Worthy Of The Call: New Poker Hall of Fame Finalists Are Step In Right Direction

Steve Ruddock September 16, 2015 1392 Reads
John Juanda

The finalists for the 2015 Poker Hall of Fame have been revealed, and the list of ten is quite heavy on known and deserving players. This is something the poker community has felt a number of nominees have lacked in recent years.

While the 2015 finalist list hasn’t satisfied everyone, it seems like a big improvement over recent crops of HOF finalists.

In addition to the poker community at large, it also looks like history wonks like myself have been thrown a bone, evidenced by the inclusion of the little-known Terry Rogers — Ireland’s ‘Godfather of Poker’ — on the list of 10 finalists.

Still issues for the HOF, but getting better

Overall, I’m of the opinion that this year’s nominees are a step in the right direction. That being said, the Poker Hall of Fame still requires quite a bit of tinkering to make it function properly, and for it to be recognized as the august entity it is.

I hate rehashing previous columns, but I’m going to continue to beat the drum for these Poker Hall of Fame fixes and changes, including:

  1. A more inclusive and unexploitable nomination process. The nomination process needs to be taken out of the hands of the general public. Any player who meets HOF criteria should be placed on the ballot the first year they are eligible, but they must maintain a certain vote percentage to remain on the ballot year after year.
  2. An unexploitable voting process. Instead of distributing 10 votes to 1 or more players, each voter should have to vote for 10 people (if point 1 above is enacted there will be 100’s of people to choose from on every ballot) and rank them 1-10, with a voter’s No. 1 pick receiving 10 points and their No. 10 pick one point.
  3. A completely transparent process. Who are the HOF voters and whom did they vote for? This is something that should be answered, particularly if there is nothing to hide.
  4. Separate categories for players and contributors. This is one of the most important changes in my opinion. HOF voters should cast two ballots, one for players and one for contributors. Every year the PHoF would induct two players and one contributor.
  5. The installation of a veterans committee. Among the HOF voters there should be a veterans committee that nominates one player from a bygone era of poker. This nominee will be recognized at the HOF ceremony (separate from the three inductees voted on by the full committee) and posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Criticisms aside, here is why I’m upbeat about the list of finalists this year.

Resumes of the finalists are stronger in 2015

As I stated above, 2015 has the most finalists with Hall of Fame-caliber resumes in recent memory:

  • Carlos Mortensen
  • John Juanda
  • David Chiu
  • Jennifer Harman
  • Chris Bjorin
  • Bruno Fitoussi
  • Max Pescatori
  • Terry Rogers
  • Matt Savage
  • David Ulliott

The only questionable Hall of Famers I see on this list are, Chris Bjorin and Max Pescatori, although some will certainly question Terry Rogers, Bruno Fitoussi, and perhaps even Matt Savage for the simple reason they don’t like voting for contributors. This isn’t to say any of these people are undeserving, or don’t belong in the Hall of Fame, just that there is some debate to be had. In baseball terms, these finalists are like a Jim Rice or Andre Dawson of the poker world, not a Lou Gehrig or a Ted Williams.

That being said, the remainder of the 2015 finalists seem like surefire Hall of Famers at some point in the not so distant future: Mortensen, Juanda, Chiu, Harman and Ulliott.

Better than last year’s choices….

Compare this to the percentage of last year’s finalists, very few of whom I would consider shoo-ins for the Poker Hall of Fame:

  • Daniel Negreanu
  • Jennifer Harman
  • Humberto Brenes
  • Mike Matusow
  • Chris Bjorin
  • Huck Seed
  • Bruno Fitoussi
  • Bob Hooks
  • Ted Forrest
  • Jack McClelland

In 2014 I see only three surefire HOF’ers out of the players nominated: Negreanu (who was inducted), Harman and Forrest.

Humberto Brenes, Chris Bjorin, Bob Hooks, Huck Seed, and Mike Matusow are all debatable choices (based solely on poker accomplishments, not personality and popularity), and McClelland and Fitoussi fall into the contributor category that a significant percentage of the poker community doesn’t consider worthy.

…And in 2013, as well

The list of finalists from 2013 had just as many questionable choices:

  • Chris Bjorin
  • Humberto Brenes
  • David Chiu
  • Thor Hansen
  • Jennifer Harman
  • Mike Matusow
  • Tom McEvoy
  • Carlos Mortensen
  • Scotty Nguyen
  • Huckleberry Seed

In 2013, all ten finalists were players, but only four seem to possess what I would consider a clear-cut Hall of Fame resume. A case could be made that Matusow, Seed, Bjorin, Brenes, Thor Hansen, and Tom McEvoy (who was inducted along with Scotty Nguyen) lack resumes worthy of the Hall of Fame.

To sum up:

  • 2013 player finalists with HOF resumes that are beyond reproach: Four out of 10, or 40%.
  • 2014 player finalists with HOF resumes that are beyond reproach: Three out of eight, or 37.5%.
  • 2015 player finalists with HOF resumes that are beyond reproach: Five out of seven, or 71%.

As I said in the opening, the caliber of the finalists in 2015 are a step in the right direction, and it also highlights one of the Hall’s biggest problems, a large backlog that is only going to get worse over time as more and more players reach 40 years of age and become eligible.

But a secondary problem is what to do with the contributors.

Nominating deserving contributors

Let’s face it: If someone hasn’t won the World Series of Poker main event, been a player of the year contender, or won millions playing online poker, the general poker player is unlikely to know much about them. And since the nomination process begins with the general public nominating players, it makes it extremely difficult for players and contributors who are no longer active to make the cut and be one of the 10 finalists.

This is why I’ve been calling for the Poker Hall of Fame to adjust its nomination process, and at the very least, create a separate category for contributors. The people behind the scenes and away from the felt — McClelland, Savage, Rogers, Mike Caro, and others — deserve to be recognized for their contributions to the game. And they should be honored without taking a spot away from a deserving player.

I was very pleased to see Terry Rogers make the cut this year (I’ve been beating the “Rogers for the Poker Hall of Fame drum” for years now), and I have a suspicion that Rogers’ inclusion, like Bryan “Sailor” Roberts in 2012 and Bob Hooks in 2014, was at the urging of the Poker Hall of Fame voters, who likely have the power to nominate people not chosen by the public.

What I’d like to see is two players and one contributor inducted each year, with a veterans committee who would induct one person from poker’s past each year.

Would it be any less an honor if four people were inducted each year?

Photo by GeeJo used under license CC BY 2.0

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