A Quick Fix for the Poker Hall of Fame: Separate Players and Contributors

Steve Ruddock : September 15th, 2016
Poker Hall of Fame


Normally Twitter debates end with both sides sticking to their guns, digging in their heels, and agreeing to disagree – sometimes politely and sometimes not so politely. But every so often there’s a breakthrough, and just such a eureka moment occurred on Twitter when a debate that included, among others, Daniel Negreanu, Doyle Brunson, Jesse May, and myself ended with Negreanu and I agreeing on what would seem to be a simple fix for the Poker Hall of Fame.

In this column I’ll take a deeper dive into this particular change, as well as how we could solve a couple of the other complaints people have lodged, which include:

  1. a need to further clarify the criterion for Hall of Fame eligibility;
  2. whether or not fans should have a hand in the nomination process; along with
  3. delineating players and contributors and expanding the number of yearly inductees I described on Twitter.

Step 1: Clarify the criterion for nomination and induction

The Poker Hall of Fame has made several changes over the years to help clarify what constitutes a poker Hall of Famer. However, other than the age restriction (now set at 40), the criterion remains somewhat vague and open to interpretation.

The other criterion are:

  1. A player must have played poker against acknowledged top competition;
  2. Played for high stakes;
  3. Played consistently well, gaining the respect of peers; and
  4. Stood the test of time.

Let’s go through this list George Carlin style (Google George Carlin + 10 Commandments if you don’t get the reference).

The first two qualifications are fairly redundant, as it’s pretty hard to play against top competition in low stakes games. Because of this redundancy, it’s simpler to just combine these two elements.

With a little tweak to the language we could also mash together the third and fourth qualifications, as they both speak to a player having been a winner for a certain period of time.

Finally, there is also a glaring omission in the qualifications which has been an unwritten rule in recent years, a player’s character. So like MLB, I think poker should do its best to keep the real scoundrels out of the Poker Hall of Fame.

Basically, a player should be judged on their results at the poker tables. The only other factor that should be considered (in my opinion) is their character, and this can only be used to keep someone out of the Hall of Fame, not help them get in.

Here’s how I would rewrite the criterion for the Poker Hall of Fame for players.

A player must:

  1. be at least 40 years old.
  2. have competed at the highest levels of the game for a period of no less than 10 years.
  3. have been considered one of the top players of their era (defined as a consecutive period of at least 10 years).
  4. have exhibited character and earned the respect of their peers.

Contributors are a different story. If we completely separate players from contributors than I believe a person’s contributions to the game shouldn’t be considered if they were nominated as a player.

On the other hand, if a person is nominated as a contributor, I feel their poker results can be a small part of the equation. Basically, playing the game at a high level isn’t necessary for a contributor, but it should be considered as a positive attribute (a resume padder if you will), provided they comported themselves well while playing.

Here’s why.

First, a lot of people that fall into the contributor category tend to be both, or become contributors after a playing career. In these cases they are often still thought of as players, which might hurt their ability to gain Hall of Fame attention strictly as a contributor.

Furthermore, part of being a contributor is often advancing the game, and being a known poker player certainly helps on this front, as it makes it easier to sell your vision or get interview with poker media outlets based on their familiarity with you as a player.

Finally, how you comport yourself as a player can help grow the game.

Right now, the only criteria for nomination as a contributor is:

  1. Or, for non-players, contributed to the overall growth and success of the game of poker, with indelible positive and lasting results.

I don’t see any reason to change this, provided players and contributors are nominated and inducted separately.

Step 2: Change the nomination process

Fan voting certainly helps keep people engaged, but it might be time for the Poker Hall of Fame should move away from a process that relies solely on fan voting to create its short-list of nominees. Instead they could use a model that uses a combination of fans, media, and current Hall of Famers to create a list of finalists.

This would almost certainly lead to a better rounded, less controversial, and more deserving list of finalists.

One big change would be the nomination of people as a player and as a contributor. When it comes to contributors, it might be better to eliminate the fan element from this process entirely, and leave determining the finalists in the contributor category to a select panel of media and current Hall of Famers, but I’m not averse to the idea of letting fans have a say in it.

Step 3: Delineate players from contributors and expand the number of people inducted

The reason I think separating contributors and players and expanding the number of inductees from two to three, is so important is three-fold.

First, all of the Poker Hall of Fame voters should know why someone has been nominated, and what category they belong to – we are seeing how this can turn into a completely unnecessary s**tstorm by looking at the debate over Chris Moneymaker this year. Is he a player or a contributor?

Second, it’s not fair to the contributors to pit them against players, many of whom are far better known than most of the contributors, and with so many players already in the Hall of Fame, they are likely more sympathetic to other players, particularly peers.

Finally, It’s going to be even harder to make the case for a contributor when more and more superstars of the poker boom become eligible for the Hall of Fame. Most of these players will still be at or very near their prime, and without a clear path for at least one contributor to be inducted every year, the Hall of Fame will become more and more player-focused.

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