The nominees for induction into the Poker Hall of Fame for 2021 were announced last week and as is usual for the nominees, it was an incredibly special list. Any and all of the men nominated would be viable inductees, with obvious qualities that would set them apart. As my friend and colleague Dan Katz put it so eloquently, “All are legends in their own right.”
That does not prevent us, however, from ranking them as to their viability for election. Some of the nominees on this list for the 2021 Poker Hall of Fame rank a bit higher on the spectrum (AKA have more of a credible chance for election) than others. With that in mind, we are going to rank them out and see just who will be inducted on November 17.
Before we get started, however, we must take the WSOP and Caesars to task. Only inducting one person, as they did last year, is completely idiotic. You have people that stretch back to the formative days of poker that are deserving of induction, not to mention that many who started their careers in the Aughts are coming up on that magical 40-year-old line for being eligible for induction. The Poker Hall of Fame should be inducting a MINIMUM of two people per year, and I would even advocate for a “Veteran’s Committee” (encompassing potential inductees pre-1995) that would choose one inductee themselves. Maybe next year the WSOP will wise up to this fact – THEN we can talk about an actual PHYSICAL POKER HALL OF FAME.
Without further ado, here is the ranking of the ten nominees for the 2021 Poker Hall of Fame:
10. Mike Matusow – Matusow is an entertainer. He has had some success on the felt. He has also been close to or actually broke several times in his career. He is not someone you would hold up and say, “This is the epitome of a poker player.” And, considering the list of players he is up against in 2021, he is probably not even the best player.
9. Layne Flack – While I have a great deal of respect for Flack and his achievements, I believe that this is more of a sentimental pick than it is one representative of his skills. I remember when David ‘Devilfish’ Ulliott first passed away in 2015. There was a tremendous campaign to get him inducted that year but, while he was nominated, he did not earn a seat in the Poker Hall of Fame (Ulliott would eventually be inducted in 2017 along with Phil Ivey). Let us look back next year and see if the same belief in Flack’s abilities is there.
8. Bertrand ‘ElkY’ Grospellier – One of the first to make the leap from the online world to the live poker battlegrounds, and with a great deal of success. His prowess has waned over the past few years, however, and he seems to be focused on other things non-poker related. Putting in Grospellier, or anyone who has been closely tied to with online poker, is going to be tough with those that have spent their times in the casinos making their bones.
7. Antonio Esfandiari – A moderately successful player, won on every stage that he ever entered and winner of the first $1 million poker tournament. All of these things are true, but it seems that there is a “what have you done for me lately” vibe sometimes to being inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame. That is where Esfandiari would come up short – his recent poker activity has been minimal, which is unfortunate; when he was at his peak, he was a helluva player.
6. Chris Ferguson – Former world champion, multiple bracelet winner, iconic figure, and notable character. But all I have to say is two words – Black Friday. Will the voters look by that?
5. Ted Forrest – Noted cash game player, tournament champion, WSOP bracelet holder, he hits all the buttons. But, once again, the “what have you done for me lately” bug rises up.
4. Michael Mizrachi – There are many that will say I have ‘The Grinder’ ranked too high. What else would you do with a player who has won three $50,000 Poker Players’ Championships, multiple World Poker Tour victories, and battled the best the game has to offer? There might be some criticism that all of his success seems to have come from the tournament circuit, but that is the way the game is judged nowadays. Don’t fault the player, fault the game.
3. Eli Elezra – If a player is going to be inducted, it is going to be Elezra. Besides the fact that he still actively plays against many of those in the Poker Hall of Fame (who will be doing the voting), he has actually gone around the world plying the trade of a professional poker player. Toss on four WSOP bracelets and a WPT title, plus covering the “longevity” issue, and Elezra has the best credentials of a player for induction.
And we’re going to cheat for the #1 pick – both of these men should be inducted (and it is why they should EXPAND the induction classes instead of REDUCING them).
1. Isai Scheinberg AND Matt Savage – Simply put, if Isai Scheinberg does not create PokerStars, then there’s millions of people who do not become poker players, either recreationally or professionally. That is introducing an innovation that changes the game – which is the criteria for a non-playing induction. Savage, for his part, has innovated tremendously in the world of tournament poker, been at the helm of the two major tournament organizations in existence today (the WSOP and WPT), and created the Tournament Directors Association in an effort to codify tournament poker rules worldwide. Once again, THAT is innovation that changes the game.
The decision is now in the hands of the 32 men and women who are sitting members of the Poker Hall of Fame (another bad move by the WSOP was eliminating the voting membership of the media, who can fairly weigh the candidates). Each member will receive ten votes, which they can hand out in any manner they feel appropriate. By the end of October, the votes will be collected and counted, and the next member of the Poker Hall of Fame will be named. That person will be inducted during ceremonies on November 17, during the play of the WSOP Championship Event final table and during the Hall of Fame Bounty Tournament, which will be going on opposite the Championship Event.