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State of the Felt -- Poker Media Director Nolan Dalla

The WSOP Media Director Talks Ungar, Ivey, Poker Hall of Fame, and the 40th-Annual World Series of Poker


Stu UngarIn State of the Felt Card Player will periodically bring you insights and opinions from some of the most influential players, tournament and poker organization directors, and other people who influence the poker industry. This is a place where the broad trends and forces that continue to shape the game will have space to live and breathe in open discussion.

This week, World Series of Poker media director Nolan Dalla talks about the history that was featured at the 40th-annual World Series of Poker, as well as the opening of the Poker Hall of Fame nominations to the public. Dalla also talks about two of the most talented players in poker history, Phil Ivey and Stu Ungar. Dalla co-wrote a book about Ungar with Peter Alson. The book is titled One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stu “The Kid” Ungar.

Ryan Lucchesi: How much of an effort did the World Series of Poker staff make to feature history at the 40th-annual WSOP?

Nolan Dalla: I have been involved in the World Series going back 20 years. I have been a part of this with Harrah’s since they took thing over from the Horseshoe. I have always thought that the historical timeline of this event is what sets it apart from every other tournament in the world. There are some other wonderful events around in Europe and elsewhere in the United States, but I think the one thing that differentiates the World Series is its long history, its tradition, and all of the great legends of the game who have come before us, many of whom are no longer with us. No other tournament in the world can match the World Series, not only in terms of size and its prestige, but also in terms of its history.

So, the 40th-anniversary was an opportunity to play up and emphasize, and pay tribute to those champions who have come before us, and not only those champions, but also those who have competed. Every year it is important to play up the history, but particularly this year, which is a milestone with 40 years. Certainly at the 50th we will have another opportunity to play it up big, and then beyond. Clearly the history is something that unfortunately a lot of people don’t revere or respect to the extent that it should be, because that’s all we have. If you win something it should be remembered, it should be honored by future generations, because when we’re all gone people are going to remember accomplishments. I think we owe it to those who’ve come before us to play up the accomplishments of our predecessors.

RL: Was the opening of the Poker Hall of Fame voting for nominations to the public a good gauge of public perception?

ND: I think the important thing is that the voice of the public was heard. You can’t care about the game and not have 10 people who you want to get in, or also the people who you don’t think deserve to get in, or don’t deserve it yet. My opinion doesn’t matter here, nor should it; no one’s opinion should matter at this stage other than the public’s, because the idea of the public nominations is to hear who the public thinks should get in. I think that’s an important first step. I think the process is important.

The Poker Hall of Fame, from my view, is one of the most undervalued commodities in the entire poker industry. Finally, the Poker Hall of Fame will start to get some more respect and more interest. There will certainly be more debate, and I think all of that is a good thing. In other sports, people debate should this person be in the hall of fame or should that person have gone in — all debate is good.

RL: In terms of raw poker talent, how would you compare Phil Ivey to Stu Ungar?

ND: I don’t believe you can … The problem is, I don’t follow Phil Ivey around, and I wasn’t around when Stu Ungar was destroying poker rooms in 1970s Las Vegas. Doyle Brunson, who played against both of them, is probably in a much better position to gauge one against the other.

Phil IveyBut, with that said, I certainly have my view. I think they play a different style. I think Stu Ungar’s claim to fame was an astonishing ability to read people. Just some of the incredible calls he made. He would make calls that nobody else in the world would have made. Now, Phil Ivey may have been able to make those calls, as well, but I think his talents are elsewhere. His patience and his discipline are unequaled. Certainly Stu Ungar didn’t have great patience or discipline. There is no question that he had leaks in that way. I’m not sure Stu Ungar could have played in a 12-day tournament. There are a lot of people who think he was the best ever, and I certainly put him right there, but keep in mind that now that the World Series lasts 10-12 days, this is an entirely different environment. Back when Ungar was winning, it was three days, then it was fours days, and then it was seven.

Phil Ivey can stay focused for 12 years. He’s not going to leak money; he’s not going to lose his focus. He’s going to come in focused and ready to play his A-game all of the time. Stu Ungar can’t maintain that kind of consistency, but what he had over Ivey is that when Ungar was in the zone, I don’t think that anyone was better. Over the long haul, I would favor Ivey. In terms of intensity and the ability to win one final table … Stu Ungar made four final tables in WSOP history. He won three of them, and the only one he didn’t win was the one he didn’t show up at, which is a pretty astonishing fact.