Earlier this week, the finalists for the 2014 Poker Hall of Fame were released. This launched the latest flurry of arguments about who was deserving and whether it’s time for a change in the process.
The problem resides in the fact that poker players are being judged on a set of standards set prior to the Poker Boom. Poker’s landscape has changed dramatically in the last decade and tournament poker is the driving force in the poker economy.
Much of today’s modern induction process relies on fan participation and most of what fans know about poker is based on tournaments. This has resulted in some players being snubbed from consideration and others becoming finalists when they are less than deserving.
A change is needed in the process, and below are a few of my personal suggestions.
Reduce Fan Voting
As pointed out by several top pros, the Poker Hall of Fame nomination process needs a bit of an overhaul. Currently, the process is almost entirely fan driven. They cast ballots for their favorite players and the top selections become finalists.
The only exception to this rule, on paper at least, is if a Hall of Famer casts a write-in vote for a player during the voting process. That player will automatically be added to the following year’s list of finalists.
The problem with fan voting is that often we are seeing a mix of deserving candidates and those who have been in the headlines recently. For example, last year Carlos Mortensen was on the list and that was likely due to his high profile run in the Main Event. This year, he didn’t make the final list.
Ted Forrest won his sixth career bracelet this year and subsequently has become a finalist. Where has he been the last few years? Did one more bracelet really put him over the top?
A few years back, Tom “durrrr” Dwan received enough votes from fans to become a finalist. He was later removed from the list because he hadn’t “met the test of time.”
I’m not saying eliminate fan voting entirely, but rather we limit it to maybe two or three selections max. Continue the fan voting as has been done but only reserve two or three spots on the Top 10 for fan voting.
The remaining finalists should be selected by a panel consisting of top players, Hall of Famers and select industry professionals. Those on the committee should have the knowledge and experience for making this type of decision.
Veterans Committee Needed
The Baseball Hall of Fame currently has three committees that essentially serve to consider the eligibility of executives, umpires and long retired players. They replaced what was known as the Veterans Committee. It may be time for poker to consider adopting a veteran’s committee concept.
The three committees that Major League Baseball uses to evaluate the game’s history meets every three years on a rotating basis. While poker may not need multiple committees, they could adopt a three-year window for consideration by a potential Veteran’s Committee.
The other option would be to take one of the two yearly inductions and give one of those to the Veteran’s Committee. A write-in nomination during annual voting would automatically be forwarded to the Veterans Committee for consideration.
Former poker executives and contributors would definitely fall under this category, especially those who were known more for their contributions to the game “Pre-Boom.”
Members of this committee should consist of living Hall of Famers, poker historians and other qualified individuals. Qualified individuals being those with demonstrated knowledge or experience with poker’s past.
Time to Change The Criteria to Reflect Modern Era
Back before the Boom, if you had aspirations of being in the Poker Hall of Fame, you had better be ready to battle in high stakes cash games. The norm shifted after the boom and many of the game’s recognized top pros have earned their fame via poker tournaments.
Does someone who has earned $2 million or more in cash games over the last 10 years deserve more recognition than someone who has won the same amount in poker tournaments? Some would say yes.
Tournament poker is the reason for the Poker Boom and why most of us are in the game today. It should not be overlooked by the Hall of Fame.
Here is how my criteria would look for nomination:
A player must have played cash or tournament poker against acknowledged top competition
Be a minimum of 40 years old at time of nomination
Played for high stakes – Tournament players must have consistently played in events with $5,000 buy-ins or higher
Played consistently well, gaining the respect of peers
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
I chose the $5,000 or higher buy-in plateau for “high stakes tournaments” because many major events have been adopting this concept in recent years.
Some consideration should be given to changing the requirement for standing the test of time. Tournament players can often have their lifetime numbers skewed by a single year or two of performance.
For example, Jamie Gold would hardly be considered Hall of Fame worthy despite having won over $10 million. However, many would agree that Antonio Esfandiari is a future Hall of Famer and nearly 70% of his lifetime tournament earnings are in one tournament.
It is time to include criteria for tournament players. In baseball, pitchers are not judged on the same criteria as right fielders or shortstops. That’s ridiculous.
Tournament players should not be expected to go play in Bobby’s Room when their edge is in tournaments. Adversely, those that are making a killing in high stakes cash games should not be overlooked because they didn’t win any WSOP bracelets.
Change the criteria to reflect the era.