Established in 1979, the Poker Hall of Fame is an exclusive membership of some of poker’s most prominent players as well as crucial contributors who have helped grow the game we love to play.
As it stands, there are currently 58 people who have been inducted, 31 of whom are still living with us today. The most recent inductees, David Oppenheim and 2003 WSOP Champion Chris Moneymaker made up the class of 2019. Sadly, we recently said goodbye to Hall of Famer Mike Sexton whose influence on poker will be cherished by many for decades to come. A loss that was felt by so many and the tributes that followed were a testament to Mike’s influence in the world of poker.
Hall of Fame Criteria
There are stringent criteria for nominations, to help not oversaturate Poker Hall of Fame so that it still maintains the element of prestige. The criteria that is used to shortlist nominees are as followed.
- Must have played against the acknowledged best players in the game
- Must be at least 40 years old
- Played for high stakes
- Someone whose skills are recognised by peers
- Stood the test of time
- For non-players, helped with the growth of poker with lasting and positive results
The announcement to mark the new inductees usually aligns with the final table of the WSOP Main Event but due to the COVID-19 pandemic which has disrupted live poker and caused the postponement of the 2020 WSOP, no new Hall of Fae inductees have been announced either.
In usual circumstances, one or two people are inducted each year but with the deferral from this year, we may possibly see more inductees into the Hall of Fame in 2021.
So, here are my predictions, in no particular order, of the individuals who I believe have earned the right to be members of this prestigious poker club.
1. Isai Scheinberg
Isai Scheinberg is the co-founder of Pokerstars, the biggest online poker platform in the world currently. Stars has been the number one site for most players since the birth of online poker. So as far as non-players go, Scheinberg’s work has allowed countless players to make a fortune and opened the market to anyone with a computer or laptop.
Whilst he was embroiled in legal issues for the last decade due to the Black Friday scandal, Scheinberg did nonetheless ensure that monies were refunded to players, plus PokerStars helped get former Full Tilt and Absolute Poker customers reimbursed. Also, Scheinberg’s personal legal saga is now finally over.
This could be a contentious nominee for sure, but there’s no denying the important contributions that Scheinberg has given to the poker world.
2. Matt Savage
Has there ever been a more universally loved tournament director than Matt Savage? The WPT Executive Tournament Director has been shortlisted several times to be inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame but has not yet made the final cut.
A staple at WSOP and WPT events for the entirety of his career, Savage has overseen many of poker’s finest moments. He has officiated more televised poker episodes than anyone else and even has a WSOP Final Table appearance to his name. Savage was also the inaugural member of the Poker Manager Hall of Fame in 2003.
It seems a matter of when and not if, for Savage to finally be an inductee. Perhaps 2021 would be a fitting year for Savage’s induction as it marks the 20th anniversary of the Tournament Directors Association, an organisation he co-founded which helped standardize poker tournament rules across the world.
3. Eli Elezra
A staple fixture for decades in the highest stakes cash games in the world, regularly playing against the likes of Doyle Brunson, Chip Reese, and other legendary Hall of Famers in Bobby’s Room at the Bellagio, Eli Elezra was a star of arguably the best ever televised poker series, High Stakes Poker. Though mainly a cash game player, he’s got a World Poker Tour Championship as well as four WSOP bracelets to his name, helping to give him close to $4 million in career tournament earnings.
Fascinatingly, Fascinatingly, Elezra has won three of his four WSOP bracelets since 2013, all while in his fifties, plus he’s adding a further six top-three placements in the WSOP in that time!
A true poker legend who has undoubtedly stood the test of time, you can learn more about Elezra’s life and career in his recently published autobiography, Pulling the Trigger.
4. Antonio Esfandiari
Poker’s favourite magician, Antonio Esfandiari also cut his teeth and made his name on High Stakes Poker. A prominent figure in televised poker, Esfandiari is one of the world’s most famous people to take to the felt.
A former table topper on the all-time money list, Esfandiari has over $27 million in tournament winnings and was the first ever winner of the WSOP Big One for One Drop. He has a further two WSOP bracelets and two WPT titles to add to his impressive list of achievements. Even if 2021 ends up not being his year, Esfandiari is a surefire inductee in the near future.
5. Paul Phua
A name I have only been familiar with for the last year or so, there’s no denying that Paul Phua has masterminded some brilliance in the poker industry.
The founder of Triton Poker has revolutionised the high stakes poker game, most notably with the Triton Cash Game series as well as organising the biggest ever buy-in poker tournament, the Triton London – A Helping Hand for Charity which cost $1.05 million to enter.
Phua himself is sharp at the poker table, with just shy of $20 million in winnings, since 2012 according to the HendonMob database, as well as playing in the eye-watering stakes games he sets up.
Recognized as the 2019 Industry Person of the Year by the Global Poker Awards, the distinction may perhaps a stepping stone for Phua’s eventual induction into the Poker Hall of Fame.
To be considered for @gpi Awards’ Industry Person Of The Year is a great honour and privilege. I can’t express how grateful I am to be the recipient of this award. Thank you everyone from my team at @tritonpoker and also my lovely supporters! pic.twitter.com/XAPLbqA6eP
— Paul Phua Poker (@paulphuapoker) March 7, 2020
6. Patrik Antonius
Like others on this list, Patrik Antonius became one of the most famous faces in poker thanks to appearances on High Stakes Poker, The Big Game and Poker After Dark. He had countless battles with the likes of Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu and Tom Dwan.
Finnish-born Antonius has won WPT and EPT titles, but has failed to capture a WSOP title in his three final table appearances. That being said though, his approach to poker is admired by all and is still highly regarded as one of the best cash game players and heads-up specialist. He’ll be turning 40 in December, so 2021 marks the first year he’ll be eligible for induction. While he’s undoubtedly a worthy nominee, some may feel that he’ll first need a WSOP bracelet to cement his candidcacy.
7. Gus Hansen
Gus ‘The Great Dane’ Hansen is another highly respected high stakes cash game player who has also had a successful poker tournament career. The first player to record three WPT open tournament wins including a WSOP bracelet win, Hansen quite rightly has a claim to be a 2021 Poker Hall of Fame inductee.
Hansen is respected among his peers for aggressiveness and unique style of play and still grinds in the world-famous Bobby’s Room playing high stakes poker.