ON THE LIST: Poker Hall of Fame Finalists Announced; PokerStars Founder Isai Scheinberg Included for First Time

December 21, 2020
ON THE LIST: Poker Hall of Fame Finalists Announced; PokerStars Founder Isai Scheinberg Included for First Time

The final slate of candidates is now set for poker’s biggest honor. After two weeks of open nominations, 10 finalists for the Poker Hall of Fame were announced Thursday.

The list ranges from well-known players to commentators to tournament executives. One name also stands out among them – Isai Scheinberg.

The PokerStars founder recently settled a 2011 indictment following Black Friday. Scheinberg was sentenced to time served and a $30,000 fine on various gambling-related charges.

The Poker Hall of Fame recognizes important players and notable figures in the industry. WSOP and Hall of Fame organizers have made a change to this year’s induction. As was the case from 1980-2004, only one person will be inducted.

A look at the Hall of Fame finalists

The finalists will now be considered by the 31 living Hall of Fame members. Each will allocate a ballot of 10 total points to any of the nominees to decide this year’s inductee.

Here’s a quick look at all the 2020 nominees: 

Patrik Antonius

This longtime pro from Finland has played at some of the highest stakes both live and online. He has $12 million in live tournament winnings and is recognized for his appearances on televised poker shows.

Some of those have included High Stakes Poker and Poker After Dark. Antonius has scored wins and finishes on some of the game’s biggest stages.

Lon McEachern and Norman Chad

This is the first duo ever nominated for induction because of contributions to the World Series of Poker broadcasts on ESPN. The pair began broadcasting for the network in 2003 and remain some of the game’s most popular commentators.

Eli Elezra

Another well-known pro, Elezra has played in some of the biggest stakes and has four WSOP bracelets. With $3.8 million in live tournament wings, he’s also been featured in major televised cash games.

Elezra released an autobiography in 2019 detailing his life in the Israeli armed forces. He later emigrated to the US, spending time in Alaska before jumping into poker in Las Vegas.

Antonio Esfandiari

Any poker fan will probably recognize Esfandiari from television as well as his numerous tournament wins. That has included two Word Poker Tour titles and three WSOP bracelets.

In 2012, he won the biggest tournament ever at the time – the WSOP $1 million Big One for One Drop. That brought him more than $13 million and he now has $28 million in live tournament winnings. Esfandiari has also served as a poker analyst on ESPN.

Chris Ferguson

One of the more recognizable names from the poker boom of the 2000s, Ferguson has six WSOP bracelets. His resumé also includes $9.6 million in live tournament winnings and a European Poker Tour title.

In 2017, Ferguson was named the WSOP Player of the Year. However, many players harbor negative feelings about him for his role in the Full Tilt poker scandal following Black Friday.

Ted Forrest

One of the most respected players in poker, Forrest has been on the tournament scene since 1991. That included winning three WSOP bracelets in 1993 and he now has six total. He also scored a WPT title in 2007 and won the National Heads-Up Poker Challenge in 2006.

Additionally, Forrest was among a group of players who challenged billionaire banker Andy Beal in the early 2000s. The battle included massive stakes in heads-up Limit Hold’em. Author Michael Craig detailed in the book The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King: Inside the Richest Poker Game of All Time.

Mike Matusow

Poker Hall of Fame

No stranger to poker fans, “The Mouth” has been one of the more colorful characters in the game. Fans have enjoyed his antics on ESPN broadcasts and numerous other poker shows. Matusow also has four bracelets and $9.8 million in live tournament winnings.

His two final table appearances in the WSOP Main Event certainly stand out as nice bullet points. With $1.9 million in winnings and five final table appearances, Matrusow has also found plenty of success on the WPT.

Matt Savage

The longtime executive tournament director of the WPT has managed some of the biggest events in the world. He’s also conducted interview segments for the WPT and is a co-founder of the Tournament Directors Association.

Savage worked at the WSOP from 2002-04 and has been a longtime tournament director at the Bicycle Casino.

Isai Scheinberg (right) with his son Mark.Isai Scheinberg

Many in the poker world had hoped for Scheinberg’s inclusion in the Hall of Fame. Scheinberg combined a love of poker and background in mathematics and programming to create the company’s software.

Founded in 2001, PokerStars would go on to become the largest online poker site in the world. Scheinberg played a key role in online poker’s explosion around the world.

Huckleberry Seed

The winner of the 1996 WSOP Main Event, Seed now has four WSOP bracelets and $7.6 million in live tournament winnings.

In 2010, Seed won the National Heads-Up Poker Challenge and the WSOP Tournament of Champions a year later. He remains a regular on the tournament poker scene.

A look at the Poker Hall of Fame criteria

The Poker Hall of Fame criteria remains the same as in previous years. A player must: 

  • have played poker against acknowledged top competition
  • be a minimum of 40 years old at the time of nomination
  • played for high stakes
  • played consistently well and gaining the respect of peers
  • stood the test of time

Non-players must have contributed to the overall growth and success of the game with indelible positive and lasting results.

The 2020 inductee will be announced on Dec. 30 prior to the WSOP Main Event finale at the Rio in Las Vegas. A formal induction ceremony is expected to take place later in 2021.

Insight on how members are voting

After the nominations were released, several players took to Twitter to announce how their points would be used. Poker legend Doyle Brunson appeared to be squarely behind Elezra.

A former PokerStars ambassador, Daniel Negreanu has long been a supporter of Scheinberg and announced his continued support.

“It’s been a long time coming for Isai Schienberg to be on the nomination list and he got all 10 of my votes this year,” Negreanu noted. “His innovations changed poker forever.”

Erik Seidel chose to use his points for two players.

“After careful thought and consulting people whose opinions I value, [I’m] going to split my vote between Huck and Isai,” he wrote on Twitter. “So many great choices who have all helped grow the game, but these two seem the most deserving to me.”

Several other players have yet to reveal their votes and it will be interesting to see this year’s selection.

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