The 2019 World Series of Poker is in full
swing and, normally around this time of year, the nominations would have opened
for the Poker Hall of Fame. There were changes this year, however, as it seems that
the staff of the World Series of Poker chose the nominees for the Poker Hall of
Fame in 2019 rather than the previous method of public nominations. Let’s look
at the list of nominees for induction (of which two people will be chosen) in
With Esfandiari as the only first-time nominee in the bunch in his very first year of eligibility (turned 40 in December 2018), the nominees are a group with some extensive and excellent resumes for the most part. We will handicap the field here, which presents some tough choices and unanswered questions as to who the two men who will be inducted in 2019 will be.
Tough Choices Abound
It is arguable that this is the most
qualified list of nominees that has been named in some time. Almost every
player on the list has covered the criteria for entry into the Hall, which is
Played against acknowledged top competition,
Minimum 40 years old (the “Chip Reese Rule”)
Played for high stakes
Played consistently well, gaining the respect of their peers,
Stood the test of time
There is also a qualification here for
non-players – industry personnel or “contributors” to the game – but…well, we
will get to this in a moment.
Handicapping the field, we can probably say that Esfandiari won’t be a first ballot Hall of Famer like Phil Ivey (2017) and Daniel Negreanu (2014). Nothing against Esfandiari, but he is up against some of the finest cash game players in the world and THREE former World Champions. While there would be a decent argument for ‘The Magician’ to get in (top ten all-time money list, WSOP and World Poker Tour titles, first winner of the “One Drop”), there are too many obstacles and other players he would have to overcome.
Matusow and Forrest have been waiting for
some time themselves, but this doesn’t look like their year, either. Matusow, a
four-time WSOP bracelet winner, has been out of the game for a couple of years
because of a bum back, but he’s been back playing in 2019 and seems to have his
game in good shape. Forrest is a bit more complex a story; he hasn’t been a player
at this year’s WSOP, but his six WSOP bracelets (not to mention his work with “The
Corporation” against Andy Beal in that now-legendary match) give Forrest some
Oppenheim, Chiu, Bjorin, Seed and Elezra
are all the ‘old school’ players that the Hall loves to induct. Their
experiences as cash game veterans give them credence with the veterans who will
be voting on the next inductees. Seed, in particular, has a bit more panache
with his 1996 WSOP Championship Event victory (but his activity in the game of
late has been…patchy, to say the best) and Elezra has won four WSOP bracelets
and has that “rags to riches” story that everyone loves.
Tell you what…we’ll get back to these last five.
Unanswered Questions for Two Nominees
There are two nominees left and there’s
plenty of unanswered questions for these men.
First up is the Shakespearean odyssey that
is Chris Ferguson. The 2000 WSOP Championship Event winner (and six-time winner
total) probably should have been in the Hall more than a decade ago, but a
little thing like the Full Tilt Poker debacle unfortunately sidetracked that
eventuality. Ferguson, as one of the de facto leaders of “Team Full Tilt,” was
viewed by many as being a part of its demise and, ultimately, one of those to
Ferguson went into a pariah status, taking
a six-year hiatus from the WSOP. In 2016, he would come back and, in 2017,
Ferguson would win his sixth bracelet and the coveted WSOP Player of the Year
championship. Alas, have the voters for the Hall (the 30 living members and 21
members of the media and industry experts) found a way to let Ferguson’s
bygones be forgotten?
Then there’s the situation of Moneymaker. The
unanswered questions for him would be whether he is going in as a player or as
a “contributor.” If he is to be judged as a player, then the answer would definitely
be no; with only $3.7 million in career earnings – and $3 million of that
through three tournaments (including one made for television event) – and the
singular bracelet (no other major championships or bracelets won), Moneymaker
falls in the category of such players (and former champs) as Brad Daugherty,
Hamid Dastmalchi, Noel Furlong and Robert Varkonyi, all players NOT in the Hall.
Even Jim Bechtel, who won the Main Event in 1993 (and isn’t in the Hall), has
tacked on a second bracelet to his record this year. And as far as playing
against top competition or high stakes play, there is no record of this.
If Moneymaker is to be inducted as a “contributor,”
then there is much more room for argument. There is no doubt that his 2003 WSOP
win (and the ad nauseam coverage that it received on ESPN), combined
with the perfect storm of the “lipstick cam,” the development of online poker
and the birth of the World Poker Tour, helped to make for the “golden age” of
poker in the Aughts. But there are also other contributors on the roster for
entry, people such as the late Terry Rogers, Liam Flood, Thor Hansen, Marcel
Luske, Bruno Fitoussi and Humberto Brenes who have done way more for bringing
the game of poker to Europe and Central America and WAY before Moneymaker was
around (and this doesn’t even touch on someone like tournament director Matt
Savage, who probably should have been inducted before this time simply for the
innovations he brought to the game of poker).
The Final Decision
At least one of the players inducted this
year will come from the “list of five” that we compiled earlier. Oppenheim,
Chiu, Bjorin, Seed and Elezra are all worthy of induction into the Hall. They mark
each box on the list of criteria and have the respect of the industry. For arguments
sake, Elezra and Chiu were the front runners until Oppenheim demonstrated his
skills at the $50,000 Poker Players’ Championship (finishing in seventh place).
Thus, the choice gets a bit cloudier.
If the Hall were to throw a monkey wrench into matters, they could induct Ferguson, which would send the internet community into a rabid frenzy. And the only question with Moneymaker is which route he is taking…if he wants to be a player, no. If he wants to go in as a contributor, then he must wait his turn for the lane to clear a bit.
Voting by the living members of the Poker Hall of Fame (30) and the 21-member panel of experts will conclude on July 8, at which time the inductees will be announced. The two men who will make up the class of 2019 for the Poker Hall of Fame will be honored during play at the final table of the $10,000 Championship Event, becoming the 57th and 58th inductees into the hallowed halls of poker’s Valhalla.
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