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 a period of two weeks, we’re looking at their stories and the cases for – and sometimes against – their inclusion.
Carlos Mortensen is one of six people in the running to become the first non-North American in the WSOP Hall of Fame, along with Chris Bjorin, Bruno Fitoussi, Max Pescatori, Terry Rogers and David Ulliott. He’s also likely the most recognizable of those names for many casual poker fans, particularly those who were following the game back in the boom years. He was highly recognizable and a fan favorite at the peak of the game’s popularity, largely due to his exciting, bluff-heavy style and his creative, even sculptural approach to chip stacking.
Mortensen was born in 1972 in Ecuador, but later moved to Spain with his family. As a young man, he worked as a bartender in Madrid. It was at that time that he first started playing poker, after his shifts were complete. Formerly an avid chess player, he realized that he found poker the more appealing game, and spent ever-increasing amounts of time at it.
He soon found himself cleaning up in the local tournaments, but the Madrid poker scene limited at that time. Eventually finding himself too big for his pond, in the late 1990s, he made the decision to move to the United States to seek out bigger games.
2001 was Mortensen’s breakout year. Although he had only three cashes that year, all three of them were wins – first, in a $300 Limit Hold’em event at the Los Angeles Poker Classic, then at the $1000 Bay 101 Shooting Stars and finally in the $10,000 World Series of Poker Main Event. His seat in the latter had, interestingly, come as a part of his win in the second.
Although no one knew it at the time, the boom was coming. At the time of Mortensen’s win, the Main Event was drawing just over 600 players. Two years later, it was over 2,500, and another two after that, it hit its peak at nearly 9000 entries. Given this influx of new, mostly recreational players, the odds became stacked against the Main Event being won by a professional in any given year, and for a time, Mortensen found himself in the position of being known as the last great player to have taken the championship.
After winning a second WSOP bracelet in 2003 and his second million-dollar score in the WPT Doyle Brunson North American Poker Championship in 2004, Mortensen next made history in 2007. That was the year that he won the $25,000 WPT Five Star World Poker Championship, making him the first – and still the only – player to have won both the WSOP Main Event and a WPT World Championship. His performance remained good through 2010, when he took a third WPT title, putting him in a two-way tie with Gus Hansen for most titles at the time.
Since then, though, his career has seemed to be running out of steam. He came very close to cementing his place in history in 2013 when he finished in 10th in the WSOP Main Event, narrowly missing a second final table and perhaps even a second win. He likewise had a shot at clinching two separate records (four titles and two championships) by winning this year’s WPT World Championship, but ultimately ended up finishing fourth. Most worrisome is that aside from these close calls, most of Mortensen’s recent cashes have come in small buy-in events, some as low as $225. For a player with nearly $12 million in lifetime cashes, it’s hard not to read his playing at these stakes as a sign of hard times.
Considering only the first half of his career, Mortensen would seem like a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. As of 2010, he had a whole list of claims to fame; only a modest two WSOP bracelets, yes, but a tie for most WPT titles, the only player with WSOP and WPT championships, and the “last great Main Event winner.” Most of these have been subsequently diminished, however; Martin Jacobson ended the Main Event “pro drought” when he won last year, and this spring, Anthony Zinno made it a three-way tie for WPT titles and looks like a strong contender to pull into the outright lead soon, having taken all three of his in as many years.
That leaves us with Mortensen’s double WSOP/WPT championship as his sole record likely to stand up much longer. Is that enough for inclusion? I’m not sure. After all, one of the key criteria for the Hall of Fame is “standing the test of time,” and as it stands, Mortensen looks very much like someone whose glory is fading. If he could put together one more great year – a couple of WSOP bracelets, a WPT title, or even just a string of wins in side events coupled with a few big final tables – then I’m sure he would get in. This year, however, I have my doubts; when you put his last few years up next to, say, John Juanda’s comeback at this year’s EPT Barcelona, or the steadiness and longevity of Chris Bjorin’s career, it doesn’t look great for Mortensen.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.