Daniel Negreanu

Daniel Negreanu Has Issues with Poker Hall of Fame Election Process

The finalists for the Poker Hall of Fame’s Class of 2014 were announced last week and the final balloting is now in the hands of a committee of 41 living Hall of Famers and members of the poker media. Opinions on who deserves election and who does not abound, but one man in particular expressed his feelings about the process recently. Last Tuesday, Daniel Negreanu, who is a mortal lock to make the Hall of Fame, made a lengthy post on his blog at FullContactPoker.com expressing his concern about the nomination criteria and how it might be interpreted.

First, let’s review the criteria. To be considered for the Poker Hall of Fame, the guidelines are as follows:

• 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.

The original nomination process was open to the public. From there, a list of the top ten votegetters was assembled, and perhaps adjusted by a Caesars review committee.  Eventually, ten finalists were named; in alphabetical order: Chris Bjorin, Humberto Brenes, Bruno Fitoussi, Ted Forrest, Jennifer Harman, Bob Hooks, Mike Matusow, Jack McClelland, Negreanu, and Huck Seed. Of those ten, a maximum of two can be elected this year.

Right off the bat, Negreanu questioned the first round of nominations. Anyone and everyone was allowed to submit names for nomination and we have always been led to believe that the top ten nominees become the finalists. Negreanu doesn’t think this was exactly the case, saying:

Bob Hooks is on the list and I can’t imagine he was voted in by the fans. I’m embarrassed to say that while I have heard the name before, I have no idea who he is or what his accomplishments are. If I don’t know, then the only ones who would, would likely have to be poker historians. I don’t think the general public is familiar with him, so I’m led to believe that his name was added by the WSOP.

In my brief write-up on each of the nominees (I owe a thank-you to WSOP.com for much of the player bios), I wrote that Hooks was “perhaps the least recognizable name on this list.” I don’t feel so bad for saying that now that I know Negreanu didn’t even know anything about him.

Negreanu also questioned whether the criterion “be a minimum of 40 years old at the time of nomination” should even be one. “Kid Poker,” who himself is just now eligible for the Hall of Fame for the first time because he finally turned 40, feels the age requirement was added to help define the “stood the test of time” item. “So the question is,” he wrote, “whether or not someone who is 75 years old, no longer at their peak or even playing, trumps the credentials of someone 45 years old who has been in the game for, say, 20 odd years?”

Daniel Negreanu (C) PokerStars

Daniel Negreanu (C) PokerStars

He asked how other sports Halls of Fame work, but it is hard to compare poker to other sports. In baseball, for example, players must be retired from the game for five years before being eligible for nomination (there have been a few exceptions made). But baseball players and other athletes have defined careers: they typically start in their late teens or twenties and if they are fortunate, get to play into their thirties. Eventually, they can’t physically keep up with the younger guys anymore and officially retire. Poker players, on the other hand, can keep playing on into their seventies and longer, so it wouldn’t make sense to have the same age/retirement requirements as in other sports.

“…it just makes sense to me to induct the most deserving person each year,” regardless of age, Negreanu said. He specifically sticks up for his friend John Juanda, who was not amongst the ten finalists. He compares Juanda, 43, to Bjorin, 66, saying while Bjorin is clearly a fantastic player, Juanda’s “tournament results are better overall, and he has played the highest stakes cash games in the world, gaining the respect of his peers.” Not that Bjorin isn’t deserving of consideration, but not ahead of Juanda. Negreanu feels that Juanda is getting the short end of the stick just because of his age.

And then there is the “nice guy” and “ambassador” factor. He summed it up right away, saying, “I don’t think the HOF should be a popularity contest. Being a “nice guy” isn’t one of the criteria. I don’t think anyone would classify Johnny Moss or Stu Ungar as nice guys, but both clearly have a place in the poker hall of fame. Now, Tom McEvoy is most certainly a nice guy, and I think that’s one of the key reasons he was inducted last year, despite the[re] being more qualified candidates based on the criteria.”

Negreanu argued that the final criterion on the list, the one for “non-players,” is where some of that “feel good” stuff could come into play. The other five are for players, and if a player meets those requirements, put him in, even if he rustled jimmies. “When I read articles written by various poker media outlets I think there is way too much emphasis on things that have nothing at all to do with the criteria, “ he wrote. “When Phil Ivey turns 40, he deserves to be in. That would be true even if in the next three years he finds himself in a Ray Rice like scandal, curses the game, shuns the media, or even pees on a dealer’s leg after losing a pot.”

Now, while I have not written any editorials on who I would vote for (I am not one of the esteemed members of the poker media with a final HOF vote), I have mentioned a player’s personality and ambassadorship when detailing their history. And while I do agree with Daniel Negreanu that a player should not be excluded if he tended to be a bit of an asshole, but otherwise a totally Hall of Fame-worthy player, I disagree that we shouldn’t care at all about non-playing factors for poker players. He said that even Howard Lederer, what with his involvement in the Full Tilt Poker scandal, should not be disqualified from induction (he added that Lederer isn’t deserving for other, normal reasons). In a case where someone is at the center of one of the two biggest stains on the online poker industry, I feel that exclusion from accolades is completely justified. You steal millions from players or deliberately cheat them in some way, you can pretty much screw off. I don’t want you at my poker table, let alone in the Hall of Fame.

And for someone who is just on the edge of being deserving of the Hall of Fame based solely on his or her exploits at the tables, I don’t mind tipping the scales a little if they were a tremendous person or otherwise a fantastic ambassador of the game. I wouldn’t put someone like that in over a much more deserving player (such as Negreanu), but in a year with no obvious selections, I would have no problem with it.

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