Isai Scheinberg Leads Potential 2020 Poker Hall of Fame Nominees

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PokerStars founder Isai Scheinberg is a likely 2020 Poker Hall of Fame nominee.

With the 2020 World Series of Poker Main Event now underway, the team in charge of the WSOP is proceeding with as much of the normal pomp and circumstance that normally accompanies the summer series as possible. On Tuesday came the official announcement that nominations for the 2020 Poker Hall of Fame class are now open.

As in years past, the WSOP is giving the public the opportunity to submit names for nomination to eventually create a list of 8-10 nominees. Unlike the last ten years however, where two nominees were chosen for induction, only one eventual nominee will be enshrined this year. The change marks a return to the pre-poker boom tradition of honoring just one individual each year.

“We like tradition. One per year is the way it was for the majority of the Poker Hall of Fame’s history. A single inductee seems to promote the prestige of the honor,” said Ty Stewart, Executive Director of the WSOP. “Most of the finalists these past few years are very young men. I would hope and assume they will all get inducted eventually.”

The other change for 2020 sees the inductee being chosen by just the 32 living members of the Poker Hall of Fame. Since 2010, a select panel of poker media were also part of the voting panel. For Stewart, this change was one about returning to the early years of the Poker Hall of Fame.

“For many years Jack Binion and his poker team just used to meet and decide. And I don’t think they ever got it wrong. In 2020, with 32 living hall of famers who take the criteria seriously, we think the honor is best bestowed by one’s peers,” Stewart said.

The number of players who have been nominated over past years but not inducted includes the likes of Mike Matusow, Chris Bjorin, Eli Elezra, Antonio Esfandiari, Max Pescatori, and Humberto Brenes. While those players are likely to be nominated by the general public, the likelihood that they make it through the nomination process to be the sole member of the Poker Hall of Fame Class of 2020 aren’t great.

With that in mind, here are the only five names that have a shot at joining the likes of Doyle Brunson, Daniel Negreanu, Phil Ivey, and Chip Reese in the Poker Hall of Fame this year.

Isai Scheinberg

The founder of PokerStars, Isai Scheinberg has never been one of the 10 named finalists for the Poker Hall of Fame despite having a decent amount of support from key people in the poker industry. The most likely reason for that was the charges against Scheinberg from Black Friday. In 2014, Stewart told The Fives Podcast co-host Donnie Peters that Scheinberg would likely get in one day, but since Scheinberg “can’t enter country to accept, likely isn’t the time” to induct him.

In March, Scheinberg plead guilty to one count of operating an illegal gambling business to settle the charges with the United States Department of Justice and was sentenced to time served and a $30,000 fine.

As the driving force behind PokerStars from 2001 until 2014, when it was sold to David Baazov and his group of investors, many credit Scheinberg for setting the standard for the online poker industry while turning his company into the largest operator in the space. Former PokerStars Team Pro Daniel Negreanu is firmly on Team Isai when it comes the Poker Hall of Fame.

Matt Savage

Nearly 20 years ago, Matt Savage co-founded the Tournament Directors Association alongside Linda Johnson, Jan Fisher, and David Lamb. Since then he’s been the tournament director of record for some of the largest and most prestigious poker tournaments in the world. That list includes the WSOP from 2002 – 2004 and the Bay 101 Shooting Star event which he oversees to this day.

For the past 10 years, Savage has been the Executive Tour Director of the World Poker Tour  where he has had arguably his greatest influence. Along with continuing to push for standardized rules and structures at all Tour stops, Savage has helped the WPT from a business perspective as the tour has grown while working with properties around the world, many of whom came from the introduction by Savage.

While the resume is complete, Savage has the support of what often feels like the entire professional poker community. Players from around the world reach out to Savage as their first point of contact when it pertains to questions about tournament or poker room rules and rulings. His position as the de facto expert in his field is as solid as …

Savage has been nominated for the Hall of Fame before but whether or not is ever allowed to hold the honor of being the first tournament director enshrined remains to be seen.

Bruno Fitoussi

The Patriarch of French Poker, Bruno Fitoussi was nominated for the Hall of Fame in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2018 without being inducted. While Scheinberg and Savage are both firmly entrenched as “builders”, Fitoussi is one of the rare individuals who has successfully straddled between being a world class player who has successfully helped promote the game from the business side.

Fitoussi has more than $3,000,000 in live earnings on his Hendon Mob profile, with $1.28 million of that coming from his runner-up finish in the 2007 WSOP $50,000 HORSE World Championship, one of his three second place finishes in bracelet events. He also served as a consultant for the Aviation Club in Paris, France and many considered him the face of French poker as he was a regular commentator for televised poker in his home country and across Europe as poker began growing in popularity.

Fitoussi’s struggle to go from nominee to inductee is likely a reflection of the heavily skewed American voting process used in years past. He’s not getting any help this year either. Of the 32 voters, none are European. Only five of the 32 are not American and they all either live in the United States now (Negreanu, Johnny Chan, Scotty Nguyen) or spent a considerable amount of their career living in the U.S. (John Juanda, Carlos Mortensen).

David Chiu

Nobody has had their name included on the nomination list more times than David Chiu. The Chinese-born Chiu was nominated in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2017, 2018, and 2019. With a poker resume that most of his colleagues would kill for, Chiu seems like a good bet to be nominated yet again this year.

He won WSOP bracelets in 1996, 1998, 2000, 2005, and 2013. Then in 2008, he beat Gus Hansen heads up to win the World Poker Tour World Championship for $3.4 million. He and Ted Forrest are the only players with at least five WSOP bracelets and an open WPT title to not be in the Hall of Fame. Chiu is also one of the most versatile players in poker history. A master of nearly every game on the WSOP schedule, Chiu has cashed 74 times at the WSOP and only one of his 24 final table appearances was in a No Limit Hold’em event.

Joe Hachem

Joe Hachem, the 2005 WSOP Main Event winner, has never been one of the ten nominees for the Hall of Fame, but a case could be made for him as a hybrid player-build nominee. Hachem beat a then-record field of 5,619 players to win the 2005 Main Event for $7.5 million and helped the popularity of poker in his native Australia reach never-before-seen heights.

Hachem spent the years that followed traveling the world as a Team PokerStars Team Pro and in late 2006 seized the opportunity to prove he wasn’t a one-hit wonder. Hachem topped the 583-player field to win the WPT Doyle Brunson North American Poker Classic for  $2.2 million. In the post-Moneymaker era, Hachem is only one of two WSOP Main Event winners to have won a WPT title after their WSOP win. (Ryan Riess is the other).

In the years following Hachem’s win, the Aussie Millions Main Event went from 263 runners to 418 to 747 and many in the Australian poker industry credit Hachem’s win – the first ever for an Australian – as a key piece of the perfect storm that was the mid-2000s poker boom.