Hall of Fame Poker

Voting for the Poker Hall of Fame? Good Luck With All That.

Earlier today, Haley Hintze told you about the ten finalists for the Poker Hall of Fame and a few of her thoughts on their candidacies. She was a Hall of Fame voter in 2009, but I have never been honored to be one of the media members to have my hands on a ballot and while my mother thinks I should be, I am starting to be a little relieved that I am not. Figuring out who deserves my vote (other than Phil Ivey this year) is an exercise that twists my brain. Plus, I would probably feel obligated to write an article about my ballot and subject myself to scorn from the four or five people who read my stuff.

For me (and I suspect everyone else), what makes selecting Poker Hall of Famers so damn mind-bending is that there is limited, concrete information on what players have actually accomplished in their careers. In mainstream sports like baseball, basketball, and football, we have endless amounts of statistics by which to evaluate players. Sure, the gate keepers of the Halls of Fame also look at subjective measures like “did the player make his teammates better,” “hustle,” and “sport IQ,” but by and large, it is the stats that are looked at and the rest of the “intangibles” are used to fill in the gaps or break perceived ties.

For the most part, all we have in poker as far as statistics go are live tournament results, thanks to sites like TheHendonMob.com. We have no problem ranking players by World Series of Poker bracelets, World Poker Tour titles, “major” championships, total prize money won, and the like. But that’s really it. We have absolutely zero stats for live cash games. Certainly, we know who many of the players are who are great, high stakes cash game players, but that is only based on reputation, on what other players divulge.

Online, we do have a lot of info on tournament stats thanks to PocketFives, but that is still limited to players who willingly provide their screen names to be tracked (and the poker rooms which the site tracks). There is also some info on cash game stats, but that volume of records out there is wholly inadequate to make any sort of determinations, especially as the poker rooms have been continuing to fight data mining sites.

And even in areas like live tournaments in which we do have plenty of data, evaluations still aren’t cut and dry. It has become a joke, but the cliché, “but how much did you lose?” can come into play at times. It is impressive if someone cashes 15 times at the WSOP, but how many tournaments did he enter in order to accomplish that? Did the player spend more on buy-ins than he won? Is a player who has won $13 million in live tourneys really amazing or did he just bink two or three big ones only to be breaking even in the rest? Is that $13 million just due to longevity?

I think most people would say that, when it comes to tournament record, they know someone is worthy of Hall of Fame consideration when they see it, and that isn’t an invalid stance. The point is that even with decades worth of live tourney data, not all answers are black or white.

The other thing, to me, that makes voting for the Poker Hall of Fame such a challenge is that only one or two players are inducted every year. We have ten finalists, many or all of whom are deserving, plus a number more that didn’t even make the finalist cut for whom one could make a legitimate Hall of Fame argument.

We know Phil Ivey is going to get voted in. His WSOP record alone is worthy and he is a renowned cash game player. One could even consider him a contributor in an odd sense, as even when he was losing six and seven figures, he brought eyeballs to online cash games.

But after him, the most that will get in this year is one. At least half of the candidates (yes, I know there are nine other candidates – just humor me) could be elected and nobody would have a problem with any of them. But, similar to the cutthroat competition for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, because there are so many worthy candidates, a backlog continues to grow each year.

I suspect that this backlog will eventually shrink, as, for the most part, everyone who should be considered already has been considered. There probably aren’t many poker players out there who have been eligible for the Hall and will one day accomplish what is necessary to garner enough votes for induction. The stars who have not been considered yet are likely too young; by the time they are eligible and have accomplished enough, those in the HOF backlog will either have been voted in or will fade from Hall of Fame consciousness.

On the bright side, aside from certain shoo-ins like Phil Ivey, Doyle Brunson, or Daniel Negreanu, evaluating people for any sort of Hall of Fame should require much thought. It can be a fun thought exercise, but it’s also one I’m not so sure I want to sweat out.


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