Sign Up For Card Player's Newsletter And Free Bi-Monthly Online Magazine

The Poker Hall Of Fame Is Broken – Here’s How It Can Be Fixed

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Sep 06, 2023


There’s no doubting Brian Rast’s worthiness for the Poker Hall of Fame. The 41-year-old has a stellar poker résumé that boasts six WSOP bracelets, millions in high rollers wins, and extended time in some of the biggest cash games in the world. By all accounts, Rast was a slam dunk choice for nomination, and given his recent third victory in the prestigious $50,000 Poker Players Championship, his induction was all but guaranteed.

Still, it’s hard not to feel for the deserving players left on the outside looking in, and that’s a list that is far longer than just the nine other nominees who came up just short this year.

Rast beat out Josh Arieh, Jeremy Ausmus, Ted Forrest, Kathy Liebert, Mike Matusow, broadcast duo Lon McEachern and Norman Chad, Matt Savage, Isai Scheinberg, and Bill Smith for induction this year. All of them have Hall-worthy achievements, but yet their chances at getting in grow slimmer each year as the logjam of eligible players ages into consideration and bottlenecks with a one-player-per-year restriction.

Rast even mentioned the issue in his acceptance speech, saying, “I’m going to do my duty to make sure the Hall gets the incoming generation right. There are a lot of amazing players in the poker world who deserve recognition for their careers.”

But for all the good that Rast intends, his vote alone won’t be enough to fix the issues facing the Hall, chief among them being the Hall’s exclusivity.

1. One Player Per Year Is Not Enough

I doubt I’ll get many who disagree with me here. There are now 62 members of the Poker Hall of Fame (full list on pg. 19), but arguably just as many players who meet, or will soon meet the criteria for induction. In fact, in the next five years there will be a large number of high-stakes crushers who will turn 40, putting my personal current count of Hall-worthy players at more than 80. (Yes, I made a list. No, I won’t publish it.)

It wasn’t always this way, of course. The Poker Hall of Fame began with an inaugural class of seven members, and although there was only one inductee per year for quite some time after that, the poker world was also quite small back then. In 2002, two players were inducted at the same time, and double inductees continued in the boom years from 2005 to 2019. But instead of doubling the number to four, as many wanted, the Hall instead went back to one per year.

The solution is obvious and simple… more inductees. How many? I believe three to four players per year would be a good number, with an additional inductee every year for those who fall into the category of industry contributors and influencers. (Perhaps even writers!)

The actual number can be debated, but it just HAS to be more than one. The poker world has grown exponentially since the Hall was started back in 1979.

2. The Hall Needs A Physical Home

The World Series of Poker operates the Poker Hall of Fame and has been run by Caesars Entertainment since their purchase of the series back in 2004. They’ve since launched a special Hall of Fame event at the WSOP that features a $1,979 buy-in and bounties on all Hall members who play, and last year rebranded the Horseshoe card room as the Hall of Fame Poker Room, complete with player photos.

Las Vegas is home to many interesting places and has museums honoring the history of everything from punk rock to pinball, even the mob, but poker’s Hall doesn’t really have its own physical space to call its own. And that’s surprising given the amount of actual space that Caesars has at its disposal at the Paris and Horseshoe on the Strip.

Each summer, the WSOP should dedicate a small section of the convention area to the Poker Hall of Fame and its members. Existing Hall members could loan out memorabilia such as photos and bracelets that could rotate on display for visitors. Hell, Caesars could even tie it into their gift shop and sell t-shirts if they need to justify the square footage. Put Doyle on a hoodie and give his estate half the profit.

3. Most Voters Are Clueless

With all due respect to the public (and to the readers of this magazine), the public should have little to no say in who gets into the Poker Hall of Fame. The WSOP found this out the hard way in 2009 when they asked fans to vote on nominees and a then 22-year-old Tom Dwan was the overwhelming choice.

Today, the public gets some input with an online nomination period, but it’s minimal. According to the WSOP website, the Poker Hall of Fame Governing Council gets the final say on who makes the list.

The final vote goes to the living members of the Hall, of which there are now only 32. While all of them are legends in the poker world, not all of them are as plugged into the game as they once were, and as a result, many of the post-boom players have been ignored.

There used to be an additional voting block of media members, Card Player included, but it was eliminated once the Hall went back to one inductee per year. In my biased opinion, this was a mistake. Almost every other sports hall of fame asks their industry journalists for help in the nomination and voting process, most notably the Baseball Writers Association of America, which votes annually on the Baseball Hall of Fame.

As far as I’m concerned, the more knowledgeable voters, the better. With only 32 voters, some of whom are more influential than others, there is a natural tendency for lobbying, if not outright collusion. (I won’t get into names here, but there have been rumors of players pushed in by friendly votes over the years.)

When a small group of friends determines who gets into the Hall every year, the Hall ends up lacking in diversity. Even if you forget the fact that the Hall only has three female members, there’s also a glaring lack of international players even though the game has grown by leaps and bounds all over the world.

Brian Rast4. Timing Plays Too Big A Role On Who Gets In

An age requirement was a good idea on paper, and it solved the Tom Dwan problem from 2009, but it also creates an unfortunate bias of timing when it comes to who gets selected. Since a player must be 40, naturally, all eyes go to those who are in their early 40’s. There are dozens of candidates in their 50s, 60s, and 70s to choose from, but they have largely been forgotten to history.

Keep in mind that a player who is 40 has been playing poker for only two decades, give or take when they started. While that is a long career in sports, it’s nowhere near the finish line in poker. Do we not give credit to those who have built an entire lifetime for themselves in the game? Conversely, do we punish those who started out strong as crushers, but who ultimately aged out of the high-stakes games before they could get recognized for their accomplishments?

What about those who just take their foot off the gas pedal? We’ve had a number of high rollers over the last decade become so successful that they decided to retire early or only play part time. Will they be penalized for winning too much, too soon?

Rast showed incredible timing this summer, winning his third PPC title just days after the voting opened, but timing also factors in other ways. Layne Flack and David ‘Devilfish’ Ulliott are obviously worthy of the Hall, but had they not passed away, they’d likely still be waiting for their turn.

The rules already state that a player must “stand the test of time” to be inducted, so there’s really no reason for an age requirement. What constitutes “standing the test of time?” That’s up to the individual voter.

If someone has put together a Hall of Fame career by the age of 35, (Fedor Holz is only 30!) then they should be considered. On the other hand, if someone qualifies at age 70 because of sheer longevity, then they shouldn’t be disregarded, either. ♠

*Photos by PokerNews – Megan Haney and PokerGO – Enrique Malfavon

Julio Rodriguez is the Editorial Director for Card Player Media, having started with the company as a live tournament reporter at the 2006 WSOP. Originally from Miami, Florida, he now lives in Las Vegas with his wife and daughter.