Phil Ivey was finally inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2017. Joining him was David “DevilFish” Ulliott, a player who many feel should have been inducted in 2015.
Now we look forward to 2018 and wonder who will be the next pair inducted into the Hall of Fame. Debates have already begun, as has debate on whether changes need to be made to the HOF and its voting practices.
For a long time now, I’ve been an advocate of shaking things up in the Poker Hall of Fame, so I felt compelled to make a list of seven things that ought to change.
1. Make the Induction a Spectacle
Prior to this year, induction into the Poker Hall of Fame usually included some type of awards dinner or induction ceremony. This year, the induction was announced on ESPN TV during a break. That’s it.
— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) July 22, 2017
If you ask me, that’s a lame way to induct players into the Poker Hall of Fame. It seemed a bit disrespectful to both players to do it in such a tame fashion. I’ve seen a couple of arguments stating that Ivey wouldn’t have shown up to receive the award. So what? Poker should have still gotten together if for no other reason than to celebrate the life and career of DevilFish.
— WSOP (@WSOP) July 22, 2017
Furthermore, I think that the induction into the Poker Hall of Fame should be more of a spectacle than it has ever been. It ought to be an occasion to showcase the elite of the game and the players who are being enshrined.
Why can’t Poker Central, for example, put together a tribute show for the Poker Hall of Fame each year and highlight the life and career of the inducted players? If the person being inducted isn’t willing to appear, or unable as in the case of Ulliott, the media outlet could conduct extensive interviews with other players and mega-fans.
Another idea would be to have a roast of Poker Hall of Fame inductees. Prior to his death, there was a famous roast of the legendary John Bonetti. It was very popular among the players and would be something that poker fans would eat up.
This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence for those being inducted, so why not give it the treatment it deserves?
What actually happens when a player makes it into the Poker Hall of Fame? Presently, they get the right to vote in future elections and their name listed on the HOF section of WSOP.com.
That’s it. No ring, trophy, or even a gaudy plaque. They don’t even have a banner hanging at the World Series of Poker.
A poker fan can’t hop into their car, make the trek to Las Vegas and go to a physical Hall of Fame. Fans of other sports have a physical location they can go visit to relive the history of the greats in their sport. Cooperstown, anyone?
The Poker Hall of Fame has a list of names on a website with links to the players’ WSOP profiles. While it’s certainly an honor to get into the Poker Hall of Fame, it would be nice to have a permanent shrine to players.
Something that I’ve advocated for in a past is a “floating” Hall of Fame. If Caesars can’t figure out where they want to put a permanent one, create a set/exhibition that can travel around to major events, like the WSOP Circuit.
If nothing else, have a room set up at the Rio for a Poker Hall of Fame complete with plaques, bios, videos, and more of past inductees. This would allow fans to interact with poker history in a way they currently cannot without individual effort.
3. Institute a Veterans Committee
I have no problem with the Poker Hall of Fame including builders, but I do not believe that they should be part of the standard vote. Whenever I see someone like Matt Savage or Mori Eskandani on a list of finalists, I think of at least a dozen different players whose spot is being “taken”.
In the past, I have proposed a Veterans Committee for the Poker Hall of Fame and I am not alone, with Earl Burton being another notable advocate.
This is how we could have the builders, as well as some of the forgotten grinders of the past nominated and inducted into the Hall. For example, Chad Holloway reminded the world about the legendary Bob Hooks a couple of years back, but it seems very unlikely that Mr. Hooks will ever get into the Hall of Fame unless it is via a Veterans Committee.
4. Reduce the Importance or Impact of Fan Voting
While I understand the importance of including the average poker fan in the voting process, they have a bit too much power and influence as far as the Poker Hall of Fame is concerned. Year after year there are names on the list of finalists that are there only there because they have done well recently, usually at the World Series of Poker.
For example, do you really think that Mike Matusow would have gotten onto the list of finalists this year if he wasn’t having a comeback type of year that’s very visible to fans? Probably not.
I completely think Matusow is deserving and I personally want to see him in. With that said, look at the 2015 and 2016 lists of finalists. Where was Matusow’s name? Nowhere to be seen, and that is because he was not performing well at the time.
The fans should definitely be part of the voting but I think that only 1–3 of the 10 finalists should be from fan voting. Take the top three from fan voting and add them to the list.
As for rest of the list, criteria should be established. Allow the existing Poker Hall of Famers to recommend 3–4 players for inclusion. The remainder ought to be nominated via a panel of poker media, industry, and poker professionals, similar to what the Global Poker Index does for the American Poker Awards.
