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.
Although many of this year’s Hall of Fame nominees have been nominated in the past – some of them multiple times – none is quite as much of a perennial candidate as Jennifer Harman. She has made the short list every year since 2010, but so far has failed to make the final cut, and in an interview with CardPlayer earlier this year, she’s made it clear that it’s really important to her that she gets in eventually.
Born in 1964, Harman was playing poker long before the boom years, at a time when even fewer women were playing the game than there are today. She’s a cash game specialist, whose best game was and continues to be Limit Hold’em. These are all factors that one would expect to serve as barriers to fame in a poker world which is predominantly male, and whose media focuses almost exclusively on tournament format No-Limit Hold’em.
Despite that, especially for those of us who came into poker during the early boom years, Harman’s face and name are among the most familiar. A huge poker-watching audience had sprung out of nowhere, so poker celebrity was a small and exclusive club crafted by the media at that time, and Harman was a key member. Her appearances on GSN’s High Stakes Poker were frequent and popular, and she was chosen to author the Limit Hold’em chapter in Super System II, which was published in 2004 just as things were really taking off.
She was also one of the original team of pros for Full Tilt Poker, along with Phil Ivey, Erik Seidel, Andy Bloch, Phil Gordon, John Juanda, Erick Lindgren, Howard Lederer and Chris Ferguson. Of course, given what happened with the site and to the reputations of some of the players on that list – Lederer in particular – her inclusion on that roster may be a mark as much against her as for her. On the other hand, it’s worth nothing that Seidel is already in the Hall of Fame, while Juanda is also up for nomination this year.
There was a third important group at this time as well, known as the Corporation, of which Harman was also a member. As made famous in the book The Professor, the Banker and the Suicide King, the Corporation was a group of players who pooled their bankrolls in order to play against Andrew Beal, a businessman who wanted to play poker for what was then the highest stakes in history, and which none of them could individually afford to play. Through their combined wealth and skills, they ultimately took him for a combined total of about $16 million and made history in the process.
Those three circles of players – the media favorites, Team Full Tilt and the Corporation – all overlapped heavily, and Harman was at the very center of the Venn diagram, so it’s no wonder that her fame has endured. Furthermore, although she plays predominantly in private cash games outside of the public eye, her tournament performance is nothing to scoff at; along with Vanessa Selbst, she’s one of only two women to win two World Series of Poker gold bracelets, while as recently as 2010, she made two WSOP final tables in a single year. Hendon Mob has her live tournament cashes at $2.7 million, but these are likely dwarfed by her profits in nosebleed cash games, which of course no one knows but her.
Between all of these claims to fame, and having now been in contention for six straight years, it would be a little bit surprising if Harman once again failed to make it in this year. The main barrier in her way is political, or perhaps, it should be said, a possible attempt to appear less political. One of the most common accusations leveled against the Hall of Fame is that it is a club for “Doyle’s friends.” This is a fourth circle to which Harman firmly belongs, and which also overlaps heavily with the other three we talked about, with Brunson himself being both a member of the Corporation and a frequent media appearance during that period.
Outside of John Juanda and Harman, this year’s list of nominees gives a strong impression that the poker community is pushing for a change on that front; the question is whether the voting panel – which includes current Hall of Famers plus select members of the media – will listen. We know who Daniel Negreanu will be pulling for, because he’s said so: Juanda first and Harman second. It’s entirely possible that the rest of the panel will follow his lead, even knowing that it will upset a lot of people in the larger poker community. On the other hand, with the ability to choose two from the list, they may try to compromise and go 50/50, with one member of the clique and one European nominee, or perhaps even someone like Matt Savage for balance. Negreanu has made it clear that Juanda is his first pick, and because his voice carries a lot of weight, I think that if they do opt for a balanced approach this time around, Harman may end up waiting one more year. Regardless of what happens, though, I’m sure she’ll be getting in eventually, it’s only a matter of when.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.