The Surprising Origin Story of the Poker Hall of Fame [2016]

January 28th 2016 | Josh H

The Poker Hall of Fame is the most exclusive and prestigious list of figures most influential to the game

The Poker Hall of Fame is the most exclusive and prestigious list of figures most influential to the game

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TL;DR - Poker Hall of Fame

  • Created in 1979 by Benny Binion, former owner of the Horseshoe in Las Vegas
  • Includes contemporary poker legends and important poker historical figures
  • Harrah’s took control of the Poker Hall of Fame and the Horseshoe in 2004
  • A physical display of Hall members is no longer maintained
  • A WSOP committee decides on 2 new Poker Hall of Fame members per year

Throughout our history humans have always felt a need to recognize greatness. It appeals to our nature to appreciate leaders who have made our lives better or everyday people who perform some talent extraordinarily well.

Halls of fame house those individuals beyond their lives, allowing future generations to remember greatness before them and appreciate their legacies.

These days there are halls of fame for virtually everything, from rodeo to scuba diving, and poker is no different.

What is the Poker Hall of Fame?

The concept of the Poker Hall of Fame came to fruition in 1979 when Benny Binion, owner of the legendary Horseshoe and home to the WSOP for 34 years, had a display set up inside the casino to recognize the most influential figures in poker history.

Poker Hall of Fame members would have a framed picture displayed on a designated Horseshoe wall, which underwent cosmetic and location changes as the years went on.

The classic physical display for the Poker Hall of Fame at The Horseshoe. It is no longer maintained with Caesars calling it "virtual in nature"

The classic physical display for the Poker Hall of Fame at The Horseshoe. It is no longer maintained with Caesars calling it “virtual in nature”

Classic Benny Binion

As was often the case with Benny Binion, extra publicity and the chance to draw tourists was the main motivation for creating the Poker Hall of Fame.

Binion was well-versed in original ways of drawing attention for the Horseshoe, reviving the $1 million cash display in 1964 and allegedly arranging a legendary high-stakes heads-up poker game between “Nick the Greek” Dandolos and Johnny Moss in 1949.

It also was a shrewd move to try to establish the Horseshoe as the home of poker, both hosting the biggest annual poker event in the World Series of Poker and dedicating floor space to recognize the game’s greats.

The Poker Hall of Fame combined two of Benny Binion's loves: poker and publicity for his casino

The Poker Hall of Fame combined two of Benny Binion’s loves: poker and publicity for his casino

What are the requirements to get into the Poker Hall of Fame?

The only hard requirement is that Poker Hall of Fame nominees be at least 40 years old, the so-called “Chip Reese Rule”, which matches his record for youngest age at induction in 1991.

Really, the only other requirement for players is an exceptional reputation amongst peers for playing at a high level at the highest stakes. For non-players they must have made significant contributions to the game and left a timeless impact.

While not a requirement the majority of Poker Hall of Fame members have numerous WSOP bracelets

While not a requirement the majority of Poker Hall of Fame members have numerous WSOP bracelets

WSOP committee requirements for Poker Hall of Fame inductees

  • A player must have played poker against acknowledged top competition
  • Be a minimum of 40 years old at time of nomination
  • Played for high stakes
  • 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

How are players nominated for the Poker Hall of Fame

Beginning in 2009 poker fans could vote on new Hall nominees online with the final word coming from existing members

Beginning in 2009 poker fans could vote on new Hall nominees online with the final word coming from existing members

Whereas the nomination and eventual choosing of new Poker Hall of Fame members used to be done behind the scenes the WSOP added some public interest by allowing fans to vote for nominees starting in 2009. This is similar to what the NFL and MLB do to allow fans to vote for their all-star teams.

Living Hall of Fame members along with a small WSOP panel then decides on the final inductees, which is usually 1-2 per year.

The “Chip Reese Rule”

Poker Hall of Fame members must be at least 40 years old as Chip Reese was in 1991

Poker Hall of Fame members must be at least 40 years old as Chip Reese was upon his induction in 1991

A flaw in the fan voting process was exposed when some of the most popular nominees were younger players still largely in their primes, such as online star Tom Dwan, Daniel Negreanu, and Phil Ivey.

In 2011 the “Chip Reese Rule” was added to combat this, establishing a minimum age of 40 for Poker Hall of Fame membership, as Reese was the youngest previous inductee in 1991 at age 40.

Negreanu eventually was inducted when he turned 40 in 2014 and Ivey is almost a sure thing for 2016.