Reducing the fan impact could help in crafting a wider variety of nominees each year and reduce the number of “what have you done for me lately” finalists we see annually.
5. Guidelines Need to Reflect the Reality of Today’s Poker World
The Poker Hall of Fame needs to update their induction criteria to reflect the modern poker world. Presently, the criteria for induction are:
- A player must have played poker against acknowledged top competition
- Be a minimum of 40 years old at time of nomination
- Played for high stakes
- Played consistently well, gaining the respect of peers
- Stood the test of time
- Or, for non-players, contributed to the overall growth and success of the game of poker, with indelible positive and lasting results.
Some feel that one must play in high-stakes cash games in order to be considered. Also, it is clear that consideration is focused exclusively on live play.
Old school ways of thinking regarding the Poker Hall of Fame need to change. How many poker players have won millions playing the highest stakes cash games online but don’t frequent live cash games? The same can also be asked with regard to online poker tournament players.
Speaking of tournaments, should someone who has won $20 to $30 million in live poker tournaments be considered for the Poker Hall of Fame? They may or may not have played against the best in the world in cash games, but have bested everyone in tournaments.
For years, many thought that Carlos Mortensen would not get into the Hall because he was known primarily as a tournament player. Thankfully, that changed last year when he was inducted. He certainly deserved it and hopefully this set a precedent for other successful tournament players.
New guidelines are also needed for online poker players to have a reasonable shot at enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. For example, a player like Chris Moorman has a solid live poker resume but not one that’s HOF-worthy. However, if you consider he’s #1 all-time in online tournament earnings, he’s definitely worthy.
Globally, many people who start gambling at top online casino sites eventually get the itch to try poker and thus get their start at online poker rooms. Many of those players have played more hands in a few short years than some Poker Hall of Famers have in their entire career! Some have gone on to win (and lose) more money online than some of those legends have in live poker, yet because they’ve done so online only the hardcore poker fans know they exist. Should these types of players be relegated to “random statistics” in poker history?
We haven’t event touched the growing number of players who have bloated tournament earnings thanks to High Roller tournaments. How will that skew future Poker Hall of Fame considerations?
Changing the criteria is a necessary step that is needed to help the Poker Hall of Fame grow in the future but may not be the easiest thing to accomplish. One thing that is clear is that the criteria used in 1980 to induct players should not be the same for those going into the Hall 5, 10, or 20 years from now, as it has the potential to exclude many deserving players who will become eligible in the future.
6. Caesars Should Sell the Poker Hall of Fame
While Caesars proudly owns the Poker Hall of Fame, it is almost an afterthought in comparison to their expansion of the World Series of Poker brand. The fact that the induction was no more than an announcement during the Main Event final table break made it seem almost like a “redheaded stepchild” in the company.
I’d like to see the Poker Hall of Fame sold to another company that can give it the attention it deserves and a permanent home. An organization like the Global Poker Index would be perfect because it isn’t “too big” to give the Poker Hall of Fame the attention it needs. Moreover, I think acquiring the Poker Hall of Fame would be a big feather in the GPI’s corporate hat.
Next, for those wanting PokerStars founder Isai Scheinberg inducted, don’t hold your breath. Since he is still “at large” and never answered the Black Friday indictments, it is hard to see him ever getting in as long as Caesars controls the WSOP. He hasn’t even made the list of finalists, and I doubt it will happen until he either answers charges or the Poker Hall of Fame is out of Caesars’ hands.
— Danny Maxwell (@MannyDaxwell) October 3, 2015
Why? WSOP.com. What would it look like to have someone in their Hall of Fame who is still facing indictment for Black Friday? That would potentially raise some suitability questions in the future, especially in states that choose to enact a bad actor clause. I’ve been told that line of thinking is a bit simple-minded, but hasn’t that type of thinking been holding up things regarding online poker’s legalization in California for years.
7. Increase the Number of Players Inducted Each Year
It the present rate of induction, we will never induct everyone deserving of going into the Poker Hall of Fame. There’s already a backlog and, as players continue to age, there are more deserving individuals becoming eligible almost every year.
That’s why the powers that be ought to consider raising the maximum number of inductees to four, rather than the current two. This would help clear up the backlog a bit and make future Hall of Fame classes a bit more reflective of the current state of poker.
Maybe a mechanism akin to Major League Baseball’s maximum years of eligibility/times on the short list ought to be considered, after which candidates would be moved to the Veterans Committee for consideration. Regardless of how it’s done, an increase in number inductions is needed to eliminate the backlog.