7 Problems the Poker Hall of Fame Needs to Address

Posted by Steve Ruddock, October 19, 2014

Following the announcement of the ten Poker Hall of Fame finalists in September, I wrote that the institution is a bit of a joke, essentially a gimmick that isn't being taken serious. Many people, I said in an article published at 4Flush, are demanding changes to the Poker Hall of Fame, in particular, to its nominations process. "To be clear, I love the concept of the Poker Hall of Fame, but I want it to be done right," I emphasized.

Poker Hall of Fame, Photo credit: Jan Mueller's Poker Blog janmuellerspokerblog.blogspot.com/


The Poker Hall of Fame has been around since 1979, although it has been mainly overlooked and doing things its own way for the entire time. These days, it seems that people are finally starting to realize that there are several major flaws in the Hall of Fame selection process. 

These are not the first shots fired at the Hall of Fame's procedures, nominations, and candidates. As Earl Burton stated in 2013, "What we are lacking in the Hall of Fame nominations, however, is a sense of the true history of the game."

Now, in 2014 these shots have become louder and are coming from bigger names like Daniel Negreanu, who wrote a blog in September questioning many of the Hall of Fames procedures, such as whether age should matter, or if being a "nice" guy should help.

With legalized poker spreading across the U.S. (slowly, but it is spreading) and with a new emphasis on promoting poker in new ways and through new outlets, the media is perhaps a bit emboldened and the Poker Hall of Fame makes for an easy target. The Hall of Fame could be the most underutilized entity in poker.

But all that could change. Here are seven problems the Poker Hall of Fame needs to address.


Problem #1: Where is it?

The Hall of Fame is poker's highest honor, reserved for the game's most famous poker players, and it's a pretty big story for all of three weeks of the year.

The first week the Poker Hall of Fame gets some attention occurs in late May when they open up the nomination process to the public.

The second week when the Poker Hall of Fame pops back up on the radar comes in September when the 10 finalists are announced.

The final week-long mention comes during November, when the new inductees receive the game’s highest honor in between the WSOP final table broadcasts.

The other 49 weeks of the year, the Poker Hall of Fame is basically forgotten. And there is a good reason for that.

The reason the Poker Hall of Fame is only mentioned three times a year is that there is no physical Poker Hall of Fame to visit. It doesn't exist and it never has. The closest we've had to a physical Hall of Fame was the WSOP Champion's Gallery at Binion's Horseshoe --which was little more than a collection of 8"x10" glossy photos.

Poker needs a physical Hall of Fame, with plaques, dioramas, and interactive exhibits.

There are two solutions to this problem.

The first solution, the better solution, is to place the Hall of Fame in some unused corner of a Caesars Casino in Las Vegas (Caesars owns the Poker Hall of Fame) where people can stop by whenever they are in town.

The second solution would be to make the physical Poker Hall of Fame a temporary exhibit during the World Series of Poker tournament series, which would at least extend its moment in spotlight to three months instead of three weeks.

2010 Poker Hall of Fame ceremony, photo credit: CC-BY-3.0 Delfort, lasvegasvegas.com


Problem #2: The nomination process

The second issue that has been raised concerning the Poker Hall of Fame is the new nomination process, which allows the general public to nominate people. The top 10 eligible vote getters make up the list of final nominees (although the Hall of Fame voters, or a certain group of them, can apparently add someone to the list).

The problem with this method is that the general public doesn’t really have an intimate knowledge of poker history. The public tends to nominate the most famous players, and/or older players who happen to have a big year and get some press. Instead of the best-of-the-best, we get nominees who are the best-known and the current trending players.

Additionally, there are also organized social media campaigns by well-liked, but borderline Poker Hall of Famers trying to get on the ballot, and sometimes into the induction ceremony.

My solution for this is to eliminate the nomination process altogether and adopt a process similar to baseball. In this scenario, pretty much anyone of note is automatically placed on the ballot the first year that they are eligible, and candidates must meet voting thresholds to remain on the ballot in subsequent years.

Editor's note: our poker writer Lee Davy is a member of the select group of media who vote for the Poker Hall of Fame.


Problem #3: The voting process is opaque

Strangely, the results of the fan voting are never made public, nor are the votes cast by the Hall of Fame voters for the one or two people who will be inducted.

It would be interesting to see which players just missed out, and whether or not there are certain voting blocs that are commandeering the voting process.

The final votes are cast by the living Poker Hall of Fame members along with select members of the poker media, which is a list that is only partially known, and only because some people with votes have let it be known they have votes. Again, a stunning lack of transparency when you consider every baseball Hall of Fame voter is known and their ballots are made public.

This is made even more troublesome based on the way the votes are tallied, as each voter is able to assign 10 points to one or more finalists of their choosing, which considering the small number of voters could allow a small bloc of voters to get their person in rather easily.

Since the votes are never made public we really don't know if this is happening, and there wouldn't be any repercussions for a group of voters engaging in this.

It’s a pretty simple fix! Just make all voting and ballots public; problem solved.

Photo credit: University of Nevada, CC BY 3.0 Unported, Wikipedia.org / Outside of Binion's Horseshoein 1974. Left to right: Johnny Moss, Chill Wills, Amarillo Slim, Jack Binion, and Puggy Pearson


Problem #4: Handling the backlog

In 1979 the inaugural class of the Poker Hall of Fame featured seven inductees:

· Johnny Moss

· Nick "The Greek" Dandalos

· Felton "Corky" McCorquodale

· Red Winn

· Sid Wyman

· James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok

· Edmund Hoyle

Since then the inductees have for the most part been the bigger names of the modern game. This has left the Poker Hall of Fame with a serious problem: A backlog of deserving players that have little chance of ever being inducted.

