The Poker Hall of Fame, curated by the World Series of Poker (WSOP) has announced the list of finalists for its 2015 inductees. Ten players have been nominated, from which two will be selected for inclusion in the Hall of Fame. Over the next two weeks, we’ll look at their stories and the cases for – and sometimes against – their inclusion.
Looking at the list of nominees this year, it’s almost a sure thing that the Hall of Fame will have its first non-North American member this year, and Bruno Fitoussi is one of those challenging for that honor. Both the Hall of Fame and the World Series of Poker itself date back to a time when poker – particularly tournament poker – was primarily an American game; it was only with the internet poker boom that it really began to catch on elsewhere and top-notch European players began appearing on the scene.
It has since become the case that young European players are at least rivaling – and, arguably, dominating – American competition at the highest stakes of tournament play. The requirements for nomination being what they are, however, it will be decades before we see someone like Viktor Blom or Ole Schemion on the ballot. For now, then, the question is not one of who the best European players are, but who were the earliest adopters and ambassadors for the game, and Fitoussi has a strong claim there.
Fitoussi was born in 1958 in Paris. Professional poker was not something on anyone’s radar at that time, even in the United States, where the game was still only a few steps removed from its Wild West origins and the likes of Doyle Brunson and Amarillo Slim were still long from becoming household names.
Fitoussi trained as an architect, but quickly became something of a dilettante, even working as a music producer before eventually discovering the world of gambling and poker. He has since straddled the line between player and businessman, founding both the consulting firm VIP-Gaming and the magazine Poker52, while also amassing nearly $2.8 million in tournament cashes of his own.
When Fitoussi got started in poker, there weren’t many options for tournaments in Europe, certainly not for high stakes. In 1990, he moved to London to try to make a living playing poker and backgammon. His first tournament cash on record was 3rd place in a Pot-Limit Lowball tournament in London, the buy-in for which was a mere £100. After only a few years, he returned to France and decided to focus on the business side of things, but that didn’t stop him from playing as well; in fact, most of his best results come much more recently, now that he no longer considers himself a pro.
He made his first World Series of Poker appearance in 2003, narrowly missing the Main Event final table with a 15th-place finish, in the same year that Chris Moneymaker won it, kicking the Hold’em boom into overdrive. That trend of narrowly missing breakout success at the WSOP has dogged him ever since; he’s had a total of 19 cashes at the World Series, including seven top-10 finishes, but has yet to win a bracelet. His best cash of all time is from the 2007 $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event, in which he nearly won, but ultimately ended up finishing 2nd to Freddy Deeb.
Fitoussi was honored with a spot in the European Poker Hall of Fame in 2004, and is both a former organizer of and current jury member at the French Poker Awards. Earlier this year, he himself said that it’s time for the WSOP Hall of Fame to become more inclusive. With a total of six Europeans on the short list, himself included, that’s likely to happen, but whether it will be Fitoussi who is first in is another question.
What’s most interesting about Fitoussi, after all, is just how varied his career has been, but by the same token, that makes it very hard to make a single, coherent case for him being in the Hall of Fame. Although he beats every other contender on some axis, there is likewise no single thing that puts him ahead of everyone; Carlos Mortensen beats him for tournament performance, for instance, while Matt Savage tops him on the business front, and Terry Rogers in terms of spreading the game. Considered holistically, he’s a contender, but the question is whether the members of the panel are thinking that way, or looking for something specific. If the latter, then Fitoussi will likely come up short to one or more of the other candidates… unless, of course, the specific thing is “cool hair.”
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.