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Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Ten hopes for the Poker Hall of Fame


Nguyen, Harman, Juanda
Scotty Nguyen, Jennifer Harman-Traniello and John Juanda are three of the nominees for the Poker Hall of Fame in 2012.

It's oft been repeated that winning a WSOP bracelet is the greatest achievement a poker player can accomplish, but the reality is that in some contexts, that bauble is a mere stepping stone to something greater.

On any given day, anyone can win a bracelet, but time is the true test in poker. Skill in this game is an argument of decades, not individual tournaments, which is why, for all the luster the bracelet does bring, there is indeed something more. Namely, the Poker Hall of Fame.

For the centuries that people have been coming to the felt, only 42 have been enshrined. Last year, it was Barry Greenstein and Linda Johnson. The year before, Erik Seidel and Dan Harrington. Doyle Brunson, Johnny Moss, Stu Ungar, Phil Hellmuth … these are the names with which inductee monikers will fraternize. In rarity, membership only ranks behind being the world champion amongst the game's honors and it takes a whole lot more to attain than a week and a half of beneficial coin flips.

Last week, the Poker Hall of Fame announced the10 nominations for up to two slots for enshrinement. Gone from last year's list are Johnson and Greenstein, along with Huck Seed, Annie Duke, Marcel Luske and Jack McClelland. Consideration is fleeting, so let the lobbying and debate begin. Your nominees:

Chris Bjorin - For Bjorin, the primary argument is longevity. Since 1989, the Swede has been amongst the end-of-year top 100 money won list 15 times. His resume also boasts $5,292,483 in career winnings (68th all-time) and two WSOP bracelets. Bjorin's candidacy may suffer for sharing the ballot with Thor Hansen. Bjorin's overall numbers are superior, but the Norwegian Hansen is regarded somewhat as the godfather of poker in the region.

David Chiu - Quietly, Chiu has built a strong substance-over-style case for his Hall of Fame enshrinement. A quiet man who focused more on playing than self-promotion in the poker boom's early stages, he has compiled a career that included four bracelet wins, 52 WSOP cashes and a WPT Championship victory, all of which contribute to a career tournament cash tally of over $7.4 million despite splitting time with cash games. In recent years, Chiu has literally and figuratively draped himself in the Chinese flag, raising poker awareness in the region and serving as an ambassador of sorts.

Eric Drache - It's been said of Eric Drache that he was the seventh best poker player in the world, playing with the best six. It's a backhanded compliment that brings into question the more recently developed concepts of game selection, but it wasn't his play that got him on this list. Drache was the WSOP's Tournament Director in the late 70s and early 80s and is widely credited with being responsible for the innovation of satellites, as crucial a step as any in shaping the modern WSOP. Drache has also been instrumental in the shaping of modern poker television and has served as card room manager in many top Vegas destinations.

Thor Hansen - Hansen was diagnosed with cancer in early 2012, a realization that led to a groundswell of support for his candidacy through the nominations process. Long respected in the community both as a player and as the man most credited with the spread of poker's popularity in Scandinavia, Hansen's cash game leanings hurt a touch because his success there is hard to measure. Hansen owns two WSOP bracelets amongst his 42 cashes there, with career live tournament winnings just north of $2.9 million.

George Hardie - Hardie Has $202,592 in career cashes, according to the Hendon Mob database, so he's not here as a player. Hardie's resume is about one, powerful bullet point: his building of the Bicycle Casino in Los Angeles, a monstrous structure whose size and scope were unrivalled at the time of its unveiling. Through the success and popularity of "The Bike", Hardie has been credited in part with the growth in poker's popularity in California.

Jennifer Harman-Traniello - Harman's case has been getting stronger in recent years as the best players have gained enshrinement. While her tournament numbers still don't match up with the likes of John Juanda and Scotty Nguyen, it's a closer gap than comparisons with the likes of Seidel and Chris Ferguson. The closer that gap, the greater the importance of her trendsetting as a woman playing in the biggest cash games in the world. As time passes, so too does the length of her survival at those levels. In her side-gig as a tournament player, Harman has accrued two bracelets, 30 WSOP cashes and total live tournament winnings of over $2.9 million.

John Juanda - Ask most people in the know and they'd tell you Juanda is the strongest pure poker player on this list, a contention backed by the numbers. Juanda ranks seventh on the all-time money list with total winnings approaching $14.2 million. He's also accumulated five WSOP bracelets, 30 WSOP final tables and 60 WSOP cashes, not to mention his cash game play. As pure play goes, I think most observers would tell you he's the best eligible player to have not been enshrined.

Tom McEvoy - McEvoy's candidacy is a tough one to gauge. The 1983 World champion's numbers don't stack up to Juanda's or Nguyen's, his authorship hasn't been as influential as Doyle Brunson's or David Sklansky's and his tournament innovations haven't been as revolutionary as Drache's, but if you look at WSOP candidacy like you would a ring game, where a player's weakest game is potentially the most crucial, he's built a case that merits serious consideration, because McEvoy has worn so many hats so capably over the last three decades. There's a reason he's made the nomination cut where so many didn't. He's a lifer.

Scotty Nguyen - In the post-game interview of Nguyen's 1996 WSOP main event victory, he turned to annual interviewer Jack Binion and said "This is my dream, to sit next to you." Scotty's been waiting his turn and like Harman, his candidacy has strengthened by subtraction. Nguyen has $11,650,886 in career live tournament winnings without benefitting from super-high roller events as Juanda has. The question that remains about Scotty's candidacy is this: Have the voters forgiven him for his dark, drunken, nationally televised Poker Player's Championship win, when he seemingly altered his image for the worse?

Brian "Sailor" Roberts - A legacy nomination. Roberts, who passed away in 1995, is a part of poker lore, remembered now as the third in the trio including Brunson and Amarillo Slim Preston that travelled the roads of Texas and Oklahoma, sharing a bankroll and watching one another's backs. Roberts was the world champion in 1975, just as the title was really starting to mean something.