Did the Poker Hall of Fame Get It Right?

Steve Ruddock : October 14th, 2016
Poker Hall of Fame

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On October 26, Todd Brunson and Carlos Mortensen will join the ranks of the Poker Hall of Fame. The pair were selected by current Poker Hall of Famers and a panel of poker media members from a list of 10 finalists that were determined by public voting.

Here’s the list of 2016 finalists:

  1. Chris Bjorin
  2. Humberto Brenes
  3. Todd Brunson
  4. Eli Elezra
  5. Bruno Fitoussi
  6. Chris Moneymaker
  7. Carlos Mortensen
  8. Max Pescatori
  9. Matt Savage
  10. David “Devilfish” Ulliott

Did the voters get it right? Yes and no.

Both Mortensen and Brunson are widely seen as deserving Hall of Fame inductees, but that doesn’t mean they were the most deserving this year, or that the Hall of Fame voters got it right.

Both were somewhat shocking selections this year.

Mortensen’s selection is shocking because he should have been inducted years ago. Brunson’s is shocking because the first time nominee’s propensity to play in cash games means he flies well below the public radar of the game’s top poker players.

Here’s how I would rank this year’s 10 finalists from most deserving to least:

  1. Chris Moneymaker
  2. Carlos Mortensen
  3. David “Devilfish” Ulliott
  4. Matt Savage
  5. Todd Brunson
  6. Max Pescatori
  7. Bruno Fitoussi
  8. Chris Bjorin
  9. Eli Elezra
  10. Humberto Brenes

To be clear, I think the first seven (and possibly eight) are all Hall of Fame worthy, but I don’t think Todd Brunson is more deserving than Moneymaker, Devilfish or Matt Savage.

It’s the process that causes the biggest problem

Overall I think the Hall of Fame voters do a pretty good job of inducting the right people, but I also think the way voting is conducted – each voter can allot 1-10 points to one or more finalists however they see fit – lends to some favoritism, and some head-scratching decisions.

Still, since they moved to the current format of inducting two people each year, there is only one name that people really quibble over – Tom McAvoy. The rest of the inductees over this timeframe are widely considered to be deserving of the honor, even if they may not have been someone’s top choice.

  • 2010: Dan Harrington and Erik Seidel
  • 2011: Barry Greenstein and Linda Johnson
  • 2012: Eric Drache and Bryan “Sailor” Roberts
  • 2013: Tom McAvoy and Scotty Nguyen
  • 2014: Jack McClelland and Daniel Negreanu
  • 2015: Jennifer Harman and John Juanda
  • 2016: Carlos Mortensen and Todd Brunson

But if you peruse the list of people who are not in the Poker Hall of Fame it becomes pretty obvious that there is a real flaw in the process, and this flaw is only going to grow worse in the coming years as the poker boom era players start to become Hall of Fame eligible.

Hall of Fame voting favors current players

Poker success is pretty subjective to begin with, and measuring poker success with the information we have available borders on being an exercise in futility.

Tournament winnings are often gaudy numbers, but as many people have pointed out, we don’t know how much money players have spent on buy-ins, nor do we know what percentages of their action they’ve sold off.

Cash game results are even harder to pin down, and we mostly have to take a person’s word for it, or trust what their contemporaries have said about them. Not only are their results from card rooms sketchy at best, we don’t know what they’ve done in private games, and if we rely on their contemporaries we run into an issue, as it’s in a competitors interest to prop up their opponents.

Because it’s so subjective, essentially, you can make a Hall of Fame case for a lot of poker players. What ends up happening is the public votes for current players (players they know) and overlooks players who dominated before the poker boom, or whose best years are behind them.

With the list of finalists to choose from, Hall of Fame voters run into the real problem of having to vote on friends or potential enemies, and any number of other conflicts of interest, including what looks to be a very real regional bias.

On the player front, five names really stick out to me as egregious Hall of Fame oversights are:

  1. David Chiu
  2. David Ulliott
  3. Bobby Hof
  4. Ken Flaton
  5. Danny Robison

Other names people bring up are Mike Matusow, Huck Seed, Ted Forrest, and John Hennigan.

It seems less and less likely these players will get into the Hall of Fame going forward. Not because they’re not deserving, but because modern poker fans don’t really know who they are and they’re no longer in the poker spotlight.

Hybrid player/contributors

There also seems to be a tendency for Hall of Fame voters (at least the players that have been inducted) to look down their nose at people whose poker accomplishments are augmented by their contributions to the game.

That Chris Moneymaker wasn’t inducted this year boggles my mind, and I’m not the only one.

Honestly baffled that @CMONEYMAKER wasn't voted into PHOF. Nothing against @ToddBrunson or Carlos, but don't have an era named after them

— Paul Oresteen (@PaulOresteen) October 13, 2016

And when people discount Bruno Fittousi or Liam Flood because they don’t fit perfectly into the player or the contributor category it only hurts the game of poker and the Poker Hall of Fame.

What’s crazier is that this is a very new policy some voters are adhering to. Eric Drache was inducted in 2012 and Tom McAvoy in 2013 as a player/contributor hybrid.

It could be argued that current Hall of Famers, Mike Sexton, Linda Johnson, and even Bobby Baldwin fall into this category too.

Contributors tend to get snubbed

As bad as it is for players from a bygone era and the hybrid types, it’s quite possibly even worse for the people who are exclusively contributors.

It seems a person’s contributions to the game, what they’ve done to grow and promote the game, are viewed by many current Hall of Famers as secondary to player accomplishments.

There are a lot of names that deserve the Hall of Fame nod, but it’s unlikely they’ll ever get it under the current nomination and induction processes:

  1. Mike Caro
  2. David Sklansky
  3. Terry Rogers
  4. Matt Savage
  5. Andy Glazer

The fix for this is a separate Contributor category, with its own list of finalists and a single inductee each year (or every two, three, or five years depending on how many contributors you want to induct); bringing the total number of inductees up to three.

Bottom line

Even though it comes under constant criticism, the Poker Hall of Fame has been doing a good job of inducting deserving people.

Of course, there are definitely some spots for improvement.

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