WSOP Poker Hall of Fame Picks Prove Polarizing

Alex Weldon : October 27th, 2015


Yesterday morning, the World Series of Poker announced the names of the two people who will be inducted this year: John Juanda and Jennifer Harman. Once they are formally inducted on Friday, November 6, the ranks of the Hall of Fame will have grown to an even 50. Doyle Brunson and Daniel Negreanu were quick to jump on Twitter to praise the decision, as these were the candidates they’d endorsed and all four are good friends.

Not everyone is quite as happy about the choice, however.

It’s not that anyone objects to either Juanda or Harman being in the Hall of Fame, exactly, but rather that there were several other candidates who were passed over in the process, who some feel were more deserving. Personally, I had Juanda as one of my two choices, but thought the right move would be to choose Terry Rogers as the second, rather than Harman, both in order to balance players vs. industry figures, and to dispel the perception that the WSOP Hall of Fame is effectively the American Poker Hall of Fame.

It’s that latter issue that has provoked the most intense criticism, and it’s hard to argue that, as it stands, that it’s not the case. Joe Beevers went so far as to call it “not a Hall of Fame, but a club” in a blog post yesterday. As it stands, there are only two Hall of Fame members who are not American citizens; Edmond Hoyle, who died long before poker even existed in its current form, and Daniel Negreanu, who is actually Canadian, although he now has a US green card and spends much of his time there. Juanda could arguably be seen as an international inductee, as he was born in Indonesia and now lives in Japan, but he is still a US citizen and, more importantly, has been primarily active in the US through most of his career.

Others feel that there’s too much focus on live poker in the Hall of Fame, and that key figures from the online world have been overlooked. This has led, for instance, to Adam Schwartz starting an “Internet Poker Wall of Fame” at the TwoPlusTwo forums, to try to make up for that lack of representation.

Part of the trouble is the selection process itself. Although the short list of candidates is drawn up through a public online process, the final choices are made by a voting panel which consists of all living Hall of Fame members, plus select members of the media. Most of the living members, however, are part of a tight-knit circle of American poker celebrities who came to prominence during the Hold’em boom years. These people are naturally inclined to vote for others who were likewise key players in the boom, many of whom are personal friends of theirs, so the cliquish nature of the Hall of Fame arises more or less inevitably out of the selection mechanisms themselves.

If the early inductees had been a more diverse group, then presumably we would be seeing more diverse selections now, but as it stands, it seems unlikely that many players from other geographical regions and time periods will be included, at least not until we run out of celebrities from the mid-2000s Las Vegas poker scene. This predictability has led some to wonder why the Hall of Fame limits itself to two inductees per year; after all, the sooner all the obvious names are in, the sooner we can have a conversation about who else is worthy of the honor.

Not everyone feels this way, mind you. It isn’t only Brunson and Negreanu applauding the decision; Juanda and Harman have plenty of other supporters as well. It’s just that where people stand on this issue seems to correlate pretty strongly with their own background; live players who spend a lot of time in Las Vegas are considerably more likely to think the Hall of Fame is getting it right, while the dissenting opinions come from essentially everyone else – non-Americans, online players, and people involved in poker in some non-playing capacity.

That, in itself, might be evidence enough that the WSOP Hall of Fame is casting its focus too narrowly. If the intent is to represent the global poker community, but only a narrow band of that community approves of the selections being made, it’s a sign that something is wrong. What to do about it is a more complex question, as it’s unlikely that the panel will change its voting priorities on its own; the only way to fix the problem may be to change the selection procedure itself.

Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

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