This year’s 10 finalists for the Poker Hall of Fame have been announced. The list is an interesting mix of players, contributors, and hybrid types that represent a good cross-section of the poker universe.
Overall, it’s a good list; not perfect, but pretty good. (Here is the list I came up with before the nominations were released.)
The dominance of US poker and its influence on the Hall of Fame has become a hot topic of debate over the past couple of years. On this front, poker fans will also note that this year’s list of nominees has a heavy non-US influence, as five of the 10 finalists hail from Europe. A sixth finalist is from Costa Rica, which makes the 2016 list far more global than in years past.
A look at who was nominated
There are three first-time finalists in 2016, they are:
- Chris Moneymaker (at 40, this is the first year Moneymaker was eligible for the Poker Hall of Fame)
- Eli Elezra
- Todd Brunson
Joining the first-timers are six returning players from 2015’s list of finalists:
- David ‘Devilfish’ Ulliott (second time as a finalist)
- Max Pescatori (second time as a finalist)
- Matt Savage (second time as a finalist)
- Carlos Mortensen (third time as a finalist)
- Bruno Fitoussi (third time as a finalist)
- Chris Bjorin (fifth time as a finalist; Bjorin has been a finalist every year since 2012)
Rounding out this year’s finalists is Humberto Brenes.
After a one-year hiatus, 2016 marks the third time Brenes has been a Hall of Fame finalist, as “The Shark” was a finalist in both 2013 and 2014.
Who should get in from the above list
In my opinion, there are three people on the list of 10 finalists that I place above the others this year:
I won’t complain if any two of these three people are inducted this fall. I could also live with Bjorin or Savage grabbing one of the two spots, too.
Why? If the induction process were a bit more liberal — poker is nearly 200 years old and we have 50 Hall of Famers — I think the entire 2016 finalist list is HOF worthy.
If I were voting, I’d give five votes to Moneymaker and five votes to Mortensen.
My Hall of Fame litmus test tends to be a bit different than most, as I place a heavy emphasis on a nominees’ positive impacts on the game. So, in that respect I disagree with Daniel Negreanu’s steadfast adherence to the generally vague criterion.
Actually Negreanu has said this every year since 2015, because in July 2014 he said this:
“Well, it’s way too American-centric. The Hall of Fame should reflect the growth of the game and the influence of other players, like overseas. So many people have done so much.”
I like the 2014 comments from Negreanu, which is why I go with the more historic precedent the Poker Hall of Fame has set over the years. You can read more on why I feel this way here.
The way I see it, no one, at any point in the history of poker has had a bigger impact on the game than the 2003 World Series of Poker main event champion. His name is synonymous with poker and known throughout the world by players and non-poker players.
Moneymaker certainly benefitted from being in the right place at the right time, but he was also the right person, and while we can argue how much of a direct impact he had on the poker boom, he’s the face of it.
I firmly believe that Mortensen is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and find it hard to believe Mortensen has been a nominee in three of the last four years and failed to be inducted. I also can’t understand how he wasn’t a finalist in 2014.
Here’s a quick look at his resume:
- 25th winningest tournament player in poker history — despite playing a pretty modest schedule over the years, and not among the super high roller crowd.
- 2001 WSOP main event champion and 10th in the 2013 WSOP Main Event.
- Three-time World Poker Tour champion, including winning the $25K Championship at the height of the poker boom. Mortensen also finished 3rd, 3rd, and 4th in other WPT Championship events over the years.
Ulliott is one of those special cases.
If he had the personality of Erik Seidel instead of being a somewhat grating but also endearing rascal — or if he was Dave Ulliott from Gardena, California — he’s more or less just another aggressive and fun poker player to watch. But like Moneymaker, Ulliott drove people to poker tables in the UK and across Europe.
Ulliott was one of the people that made televised poker exciting when the game needed personalities, and when he was on, he was on. His resume is a bit light by HOF standards, but it’s not meager by any means. Ulliott was a WPT champion and won a WSOP bracelet. He also finished second in four WSOP tourneys and third in three others over the years.
It’s difficult to understand if you’re from the US, but if you look at the outrage from European players last year when Devilfish wasn’t inducted, you can see how impactful he was.[i15-table tableid=20717][i15-table tableid=19346]
Who was snubbed
As I touched on above, there is a serious debate taking place throughout the poker world when it comes to who belongs in the Poker Hall of Fame, and what exactly constitutes a Hall of Famer.
Because of this discordance in the community, trying to pin who was snubbed is pretty tough, as it largely depends on a person’s perspective and feelings about the Hall of Fame.
People who go strictly by stats and/or favor cash-game prowess might be upset that Huck Seed, Ted Forrest, Mike Matusow and David Chiu didn’t make the short-list.
On the other hand, people who think players should be judged not only on their results, but also their impact and importance to poker, will probably note the absence of Liam Flood, Marcel Luske and Cyndi Violette.
There are also people who feel the current public online nomination process favors today’s players, so these people tend to cheerlead for old school players like Mickey Appleman, Bobby Hoff and Danny Robison.
And then there are those of us who feel the contributors don’t get enough love, and will be frustrated that Isai Scheinberg, David Sklansky, Mike Caro, Terry Rogers and Andy Glazer didn’t make the final cut.
Basically, until the Hall of Fame is expanded, nobody will be overly happy with the final list of 10. In terms of expansion, my idea is to start inducting two players and one contributor each year, and also let a veterans committee induct an old-school or historical poker player each year.
I would also have:
- a Legendary Players wing reserved for the best of the best;
- a US Poker wing;
- a European Poker wing;
- a Global Poker wing; and
- a Women in Poker wing;
- a Contributors and Builders wing.
Of course, this would mean that there has to be an actual Poker Hall of Fame somewhere, which is a topic for another day.