Poker Hall of Fame Members

Year of InductionNameNicknameWSOP Bracelets
1979Johnny MossThe Grand Old Man of Poker9
Red Winn
Sid Wyman
Felton McCorquodaleCorky
Edmond Hoyle
James Butler HickokWild Bill
Nick DandolosThe Greek
1980T ForbesBlondie
1981Bill Boyd4
1982Tom Abdo
1983Joe Bernstein1
1984Murph Harrold
1985Red Hodges
1986Henry Green
1987Walter Clyde PearsonPuggy4
1988Doyle BrunsonTexas Dolly10
Jack "" StrausTreetop2
1989Fred "Sarge" FerrisSarge1
1990Benny Binion
1991David ReeseChip3
1992Thomas Austin "Amarillo Slim" PrestonAmarillo Slim4
1993Jack KellerGentleman3
1996Julius Oral PopwellLittle Man
1997Roger Moore1
2001Stu UngarThe Kid5
2002Johnny ChanThe Orient Express10
Lyle Berman3
2003Bobby BaldwinThe Owl4
2004Berry Johnston5
2005Jack Binion
Crandell AddingtonDandy
2006T.J. Cloutier6
Billy Baxter7
2007Phil HellmuthThe Poker Brat14
Barbara Enright3
2008Duane TomkoDewey3
Henry Orenstein1
2009Mike Sexton1
2010Dan HarringtonAction Dan2
Erik Seidel8
2011Barry GreensteinThe Robin Hood of Poker3
Linda JohnsonThe First Lady of Poker1
2012Brian RobertsSailor2
Eric Drache
2013Scotty NguyenThe Prince of Poker5
Tom McEvoy4
2014Daniel NegreanuKid Poker6
Jack McClelland
2015John JuandaLuckbox5
Jennifer Harman2

Trends for members

After originally blending in influential historical card-game figures like Edmond Hoyle the Poker Hall of Fame became exclusively focused on top contemporary players

After originally blending in influential historical card-game figures like Edmond Hoyle the Poker Hall of Fame became exclusively focused on top contemporary players

The first year of 1979 seemed to be a blend of historical figures important to the game (Hoyle and Wild Bill Hickok) and legendary players of the time period (Johnny Moss). Since then the Poker Hall of Fame has featured contemporaries exclusively.

When the Hall was still in the hands of the Horseshoe years would sometimes be skipped for inducting new members.

Since Harrah’s (now Caesars) took control in 2004 they have kept things more regular, inducting at least one new member per year.

Here are the current Poker Hall of Fame members. Of the total of 50 there are 25 living members.

Current Poker Hall of Fame Ownership

When Harrah’s, which has now become Caesars, bought the Horseshoe and its properties in 2004 it took a more proactive approach to the languishing Hall of Fame.

They were sure to induct new members every year and made it more of a media presence by announcing nominees and allowing fans to vote starting in 2009.

Trophy ceremony

Daniel Negreanu and Jack McClelland receiving their Poker Hall of Fame trophies in 2014

Daniel Negreanu and Jack McClelland receiving their Poker Hall of Fame trophies in 2014

Harrah’s also took over the WSOP in 2004 and has tied in the Hall with it. New members are given their trophy of etched glass and gold chips at a ceremony during the Main Event final table. Living Hall members are encouraged to attend and participate.

The only thing that’s missing now is an actual updated physical display as most Halls of Fame are famous for. As Caesars says themselves, the Poker Hall of Fame is “virtual in nature”.

New Poker Hall of Fame Inductees

John Juanda and Jennifer Harman were inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2015

John Juanda and Jennifer Harman were inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2015

Jennifer Harman and John Juanda were inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2015 from a field of 10 finalists.

In 2016  Todd Brunson and Carlos Mortensen were enshrined.

Harman is the first woman to win 2 WSOP bracelets in open events, is a regular in the highest-stakes cash games, and has over $2 million in tournament earnings.

Juanda has 5 WSOP bracelets and almost $17 million in career tournament earnings.

The case for Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott”

After his death in 2015 there was a strong effort to get Dave "Devilfish" Ulliott into the Poker Hall of Fame

After his death in 2015 there was a strong effort to get Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott into the Poker Hall of Fame

There had been a particularly strong push to nominate Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott after his untimely passing in April 2015 from colon cancer.

With over $6 million in career tournament earnings, a uniquely British personality, and a strong reputation amongst his peers I would suggest he has earned a spot regardless of his passing.

While he didn’t make it in for 2015 I hope that he remains up for consideration by fans and Hall members in future years.

 

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Josh H
Josh H
Owner and Editor-in-chief at Beat The Fish
A lifelong poker player who moved online in 2004, Josh founded Beat The Fish in 2005 to help online poker players make more-informed decisions on where to play and how to win once they got there. He hopes to cut through the rampant dishonesty in online gaming media with objective reviews and relevant features. Tech nostalgic. Cryptocurrency missionary. Still fondly remembers the soup avatar at Doyle's Room. You can reach Josh directly at support@beatthefish.com.

  • With respect, one of many good and possibly great poker players, rates an honorable mention. But I would vote “not quite” for the Hall of Fame.

    • Are you referring to Dave Ulliott? I can see the argument both ways for him. Not more deserving than Juanda this year, but, aside from Harman’s firsts as a woman, Ulliott actually has better career numbers.

      Personally, I hope he gets in one year. I think Phil Ivey qualifies next year and he’s certainly a lock for one of the spots.

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