he’s done it all. The only reason to give Elezra a slight edge over Forrest is that Elezra has been more successful of late. They should go in together, but we’ll have to settle for Elezra for 2020.
The eventual inductee will be announced December 30 during the play of the heads-up match between the International Champion of the “hybrid” 2020 WSOP tournament and his opponent who becomes the U. S. Champion. Perhaps in 2021, we’ll get back to the normal situation when it comes to inducting new members of the Poker Hall of Fame. For 2020, however, we’ll have to settle for this…