After what should have been the crowning moment of their careers, 2015 inductees Jennifer Harman and John Juanda – as well as the process of induction of players into the Poker Hall of Fame – are coming under fire by a very vocal international poker community.
The Poker Hall of Fame announced yesterday the induction of Harman and Juanda for this year out of a group of nominees who were all highly deserving. Along with the duo, players such as Carlos Mortensen (second nomination), Bruno Fitoussi (second nomination), Chris Bjorin (third nomination) and David Chiu (third nomination) were a part of the mix, as was newcomer Max Pescatori. Industry members that were nominated for poker’s greatest honor were the late Terry Rogers and Matt Savage for their work in the game, both with their first nominations. All of these persons would have been worthy of the award if selected and they will probably appear on future Poker Hall of Fame nomination lists.
It seems that the international community’s ire comes down to the exclusion of one person who was nominated in the process: David ‘Devilfish’ Ulliott. Ulliott, who passed away in April of this year, was the subject of a massive campaign to include him on the nomination list in 2015 and, furthermore, all the way to induction this year. That campaign included a push at the 2015 World Series of Poker, politicking over social media and, after Ulliott made the 2015 nominees list as a first time nominee, a final drive to be one of the two inductees as a part of the festivities surrounding the 2015 WSOP Championship Event “November Nine” final table.
When the names of Harman and Juanda – two players with lengthy success in the annals of poker and who had each been nominated several times previously – were announced yesterday, the international poker community replied in a scornful manner. On his Facebook feed, European Poker Tour founder John Duthie stated, “No non-U. S. poker player should even consider accepting a nomination to the WSOP Hall of Fame (writer’s note: note the bastardization of the POKER Hall of Fame name, which has been in existence since 1979). I have the greatest respect for both (Juanda and Harman) and their selection is understandable, but the WSOP need to take a serious look at the whole process.”
Former Hendon Mobster Joe Beevers stepped to his personal blog to pen his outrage over Ulliott not being inducted. Entitled “When is a Hall of Fame not a Hall of Fame?” Beevers stated that there was the potential that Ulliott’s vote was split with Rogers, the founder of the Irish Poker Open (the second oldest poker tournament in the world behind only the WSOP), but he also noted a problem. “There are zero living non-American’s in the Poker Hall of Fame and the only non-American name I can see in the list of (now) 50 is Edmond Hoyle, inducted in 1980 (he died in 1769),” Beevers commented. “Sounds like they have a fair system here with no bias whatsoever, right?”
Finally, former bwin.party Head of Consumer Public Relations Warren Lush was about as blunt with his assessment on Facebook as anyone. He simply stated, “The results of the North American Poker Hall of Fame (once again, an insult to the institution) are out,” and provided a link to the announcement at WSOP.com.
All three men – and, to a certain extent, the international poker community – have legitimate claims regarding the Poker Hall of Fame processes. While the nomination process is by public vote, the actual election process for inductees is a bit shrouded. In the past, the living members of the Hall and an equal number of media representatives were given ten votes to allocate to one or all of the 10 nominees; for 2015, the number of media votes was allegedly cut in favor of the living Hall of Famers voices being heard louder. That perhaps is the first problem is that there aren’t enough Hall voters to make a solid decision regarding the inductions.
In 2013, 125 baseball writers, historians and other honorary choices had the opportunity for naming up to ten players for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Pro football has a 46-member election committee for its Hall of Fame, made up of sportswriters and a person from each city where a franchise is located. The number of people making the decision regarding inductees to the Poker Hall of Fame definitely needs to be examined and expanded, especially adding in an international bloc that could offer excellent input.
Then there is the point that many have made regarding the Poker Hall of Fame: the lack of international players, the fact that it has become a “good ol’ boys network,” that there isn’t any transparency to the voting process and/or who is actually making the selections. These are all perfectly good arguments that can be made about the Poker Hall of Fame and need to be addressed, but there is no reason for the vitriol presented by the international branch of poker regarding their viewpoint that Ulliott was “snubbed” by the Hall.
The factor that Ulliott didn’t make the grade this year for induction into the Hall doesn’t mean that he will NEVER get in the doors (the virtual doors, mind you, but that’s an argument for another time). Even in the world of European poker alone, there are at least three to five other players who would be in front of Ulliott for induction into the Hall (Rogers, Mortensen, Thor Hansen and perhaps Liam Flood (for his work with Rogers on the IPO) I can come up with off the top of my head). Ulliott is more than deserving of a place in poker’s pantheon of greats…it just may take a couple of years for it to come to fruition.
For the Poker Hall of Fame, it is time to make some changes. Expand the voter rolls for the induction process – a group of 100 people, including living members of the Hall, media and poker historians and industry members from around the world seems about right – release the information on how these people voted and perhaps increase the number to three inductees per year (for crying out loud, the Pro Football Hall of Fame inducts six new members every year – poker can come up with three viable inductees easily). On another front, perhaps it is time to ensure that there is proper induction each year into the Hall – one player from the Western hemisphere, a European player and an industry member (or another player if an industry member cannot be determined) – that are the minimum that will be inducted each year.
For the international poker community, Halls of Fame aren’t about sentimentality. They are about whether you are a true legend of the game and, in some cases, it requires that some people go in before you are recognized for your greatness. One day David ‘Devilfish’ Ulliott will be in the Poker Hall of Fame, it just won’t be this year – and that is the way ALL Halls of Fame work for the most part.