Will 2016 Be the Year the Poker Hall of Fame Goes International?

It’s the middle of summer, and, as has been the case in recent years, it’s also the middle of the Poker Hall of Fame’s annual public-nomination process. While we’ve already offered a look at the process in general and some of the leading candidates to be enshrined in 2016, today we’ll ask a more focused question: Is 2016 the year the Poker Hall of Fame goes international?

hall-of-fame-logoIt’s not a question to be scoffed at. Through the quirks of the Poker Hall of Fame’s origins and a series of selection-process modifications that have probably been more about publicizing the HOF as much as truly creating the best selection process possible, the entity has grown upon itself in a distinctly US- and Las Vegas-focused way. As a result, there’s been a perceived shunning of worthy nominees and notables who’ve made their mark more on the international scene.

It’s also certainly not an intentional or vindictive thing, but more a “vote for what you know” mindset on the part of the old-time Vegas poker pros and Texas road gamblers who helped establish poker’s presence in Sin City. That’s certainly an important component in poker’s longer overall history, but much like baseball’s “Golden Era,” that ’70s and 80s period appears over-represented in the Poker Hall of Fame.

It’s also true, looking at the flip side of the coin, that the Poker Hall of Fame’s voters are way overdue in making the HOF a truly international entity. There are 46 members of the HOF, and only five were born outside the United States. Excluding the somewhat farcical inclusion of Sir Edmund Hoyle, the 17th-century, British card-playing historian who codified the rules of many card games (but notably not poker, which didn’t exist in that era), there are really only four HOF members not born in the US – and all four are either naturalized US citizens or permanent residents.

Those four are Johnny Chan (born in China), Scotty Nguyen (Vietnam), John Juanda (Indonesia), and Daniel Negreanu (originally of Canada). Say what you will, but the overriding truth is that to date, the Poker Hall of Fame has not made itself an outreaching, international honor.

It’s also not really the fault of the the Poker Hall of Fame’s current owners, Caesars Entertainment and the WSOP. It’s instead more a case of the metaphorical pig in a poke, and the folks at the WSOP have been slowly modifying the framework surrounding the HOF, in the hopes of creating something someday, with more international marketability. That is lacking at the present.

Still, let’s pretend 2016 is the year when all those former winners of the WSOP main event wake up and realize that instead of honoring yet another Texas road gambler, there are other people just as deserving, and who might have done as much in poker despite having the misfortune of being born overseas.

Looking back at recent lists of HOF finalists gives us at least a short list of international poker motables who might be on the short list, should some global awareness suddenly find its way into the HOF voters’ collective conscious. These are the international people who have made the finalists’ list in recent years:

  • Chris Bjorin (finalist in four previous years, 2012-15). Bjorin ranks very high on the all-time list of WSOP tourney cashes and has been a recognizable pro for decades. Eventually, one would think he’d get in.
  • David Chiu (finalist in 2012, ’13, 15). The popular Chiu fits the Asian-born/US-based poker-pro template, a la Chan, Scotty Nguyen and Juanda.
  • Bruno Fitoussi (finalist in 2014, ’15). The “King” of French poker, Fitoussi has also been a familiar – though occasional – presence on the US poker scene for almost two decades, building a career resume that offers several noteworthy achievements.
  • Carlos Mortensen (finalist in 2013, ’15). “The Matador”’s tourney achievements are among the strongest of all players currently not enshrined, and hes been a global star for a full decade and a half.
  • Thor Hanson (finalist in 2012, ’13). Hanson, Norway’s long renowned “Godfather of Poker,” is another long-time star on both sides of the pond who receives continuing HOF consideration.

Several other international poker notables have been named as HOF finalists exactly once in the HOF’s open-nomination/public-finalist era, which goes back to 2009. That list includes:

  • Marcel Luske
  • Humberto Brenes
  • David “Devilfish” Ulliott (deceased)
  • Men Nguyen
  • Terry Rogers (deceased, founder of Irish Poker Open)
  • Max Pescatori

As to who actually receives the call in 2016, that remains to be seen. However, it would be nice to see those with the power to vote to recognize that to truly be the signature entity, the true Hall of Fame for all of poker, that its high time the game’s international stars receive the recognition they deserve.

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