Share this on

When the World Poker Tour announced that it was creating the WPT Honors Award, it was no surprise that the first recipient would be Linda Johnson. Her contributions to the world of poker are many and span several decades. But what is the award and who should be next in line for such recognition?

Honoring Excellence in Poker

The WPT Honors Award is a new concept from the World Poker Tour to recognize “those who distinguish themselves by excellence and dedication beyond expectations” in the world of poker. Specifically, the award is a celebration and show of appreciation for “exceptional contributions made to the World Poker Tour and the poker community as a whole.” It seems like a way to honor people who are too often overlooked in the world of poker for the many years of passion and effort toward making the game better and promoting it on a variety of levels.

Linda Johnson is greatly deserving of being the first honoree. Known to many as the First Lady of Poker, Johnson was one of the first to join the efforts of Steve Lipscomb when he first conceptualized the World Poker Tour and launched the brand. She not only saw a product with potential and a way to promote the game to new players, she took on the role of studio commentator at the filming of the final tables for the WPT’s first six seasons.

Dating back to the 1970s, however, Johnson’s passion for poker grew through the years, along with her accomplishments, such as a WSOP bracelet in Razz and numerous other tournament wins and final tables. In addition to being a professional poker player, she also owned and published CardPlayer Magazine for several years, wrote columns, co-authored books, served as a board member for groups like the Poker Players Alliance and the Tournament Directors Association, and now owns and grows Card Player Cruises. And she still loves the game as much as when she first learned it.

Future Award Hopefuls

Since Johnson’s WPT Honors Award is the first of many, there are many names of members of the poker industry who are deserving of such an honor.

The first and most obvious is Mike Sexton. He was also one of the first believers and promoters of the WPT, as well as a commentator for all of its 15 seasons thus far. His accomplishments on the felt were taken to new heights in 2016 when he won his first WPT Main Event title at Playground Poker after a hard-fought battle at the final table. He has also written books and columns, and he has always been supportive of new poker initiatives and welcoming to new players. Sexton always takes time to speak with the poker media, recall stories from poker’s past, and promote the game for the good of its future.


Second on the list should be Vince Van Patten. While he doesn’t live his life immersed in the game as does Sexton, Van Patten has been with the WPT since its first season as well. He travels the world to promote poker with the WPT, and he does play a fair amount at the tables. He wrote a poker-themed mystery novel several years ago, and he continues to be an important part of poker on television.

The third name that comes to mind is Steve Lipscomb. He is another obvious choice, as the WPT wouldn’t exist if he hadn’t had the perseverance and passion for the idea. It was his concept, but it was also his tenacity that drew others into the project and pushed them all to make it into a television show that set new standards for the industry. Lipscomb is no longer with the WPT, but his years with the company grew it from an idea all the way to a publicly-traded company that continues to grow and expand as its now prepares to enter its 16th season.

Fourth, Matt Savage is an integral part of the WPT. His dedication to the game brought him to the attention of the WPT staff years ago, and his position as Executive Tour Director has pulled him even more into the fold in the past several years. He has a connection to players as do few others, and his seemingly endless patience for directing tournaments while also offering advice, clarifying rules, and bringing humor to the events has been a positive force in poker.

There are other people that have participated in the WPT through the years and could well be considered for the honor. Shana Hiatt was the first on-air hostess of the television show and combined her knowledge of poker with her fun personality to draw new players to the games. She will always be remembered as the original WPT hostess and a friend to many at the WPT.

Adam Pliska is the current chief executive of the WPT, and he has grown the company since the departure of Lipscomb. Robyn Moder was the original vice president of the World Poker Tour and helped grow it alongside Lipscomb. There are several members of the production team who have been with the WPT since its first season, and they all deserve recognition for their dedication and numerous contributions through the years.

Who else should be honored? Weigh in on Twitter and Facebook with your suggestions.

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer has been a freelance writer in the poker industry for a decade. She left a full-time job with the World Poker Tour to tell the stories of poker. She now lives in St. Louis, writes about poker while pursuing other varied interests, and speaks her mind on Twitter… a lot.