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Daniel Negreanu recently addressed the list of finalists for the 2016 Poker Hall of Fame on his Full Contact Podcast. The list has spawned a ton of controversy, some of which was driven by Negreanu.

Negreanu believes that the fan voting corrupts the Hall of Fame process and gave his take on the list of finalists, players he felt were snubbed and the problems he sees with the process. While I agree with much of what he says, there’s still a middle ground that can be achieved with the process.

Many Fans Not Privy to Inner Workings of Poker Community

One problem with fan voting is that most fans are not knowledgeable about what really goes on in poker. They primarily know only what they have seen on TV and what they have read online.

The level of fan knowledge varies depending on their level of interest in the game. For some fans, if a player has never been featured on the World Series of Poker or the World Poker Tour, they don’t know them.

To borrow a term from pro wrestling, there are also a lot of “smart marks” when it comes to the poker industry. These are fans that have engrossed themselves completely in the poker community and absorb everything they find about the game. They know a lot more about what’s going on in poker, but they still don’t know enough in most cases.

For example, the majority of fans have never watched a high stakes cash game live and others are only aware of high stakes players from their involvement in online poker. One example that Negreanu gave was Ray Dehkharghani. I will admit that when he said Ray D’s name, I hadn’t even given him a consideration despite the fact that I knew of him. Most players had never heard of him before winning a bracelet this summer. (And there are some of you reading this now going “who?”)

If those voting on a group of finalists for the Hall of Fame don’t even know the inner working of one major area in the criteria, how are they qualified to place votes?


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The Poker Media Controls the Narrative More Than We’d Like to Admit

As already stated, most fans only know about the poker world in as far as they’ve seen it played on TV or read about it online. As such, the poker media (print and otherwise) has been controlling the narrative for the Poker Hall of Fame since the inception of the fan voting process.

I’m not coming down on the poker media or charging with any type of “conspiracy” but rather stating a fact. If fans are only exposed to players based on the media, then when it comes time to vote, they are going to vote based on what the media has fed them.

One example of how this backfired on the PHOF was when Tom Dwan was voted by fans to make the list of finalists in 2009. He was just 23 at the time, but his popularity and exposure resulted in him making the list. Dwan was later dropped for not having stood the test of time and later the Chip Reese rule was instituted to prevent a similar situation from happening in the future. (Or at least prevent it from being publicized.)

Before some of you point out saying that a particular media source has highlighted certain alternative candidates in the past, I am commenting on the entirety of media exposure.

A random article hyping a particular player typically isn’t going to trump the overwhelming amount of media out there highlighting other players. Are there exceptions? Sure there are. However, many times those exceptions are only because the media has overly promoted that player’s case and influenced fan voting.

Negreanu Argues Strong Case But Perhaps There’s Still a Compromise

Negreanu argued a strong case against the use of fan voting for the Hall of Fame and I completely respect those opinions. He believes that the only people capable of judging whether a player has earned the respect of peers are other players. Negreanu also believes that players stats should count exclusively for the Hall of Fame and that builders (and my personal player/contributor hybrids) should be in their own HOF.


3 Ways to Change the Poker Hall of Fame Selection Process

It is becoming evident at this point that the fan voting process is flawed and is due for reconsideration. However, I am not certain that completely abolishing fan voting is the right move either.

Let’s face it, following the Poker Boom the game of poker is primarily driven by the fans, or recreational players. Online poker is evolving to a point where the majority of focus is being placed on the recreationals.

While I understand the frustration that comes from having non-players vote on who should get into the Hall of Fame, it is those fans that have helped poker to grow to where it is today. If not for the influx of money that came from fans dreaming of becoming the next Moneymaker, Negreanu or Ivey, the game would not be at the level it is today.

As such, there should be a place in the Hall of Fame selection process for SOME fan voting. Perhaps the PHOF should adopt a process similar to that of Major League Baseball for the All-Star voting.

In baseball, fans, media and other major league players vote on the starters for the All-Star game. The remainder of the roster is then selected by the managers of both squads.

The PHOF could adopt a similar process where they allow the fans to vote for some of the finalists and then split the other picks between the media / pros and then the Hall of Fame members.

How I would suggest the new structure would be as follows:

  • Conduct fan voting for four of the PHOF finalist. The top four vote getters are made finalists
  • Let other poker pros and the poker media / industry executives vote for four members. The top four vote getters are put on the list of finalists.
  • The final two slots are then reserved for nominations from living Poker Hall of Fame members.

I would conduct fan and pro voting separate from the HOF member voting. If there are any duplicates on the list from the media/executive vote, the next highest vote getter moves on to the list. Should the HOF members not be able to come up with two nominees, then compile the vote from the other two votes and include the top vote getter(s) from that total.

This approach would be a balanced approach that would include input from fans, currently active pros and HOF members. It would give everyone a say and should help to prevent future classes from having as many controversial picks as the 2006 list.

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James Guill

James Guill began his poker career in 2006, spending two years traveling the US tournament circuit. Since 2008, he has covered the game extensively for some of the biggest names in the industry. When not writing about the latest poker news, he can be found hunting for antique treasures in Central Virginia.