Hall of Fame Poker

The Betting Line: WSOP Announces Poker HOF Finalists for 2015

One of poker’s recent annual rites of passage returned yesterday with the announcement by the World Series of Poker and the Poker Hall of Fame’s Nominating Committee of this year’s list of ten finalists for possible induction into the HOF.

This year’s final ten, in alphabetical order:

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

The final ten were announced following the Poker Hall of Fame’s annual public nomination period, in which poker players and fans are asked to submit their choices for possible induction.   In detailing the nominees’ backgrounds, the WSOP acknowledged a flood of public support for Devilfish Ulliott, the popular British poker pro who died in April at age 61, following a lengthy bout with cancer.

hall-of-fame-logoUlliott may have received the most public nominations, even though the WSOP doesn’t release numerical tallies.  According to the brief Ulliott bio now available at WSOP.com, “What was clear by this public nomination process, David Ulliott was a beloved figure in poker whom was taken too soon, but not before he left an indelible impact on the game and all those he came in contact with.”

Ulliott’s broad fan-based support might or might not translate to HOF induction, as the public-nomination process is admittedly something of a show pony; the HOF’s Nominating Committee routinely pulls out some of the top nomination-receivers and replaces them with other candidates, for a myriad of not always divulged reasons.

With all that said, this year’s final ten fall into three neat clusters.  Three nominees return from last year’s final ten, when Daniel Negreanu and Jack McClelland received the nod: Chris Bjorin, Bruno Fitoussi and Jennifer Harman.

Three other nominees return to the final ten having previously been finalists in earlier years, but not in 2014: David Chiu, John Juanda and Carlos Mortensen.

Finally, four of this year’s nominees are making a first-time appearance in the final ten: Italy’s Max Pescatori, Irish Open founder Terry Rogers, US-based but internationally-known tournament director Matt Savage, and, of course, Ulliott.

A couple of other things to note before getting on to discussion of who might get the nod in a few weeks.  First, the WSOP and the HOF’s Nominating Committee have come under increasing heat for its decades of insular selections, almost entirely US-based and drawn heavily from the “good ol’ boy” Las Vegas poker scene of the ’70s and early ’80s.

That’s a seminal period for poker’s development, to be sure, but the HOF may be on the verge of being irrepairably overrepresented by that tight Vegas-centric group, to the detriment of people elsewhere around the globe who helped bring poker to the masses.  That’s why the presence of Irish Open founder Rogers (almost certainly done by the nominating committee) and France’s Fitoussi (probably by the nominating committee as well) is a welcome sign.

Another interesting development among this year’s final ten is that only two of these finalists are native-born Americans — Jen Harman and Matt Savage.  Several of the other people on the list are foreign-born players or player-execs who achieved considerable fame in poker both in the US and abroad, and that list includes virtually the entire rest of the list.   Even Rogers, alternately known as Ireland’s “Godfather of Poker” or the “Red Menace,” played a few US events in the ’70s and ’80s but was really known for his important work on the European scene.

If the Poker HOF continues to stick with its US-centric tendencies, then the easy choices for the committee would be Harman and Savage, a widely popular figure in poker. Both of them are very worthy nominees and will eventually be enshrined.  I think, though, that some of the 39 voters who comprise this year’s voting bloc are also recognizing that the HOF’s considerable pro-US skew needs some corrective attention.

How the finalist voting works is that the committee of 39 eligible voters — 23 former WSOP main event winners and 16 media representatives — each receive 10 “points” which they can award to between one and three of the nominees.  Then, the Poker HOF chooses the top two vote-getters, subject to a couple of other restrictions but recently tweaked so that exactly two people are elected in most years.

How would I award ten points if I was voting this year for the Poker HOF?  I think I’d go like this:

Jen Harman:  5

Carlos Mortensen: 4

Terry Rogers: 1

That’s done with my apologies (not that my votes count) to several of the other candidates, who I also deem worthy of induction.  There’s only one or two who I don’t think have yet risen to whatever indeterminate level of achievement marks HOF worthiness, whatever that it.

As to why those three, I think Harman has stood the test of time in some of the world’s toughest poker games, which have always been her primary focus rather than the tournament scene.  Harman does, of course, have a couple of WSOP bracelets, among other tourney achievements.

Mortensen, for his part, has a phenomenal tourney track record wherever he’s played, including a WSOP main event win (2001), a bragging point that simply can’t ever be ignored — in particular since that’s the single point of eligibility that qualifies more than 60% of the HOF’s voting committee for participation.  Mortensen is also the only such WSOP ME former winner among this year’s final ten.

And then there’s Rogers, the oft-overlooked force behind the Irish Poker Open, one of first big European events.  I would not be surprised to learn in a few weeks that there had been a push among the election committee’s older members to strongly consider Rogers, in the same manner that some other old-time poker faces have bee enshrined in recent years.  Mind, of course, that Rogers is fully deserving of the honor, and it would also be a step in the right direction toward correcting the HOF’s considerable pro-US skew.

For several of the others, the future is bright.  There’s only a couple of finalists who if elected this year would be a total shock, and I’m not going to name them.

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