The current list of 47 Poker Hall of Famers is made up almost entirely of the Road Gamblers of the 60’s and 70’s and their confederates. And now the trend is to elect the big names from the early days of the Poker Boom, with Barry Greenstein, Erik Seidel, Dan Harrington, Mike Sexton, and Scotty Nguyen all being inducted in the past four years – along with Linda Johnson, Tom McEvoy, and yet another Road Gambler in Sailor Roberts.

I’m not saying these men and women are not worthy; what I’m saying is there are other eras that need to be recognized.

Until the backlog is addressed, every online/Poker Boom era player that is inducted will face scrutiny.

In my opinion the best way to handle the backlog is to appoint a veterans committee that inducts one or two players/contributors each year, including posthumous inductees.

In order to be inducted by the veterans committee, nominations would have to be seniors, at least 65 years old.

Johnny Moss, Becky Binion Behnen, and Puggy Pearson at the 1974 World Series of Poker, CC BY 3.0, CryptoDerk, University of Nevada at Las Vegas


Problem #5: What makes someone a Hall of Famer?

This is the long one.

Instead of using the vague criteria currently in place, we should be working towards creating a definition that determines what actually makes someone worthy of being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

This definition will never be perfect or flawless, but we can certainly do better than “respected by their peers” and “competed at a high level,” requirements.

The first criterion I would adopt is that dominance is more important than longevity, and we should put an emphasis on quality of results and not quantity.

In simpler terms, the person has to be recognized as one of the greatest player of his/her generation, which in my purview is a dominant top player for at least half a decade. The optimal candidate has to be a really good player for another five years on top of that.

I’ll call this requirement a 'decade of excellence'.

Stu Ungar’s peak lasted from 1980 to about 1991 before he won the WSOP Main Event (for the third time) in 1997. But nobody is going to say Stu Ungar is not a Hall of Famer, since during his decade of dominance he transcended the game.

You don’t have to be on Stu Ungar’s level to be a Hall of Famer, but you need to be a dominant player. If your name has never been included in the sentence “one of the best… in the game,” you probably don’t belong in the Poker Hall of Fame.

Basically, were you a dominant player for an established period of time, or were you a player who merely had a few terrific years, or perhaps you were just a pretty good player for a long time? The first category is a Hall of Famer; people in the other two are probably not.

This is why I think a player like Mike Mizrachi is a borderline Hall of Famer. Right now, he has put together a few good years, but has never been considered a dominant player or one of the game’s best when he wasn’t on one of his heaters.

This is also why I think John Juanda is a borderline Hall of Famer. He's more a Craig Biggio type - a player who has been consistently good for a long period of time but never transcended the game or was a perennial Player of the Year contender.

Do they belong in the Hall of Fame?


But I would rather induct someone who dominated a decade like Ken Flaton or Bobby Hoff did, or even Gus Hansen. Gus was an absolutely dominant player from 2002 through 2008 and the case could be made to extend that date to 2012.

Vanessa Selbst would be another current player who simply dominates and transcends the game. Selbst would join a small number of top female poker players in the Hall of Fame. The list currently contains only two names, Barbara Enright and Linda Johnson.

Basically,instead of having the respect of your peers, Hall of Famers should be classified by their dominance.

Furthermore, we need to stop judging players based on the twilight of their careers. The Baseball Hall of Fame voters didn't dismiss Willie Mays because his numbers were crap during his last few seasons. Anyone who hangs on long enough is going to see a decline in abilities. Doyle Brunson will not be judged on his results from 2009 onward.

Poker Hall of Fame criteria


Problem #6: The lack of cash game players

If you're angry that there is a preponderance of tournament players being elected in recent years this simply has to do with popularity of tournaments, and the public's disinterest in cash games and their un-trackable results. Cash games players are hard to judge other than anecdotally.

If you don't like this situation, then, as I mentioned above, the nomination process needs to be revamped so that people who understand the entirety of the poker world can pick and choose the most deserving players.


Problem #7: Contributors and Dual Threats

The most contentious point about the Poker Hall of Fame seems to be when it comes to a non-player's contributions to the game, and whether or not they belong in the Poker Hall of Fame ahead of actual poker players. As a non-playing contributor myself, I think contributors should be elected separately.

We need to let one or two players in every year - one contributor, and one or two people who will be inducted by the veterans’ committee I outlined above.

But what about dual threats - individuals who have shown their skills both at the table and behind the table? What about the Barry Shulmans and Mike Caros of the world?

It would seem that the only remedy to this is to make a clear distinction between a person's contributions and poker acumen.

My solution to this dilemma would be that if you cannot get in based on your playing skills alone you are immediately bumped to the 'builder' category. Anyone nominated as a contributor could then use their poker resume to help them get inducted into the Hall of Fame, but if you are a nominee based on your poker ability, being a builder can't help you.

So, for people like Bruno Fitoussi or Barry Shulman who have decent, but non-Hall of Fame resumes in both categories, they would be nominated as contributors, but their poker accomplishments would help them toward selection.


Final thoughts

The Poker Hall of Fame needs a makeover if we are going to take it from being a fun little gimmick to the high honor its inductees deserve.

There will never be a physical Hall of Fame (see Problem #1) until the rest of the issues have been addressed.


Steve RuddockSteve Ruddock is a veteran writer in the poker and iGaming industry who covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. Follow Steve on Twitter at @SteveRuddock. Read all of Steve Ruddock's articles.



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