WSOP First Fifty Event Honors All Great Poker Players, Warts And All

Bart Shirley May 17, 2019 503 Reads

The WSOP will honor some of its greatest competitors at the First Fifty Honors & Dinner as part of its 50th-anniversary celebration this year. However, tournament officials will have a challenge recognizing certain players with troubling biographies.

WSOP to celebrate legends, past and present

The World Series of Poker (WSOP) is celebrating its 50th edition this year. Over the past half-century, the tournament series has hosted the pinnacle of poker play each summer.

To commemorate the great players who have come and gone, WSOP is hosting the First Fifty Honors & Dinner. The event will feature a dinner, an awards ceremony and a VIP poker event. It will be held at 8 p.m. June 29 at Rio’s Brasilia Ballroom.

The dinner will be open to all WSOP bracelet winners and other VIPs. Afterward, WSOP broadcasters Lon McEachern and Norman Chad will emcee the honors ceremony.

Tournament officials plan to issue awards to recognized players in eight categories. Those categories are:

  • Most Memorable WSOP TV Hand
  • Best Overall WSOP Performance (single year)
  • Most Likely to Succeed (Player currently 35 or under to win the most gold bracelets between 2020-2070)
  • Fan Favorite Player
  • WSOP’s Favorite Bad Boy
  • Most Impressive Main Event Win
  • Four Most Important Players in WSOP History
  • 50 Greatest Poker Players

The general public will determine the winners of the first seven categories. WSOP is employing an online voting system, which you can access here, to elect the most popular choices.

The eighth category, 50 Greatest Poker Players, will be determined by a special panel of voters. Industry figures and media members selected by the WSOP will work to come up with a list of the very best in poker play.

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WSOP must navigate recognition of players with troubling pasts

Nobody is perfect. In any large group of people, there will be those with skeletons in their closet.

Unfortunately, some of the skeletons in poker legends’ closets are rather large and plentiful. One thing that remains to be seen is how the WSOP plans on recognizing poker players with less-than-stellar pasts.

For instance, one of the primary men responsible for the publicizing of poker is Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston. The 1972 world champion cut an extremely colorful figure throughout his life, appearing on Johnny Carson‘s television show several times.

Unfortunately, Preston also faced an indictment in the latter part of his life for a decidedly icky crime. He was accused of indecency with one of his grandchildren, an allegation that involves some measure of sexual contact.

Disturbingly, Preston ended up striking a plea bargain and plead no contest to a lesser charge. He claimed he was innocent and plead that way to spare his family a court proceeding, but the stain of the charge indelibly colors his legacy.

There is also a problem if WSOP must recognize Chris “Jesus” Ferguson. The 2000 world champion has nearly $9 million in lifetime tournament winnings and is one of the most successful and skillful players of all time.

He is also one of the architects of the Full Tilt fiasco, wherein he and other founders of Full Tilt Poker allegedly stole hundreds of millions of dollars from players on his site. The poker community has never fully forgiven Ferguson for his role in the debacle, but there’s no denying that he is one of the best poker players ever to live.

The lessons of Pete Rose

The only right thing to do, however, is to recognize these players’ accomplishments on the felt alone. Regardless of their misbehavior away from the table, their excellence in card play is unlikely to be equaled.

The last thing that the WSOP should do is create a situation similar to Major League Baseball‘s treatment of Pete Rose. The MLB all-time hits leader remains a pariah and out of the Baseball Hall of Fame due to his extracurricular sports betting.

Recently, Rose has become something of a tragic figure in recent years due to the omission. Many observers have argued quite saliently that recognition of on-field accomplishments does not have to mean acceptance of off-field sins.

To the WSOP’s credit, its survey question about the four most important players in WSOP history includes choices for both Preston and Ferguson. However, should either of those players win this award, tournament officials will, no doubt, have to tread carefully.

We live in sensitive times. Unfortunately, neither Preston nor Ferguson’s actions would fail to gain anger, no matter when they occurred.

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