In the final days of 2020, former World Series of Poker Main Event champion Huckleberry Seed became the 60th person inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame. Seed, a four-time WSOP bracelet winner including the 1996 WSOP Main Event, is undoubtedly a worthy recipient of what should be considered poker’s highest honor.
The mission of the Poker of Fame should be to celebrate the game itself while recognizing the players and people who have shined brightest and helped elevate the game during their careers. That being said, the current system responsible for nominating and enshrining people into the Poker Hall of Fame is broken and needs an overhaul to mitigate some issues which are already making themselves known and are only bound to get worse.
A quick explainer on the current system: Following a public nomination process, the WSOP releases a list of 10 nominees based on the public input. Living PHOF members are given those 10 names to consider. Each voter has 10 points to distribute amongst the 10 nominees however they choose. All votes are tallied and the nominee receiving the most points is inducted. This is a change from the previous 10 years where a select panel of media (equal to the number of voting PHOF members) were also given a vote and the top two point earners were inducted.
The criticisms of the current system are aplenty but there are two which stand out. The heavy bias towards American players has long been a frustration for players, fans and media from outside of the country. The second issue is a growing backlog of worthy candidates that has no hope of being cleared anytime soon as more and more worthy candidates become eligible each year.
Let the Public Continue to Be Involved
The one thing that doesn’t need any real change is the nomination process. The WSOP makes it so that anybody, a poker fan, a poker player, a family member, can nominate somebody for the PHOF so long as the person they’re nominating is at least 40 years old. It gives everybody an opportunity to be involved and gives WSOP executives a number of names to choose from when putting the final list of 10 nominees together each year.
Remove the Cap on Number of Annual Inductees
Seed was the only member of the 2020 class by design. From 2010-2019, the PHOF enshrined two nominees each year. That became a single inductee in 2020 with WSOP executives citing a return to tradition as the reason behind the change.
“We like tradition. One per year is the way it was for the majority of the Poker Hall of Fame’s history. A single inductee seems to promote the prestige of the honor,” said Ty Stewart, Executive Director of the WSOP, who oversees the administration of the PHOF.
In fact, the PHOF has had a single inductee in 18 years, two inductees in 16 years, seven inductees in the inaugural class of 1979, and another five years with no inductees at all. Keeping one inductee, or even two, per year certainly keeps the PHOF exclusive, but there is already a backlog of candidates waiting to get in and the coming onslaught from the online poker generation is going to make the nominees list awfully crowded.
Five years from now five of the most recent nominees will still be on the nomination list and the following players will be eligible for the first time in either 2025 or 2026: Justin Bonomo, Shaun Deeb, Phil Galfond, Isaac Haxton, Jason Koon, Chris Moorman, Nick Schulman, Scott Seiver, Vanessa Selbst.
Neither the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Pro Football Hall of Fame, or the Basketball Hall of Fame restrict the number of inductees on an annual basis. The PHOF needs to follow suit and this could be accomplished by eliminating the points system currently being used and replacing it with the system used by those other halls of fame. In all three instances, voters are given the name of all of those eligible for induction and simply vote yes or no. For basketball and baseball, a nominee becomes an enshrinee with 75% of the vote, for football, it’s 80%.
Add More International Flavor
Seed was the 60th inductee into the Poker Hall of Fame and one of the major criticisms of the current system is that it places an emphasis on American players. Of the 31 living Hall of Famers, who are eligible to vote, only four are not American. Carlos Mortensen, Daniel Negreanu, John Juanda, and Henry Orenstein are the only four voters born outside of the United States and most of them, if not all of them, spent a considerable amount of their poker career living and working in the United States.
This fails to recognize the incredible worldwide growth that the game of poker has enjoyed over the last 50 years. Eliminating the maximum number of inductees rule as mentioned above could lead to an increase in the number of international members, which in turn leads to more international voters.
Allowing select industry leaders, including members of the media, would also increase the number of international voters. Starting in 2010, a select media panel, intentionally equal in size to the number of HOF members voting, were afforded the opportunity to vote. That privilege was eliminated this year. Modifying this concept to include those who have worked long term in the poker industry puts in place a much needed system of checks and balances and ensures the international players get a fair shake.
While the number American poker media outlets may be declining, the growth in international coverage of the game and the industry has grown immensely. Markets such as Brazil, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Japan, Korea, Canada, Hong Kong, Russia, Germany, and India all have talented, knowledgeable media covering the game not only in their own country, but around the world. Vetting and filling a panel of 32 media members wouldn’t be difficult and would provide a much-needed sense of balance to the final vote.
Make the Builder Category Official
The current criteria that voters are asked to consider when voting is the following:
- A gambler must have played poker against acknowledged top competition,
- Played for high stakes,
- Played consistently well, gained the respect of peers,
- And stood the test of time.
- Or, for non-players, contributed to the overall growth and success of the game of poker, with indelible positive and lasting results.
While that last line certainly allows for a voter to recognize “non-players” in their voting, it also forces them to evaluate two completely different categories of nominee against each other. It also doesn’t tell voters how to apply the criteria to the nominees. For example, Chris Moneymaker was part of the PHOF Class of 2019 and a number of those who voted for him were doing so based on the “non-player” criteria because of his role in helping ignite the poker boom following his 2003 WSOP Main Event win. Moneymaker clearly doesn’t fit the criteria as a player and he would most likely be the first one to tell you that.
Creating and properly defining a category specific for builders gives voters the opportunity to properly assess the entire body of work of that nominee. A yes or no voting system also removes the requirement that a five-time WSOP bracelet winner’s credential be considered against that of a longtime member of the industry whose impact was responsible for measurable growth. To ensure that the Hall continues to shine on light on the game’s best players, removing the minimum vote threshold and simply inducting the leading vote getter each year ensures no more than a single builder is recognized each year.
Get Ceremonial and Show the World
Over the years there have been varying types of ceremonies for the annual HOF induction. From a dinner at Binion’s with friends, family, fellow HOFers and industry leaders invited to a simple ceremony during November Nine festivities, the WSOP has, in the past, made an effort to afford the inductees a chance to be recognized in front of an audience.
Budgetary restrictions and timing issues have made a ceremony of any magnitude a challenge the past few years, but adding a Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony to the calendar not only gives the newest members of the PHOF a night to shine, but it gives the WSOP a chance to thump its chest and strut.
The WSOP already has a strong relationship with PokerGO and including a night of pomp and circumstance where the inductees, Hall of Famers, top players, and celebrities all gather to celebrate the game to the broadcast schedule seems like a win-win. Footing the bill for something like this comes down to finding a sponsor. WSOP executives have had success bringing non-endemic advertisers into the fold as sponsors and this seems like a great opportunity to bring one of those companies to the table.
Small steps like the one’s listed here aren’t necessarily new, but re-vamping the entire process with an eye towards ramping up the intensity of the spotlight shined on poker’s best and brightest is a win-win for everybody.
FIVE THINGS is written by PocketFives President and Editor in Chief, Lance Bradley and covers pressing topics and current events in the poker world today. It appears periodically at PocketFives.com.